If the Hockey Hall of Fame’s selection committee proved anything last year, it’s that if you can keep yourself in the conversation long enough, your day will come. After all, more than 30 years after he was eligible, Rogie Vachon somehow got better and was named to the shrine in 2016.
Actually, the likes of Daniel Alfredsson and Alexander Mogilny should not be discouraged by the fact they did not receive a call from hockey’s ultimate old boys’ club on Monday. If anything, the selections prove that sooner or later everyone with a really good career gets in.
Teemu Selanne, everyone can agree, was a shoo-in. He was joined by Dave Andreychuk, Mark Recchi and Paul Kariya, players who have all been eligible multiple times and each of whom was rejected at least once in years when the full contingent of four players on the men’s side was not filled.
Andreychuk was named after waiting eight years, while Kariya entered the Hall of Fame on his fifth try, and Recchi was on his fourth year of eligibility. All three were very good players who put up terrific numbers. Two of them won Stanley Cups and each of them recorded one 50-goal season. In Kariya’s case, you could certainly argue that he was a truly otherworldly talent whose career was cut short by the culture of violence that surrounds the game and the NHL’s abject failure to protect its star players. But on the flip side, you could also argue that the Hall of Fame took three really good players into a shrine that should be reserved only for truly great players.
There had been a ton of debate on the merits of Kariya, Recchi and Andreychuk – along with Alfredsson and Mogilny – before they got the call. Nobody knows what kind of effect it had on the 19-man selection committee because of the bizarre lack of transparency and cone of silence that surrounds its decisions. For example, what made Dino Ciccarelli a more suitable candidate than Andreychuk in 2010 -- Andreychuk’s second year of eligibility – in a wide-open field that didn’t exist seven years later in another wide-open field? We have no idea what tilted in Vachon’s favor 34 years after he retired or what prompted the selection committee to induct some clearly questionable candidates over the years – and we all know who they are.
But let’s look at the past 10 induction years since 2008. There have been 40 spots reserved for player inductions (four in each year) and only 15 of those have been occupied by players who were inducted in their first year of eligibility – Brett Hull, Brian Leetch, Luc Robitaille, Steve Yzerman, Ed Belfour, Joe Sakic, Mats Sundin, Chris Chelios, Scott Niedermayer, Peter Forsberg, Dominik Hasek, Mike Modano, Sergei Fedorov, Nick Lidstrom, Chris Pronger and Selanne. In only two years, 2008 and 2016, were there no first-time players inducted. And only once, in 2009, were all four players first-time eligible.
With the possible exception of Sundin, there’s no debate among any of them when it comes to Hall of Fame credentials. The other 17, including the three others this year, have been subject to debate, with some thinking they were just very good and not great players. And it will continue to be that way until the Hall of Fame decides to expand its pool of voters, which it doesn’t seem to have any desire to do anytime soon.
For the most part, the Hall of Fame has done a much better job of being a little stricter in its standards and has eliminated a lot of the egregious choices that have been made previously. It’s probably best for the Hall of Fame that there’s a more raging debate surrounding players whom people think should be inducted and are not in rather than around players who have been honored and didn’t deserve it.
None of this year’s players falls in that latter category. Not by a longshot. But they’re all debatable selections, which doesn’t mean they don’t belong in the Hall of Fame, it simply means that their credentials are up for debate. It’s the same for Alfredsson and Mogilny, players whom some people think deserve to be enshrined, while others opine that they’re not up to snuff.
Those are the kinds of players who will have to wait. Perhaps we should look at players, then, through another lens. Those who are inducted in their first year of eligibility are the truly great superstar players in the league and those who have to wait are simply very good players. They all occupy the same Hall of Fame, which might be a bone of contention to some, but there is a very real difference between the two.