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What Zdeno Chara and Jay Bouwmeester can teach us about longevity and the Hall of Fame

Zdeno Chara became the sixth defenseman to play 1,500 games, and every member of that group has been enshrined in the Hall of Fame. The next blueliner to reach the 1,500-game milestone, however, is likely to be the first who fails to be inducted.

Not that Zdeno Chara needed to beef up his resume or add to his laundry list of credentials, but the Boston Bruins blueliner earned another feather in his cap almost one week ago when he skated in his 1,500th game.

The milestone is notable for a few reasons, of course. Not only is it an incredible testament to Chara’s longevity, as the 42-year-old continues to skate upwards of 21 minutes per game on one of the best bluelines in the NHL, but the towering defenseman among a rare class of rearguards. By reaching the 1,500-game plateau, Chara becomes the sixth defenseman to skate in as many games, a feat he shares with Nicklas Lidstrom, Ray Bourque, Larry Murphy, Scott Stevens and Chris Chelios.

Worth noting about the cohort Chara joined is that the 1,500-game club isn’t the only fraternity he’ll be become a member of alongside those five blueline titans. What the five defensemen who’ve previously reached that exceptional games played total also all have in common is membership in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and you can rest assured that it’s only a matter of time before Chara joins them. No doubt he has the qualifications: seven end-of-season all-star nods, three conference championships, one Stanley Cup, one Norris Trophy and, the piece de resistance, the coveted Mark Messier Leadership Award.

An interesting thing happened the same night Chara was feted for his latest achievement, however. More than halfway across the continent, another blueliner was celebrating a similar, though not as prodigious, milestone. Hours after the Bruins blueliner took the ice for his 1,500th game, St. Louis Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester stepped into NHL action for the 1,200th time. It was met with fanfare in St. Louis, where Bouwmeester has much of the past decade of his career, but it wasn’t met with quite the same level of admiration.

And, hey, that makes sense. After all, unlike Chara's mark, Bouwmeester’s feat isn’t as rare. On the all-time list, Bouwmeester now ranks 33rd in games played, having skated in two more to bring his total to 1,202 career contests. It should be noted, however, that there’s tread left on Bouwmeester’s tires. He’s 36, but he still moves well, he still skates upwards of 21 minutes per outing and, though an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, it would surprise no one were he to play well into his late 30s. Assuming he remains healthy and skates in another 298 games – each of the remaining 64 games this season followed by another three campaigns would do the trick – Bouwmeester will join the 1,500-game club by the time his career is over and will be the seventh defenseman to do so.

The truth of the matter, though, is that Bouwmeester may very well join that club only to become the proverbial sore thumb, the lone 1,500-game rearguard who doesn’t end up in the hallowed Hall. He has the Stanley Cup, but with no individual hardware to his name, not even an all-star nod, it’s unlikely he’ll ever get the call.

But Bouwmeester won’t be alone. He’s won’t be the only player whose impressive career longevity – and it is impressive given its rarity – won’t be followed by a trip to the Hall of Fame. Here are the 10 players, as well as a few honorable mentions, whose lengthy NHL stays weren’t paired with enough individual accomplishment to earn enshrinement:

(Note: Active players and those who are considered locks to become Hall of Famers have been excluded.)

Shane Doan – 1,540 GP (16th all-time)
He’s a Coyotes legend and inarguably one of the most important figures in franchise history, but Doan’s role was never that of pure scorer, to which his totals attest. A consistent 20-goal scorer, he eclipsed the 30-goal plateau twice and his career-best season was a 78-point campaign. He won the Messier Award and a King Clancy Memorial Trophy, but his trophy case from his NHL days is otherwise barren. Doan was the player everyone would have loved to have on their team, but it’s not enough to get him into the Hall.

Matt Cullen – 1,516 GP (19th all-time)
Defenseman Rob Scuderi famously had a slip when asked about his role on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 2009 Stanley Cup championship team, calling him “the piece” instead of “a piece” of the puzzle. He was henceforth dubbed ‘The Piece’ by teammates, which remains one of the NHL’s all-time great nicknames. If that name was to be handed to a player more deserving, however, it would be Cullen, who played a lunchpail role on three Stanley Cup championship teams and was the consummate depth player even into his 40s. Only twice did Cullen score 20 or more goals and not once did he score 50 points. He could do everything well, but he was never a true star.

Rod Brind’Amour – 1,484 GP (25th all-time)
There’s a worthwhile debate about Brind’Amour’s Hall of Fame credentials, but that he has been eligible for more than a decade and has not yet been inducted lands him on this list. No longer is he a lock, particularly as the list of those who awaiting induction grows with each year. Brind’Amour does, however, top the list in scoring with 1,184 points and he does have individual hardware. He won back-to-back Selke Trophies in 2005-06 and 2006-07, leading the Carolina Hurricanes, whom he now coaches, to the Stanley Cup during the former campaign.

Glen Wesley – 1,457 GP (27th all-time)
A teammate of Brind’Amour’s on the 2006 Stanley Cup-winning team, Wesley is the first defenseman featured in this group. But Wesley didn’t make his mark or carve out his spot in the NHL by being an elite producer or challenging for repeated Norrises. He was simply steady, a contributor who coaches could trust. His best year was a 58-point campaign in 1993-94, but he didn’t earn so much as a single Norris vote. The only honor he ever received votes for was the 1987-88 Calder Trophy. He finished a distant fourth in voting, though earned one first-place vote.

Pat Verbeek – 1,424 GP (33rd all-time)
The original ‘Little Ball of Hate’ is among an incredibly rare group of NHLers. Only three players in league history have scored 500 goals, 1,000 points and racked up 2,000 or more penalty minutes. That group includes Hall of Famer Brendan Shanahan, non-Hall of Famer Keith Tkachuk and Verbeek, who might also rank behind Tkachuk, a two-time end-of-season all-star, in Hall of Fame odds. Verbeek really was a unique player, a fan favorite during a different era, and he has a Stanley Cup to his name.

Luke Richardson – 1,417 GP (34th all-time)
Drafted seventh overall in 1987 by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Richardson never really fulfilled his potential, but that didn’t stop him from consistently earning NHL minutes with his heady play. He was ol’ reliable, often a middle-pairing defenseman, but his game was unspectacular – not that there’s anything wrong with that. He topped out at 21 points and ended his career with 201. Now he’s taken his game behind the bench as an assistant with the Montreal Canadiens.

Dale Hunter – 1,407 GP (39th all-time)
Only one player in NHL history, Tiger Williams, accrued more penalty minutes during their career than Hunter, who wrapped up his time in the league having earned 3,565 minutes in penalties. (The equivalent of two and a half days, for those wondering.) Hunter was more than a tough customer, however. He had nine 20-goal seasons, six campaigns of 70 or more points and he received at least one vote for the Selke in nine separate seasons. But with no championships, no trophies and no all-star nods, he remains an unlikely Hall of Fame candidate.

Roman Hamrlik – 1,395 GP (41st all-time)
Hamrlik occupied an interesting space during his era. Never was he a top-tier rearguard, but he was often among the class of defenseman right below. He was often an effective offensive producer and skated big minutes, averaging upwards of 25 minutes in four campaigns during his mid-20s. His 1995-96 campaign, in which he scored 16 goals and 65 points, earned him Norris consideration, but that was the first and only time that happened. He wouldn’t be on this list had he maintained that level of production. 

Doug Mohns – 1,391 GP (42nd all-time)
At the time of his retirement, which came following the 1974-75 season, only five players in NHL history had played more games than Mohns. All five of those players – Norm Ullman, Harry Howell, Tim Horton, Alex Delvecchio and Gordie Howe – are in the Hall of Fame. Mohns was never of the same caliber, but he did finish fifth in Norris voting during the 1957-58 season.

Trevor Linden – 1,382 GP (44th all-time)
A Canucks legend and fan-favorite forever. Linden finished second in Calder voting during his rookie campaign, but that was as close as he came to sniffing any individual hardware. That he doesn’t have a Stanley Cup to his name, despite coming oh-so-close, doesn’t help his case. He was, in coach-speak, the kind of player teams win with, but he was never able to maintain a spot among the true stars in the league.

Honorable Mentions: Vincent Damphousse (1,378 GP), Teppo Numminen (1,372 GP), Jeremy Roenick (1,363 GP), Ron Stewart (1,353 GP), Kirk Muller (1,349 GP).

Also, a special honorable mention to Dean Prentice, the longtime New York Rangers blueliner who passed away one week ago at 87. Prentice was a one-time all-star who had a prolific 391-goal and 860-point career, skating with the Rangers, Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, Pittsburgh Penguins and Minnesota North Stars. His 22-year career spanned from the early 1950s on through to the 1973-74 campaign, and he later returned to the game to play a single season with the senior USHL Traverse City Bays, for whom he was a player-coach.

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