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- Greg Wyshynski is ESPN’s senior NHL writer.
The most frustrated I’ve ever been with the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee was 10 years ago, when its members snubbed coach Pat Burns.
He was dying of cancer. “I know my life is nearing its end, and I accept that,” Burns said in April of that year. The Hall of Fame chose not to select him in the builders’ category that summer, opting to posthumously induct Calgary Flames co-owner Daryl Seaman, a practical redundancy after they inducted Flames owner Harley Hotchkiss in 2006.
Burns died in November 2010. The following year, the Hockey Hall of Fame not only didn’t select Burns, but it didn’t admit a builder in an election class for the first time since 1981. He was snubbed again in 2012, and then again in 2013, when two of his former players — Scott Niedermayer and Chris Chelios — were inducted and said he belonged in the Hall. In 2014, four years after he could have celebrated his induction with friends and family, Burns was selected as a builder. The timing was infuriating.
My bewilderment with the selection committee over its ongoing snub of Alexander Mogilny doesn’t burn as intensely as it did for Burns. But it’s getting there.
Players are selected based on “playing ability, sportsmanship, character and contributions to his or her team or teams and to the game of hockey in general.”
Mogilny’s 0.478 goals per game average is better than this year’s selections Jarome Iginla (0.402) and Marian Hossa (0.401), for a total of 473 goals. His 1.04 points per game average is better than over 30 Hall of Fame forwards.
Apply any test, and he passes it.
Best player in the NHL at his position? The right wing made the postseason NHL All-Star team twice.
A dominant stretch of peak performance? He scored 76 goals in 1992-93 and followed it with 55 more in 1995-96.
Contributions to his team? Mogilny is one of only 29 players in NHL history in the Triple Gold Club, winning a Stanley Cup, Olympic gold and an IIHF world championship.
Sportsmanship? He won the Lady Byng in 2003.
Character? He was the first Russian-born player to serve as an NHL team captain.
Contributions to the game of hockey? Mogilny was the first player from the Soviet Union to defect to the United States as a 20-year-old, in a story that plays out like a spy thriller.
What’s the argument, exactly, for keeping him out? We’re never finding out, at least on the record. Part of the Hockey Hall of Fame’s unique charm is that the candor of its internal processes makes a Scientologist look like a YouTube vlogger.
Like when Lanny McDonald, the venerable chairman of the Hall, was asked Wednesday why 2020 inductees like Kevin Lowe (eligible since 2001) and Doug Wilson (eligible since 1996) had to wait this long.
“A couple of years ago, Rogie Vachon waited 37 years to get into the Hall. What a thrill and what an honor it was for him. Doug and Kevin certainly didn’t have to wait 37 years. They’re richly deserving of this honor,” said McDonald.
“It’s not only that you have to get 14 of 18 votes, but it’s also sometimes who you may be up against when you’re nominated for that year. Sometimes, it’s timing. Regardless of whether they go in like Marian and Jarome, it was so cool to make those calls today to let them know it was richly deserved. They are now the class of 2020. If you ask them, they are honored and thrilled and couldn’t care less that it took maybe a few more years than it could have.”
With that, the wait continues for deserving candidates like Mogilny. The class of 2021 brings Daniel and Henrik Sedin, whose induction as a duo would seem like a certainty, were this not the Hall of Fame selection committee we’re talking about. Here are some other candidates worthy of induction who could finally have their Rogie Vachon moment in 2021 or beyond:
Jennifer Botterill, Caroline Ouellette, Julie Chu and Natalie Darwitz
Kim St-Pierre was a very deserving nominee, but one of this class’s biggest stunners was Botterill falling short of the Hall. She was great on the international stage, a leader for Team Canada and the only NCAA player to win the Patty Kazmaier award twice. Chu was a solid player for the U.S. in every role in which she was cast and an incredible ambassador for the sport. Darwitz was a national team captain and a tremendous NCAA player. Ouellette was a Team Canada star who dominated the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. The dream: Spouses Chu and Ouellette are inducted together, as their two children look on.
Look, we didn’t put Guy Carbonneau in the Hall of Fame, they did. And since they did, the door has swung wide open for Rod the Bod, the current head coach of the Carolina Hurricanes. Back in his playing days, he had 1,184 points (51st) in 1,482 career games, including 452 goals (59th), and played through the trap era. He won the Selke Trophy in consecutive years (2006 and 2007) in his mid-30s, and he had 18 points during the Hurricanes’ 2006 Stanley Cup run.
As former NHL goalie Mike McKenna said this week, it’s far past time the Hockey Hall of Fame honored goaltending coaches. “They’ve made an indelible mark, casting a wide net of influence and elevating goaltending to the science we know it as today. They are trailblazers and mentors that deserve recognition,” said McKenna. For our money, that coach is Korn, the director of goaltending for the New York Islanders. He’s the goalie whisperer, having helped develop Dominik Hasek, Pekka Rinne, Braden Holtby and many others.
The typical reaction when you tell someone that Tikhonov, the Soviet hockey coaching icon, is not yet in the Hall is astonishment. His accomplishments in international play include three Olympic golds, eight world championships, the 1981 Canada Cup and more. The knock on him was that Anatoli Tarasov, who is in the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder, was the innovator, and Tikhonov just rode his coattails.
But as my former colleague Dmitry Chesnokov once wrote: “If Tarasov was the patriarch, Tikhonov was his archbishop. Assuming the reign of power at CSKA in 1977, Tikhonov was the architect and the engineer of the Red Machine that was the pride of the entire country for the next 15 years. All of the pride that current Russian hockey players and fans feel when they don their country’s jersey, to this day, is without a doubt attributed to Tikhonov.”
The first woman to serve as president of an NHL team, she led the Detroit Red Wings from 1952 to ’55 and became the first woman to have her name engraved on the Stanley Cup when they won it twice. Hockey historian Jen Conway had a great nomination plea for Norris, writing “If, as we so frequently proclaim, hockey is for everyone, then why shouldn’t Marguerite Norris be inducted in the Hall of Fame and honored as the female pioneer she is? No other woman has served as NHL team president. Not everyone can play in the NHL, but that doesn’t mean a career in hockey isn’t possible. Marguerite is the perfect example.”
The “fame” candidates. Roenick has 513 career goals and a 0.892 points-per-game average, and despite no individual awards or Stanley Cup wins, he had a level of celebrity at the height of his powers that was arguably unrivaled by anyone not named Wayne Gretzky. Fleury had more team success — a Stanley Cup, and gold in juniors and the Olympics. At a listed 5-foot-6, he was also one of the most electrifying players in the NHL, recording 1,088 points in 1,084 games, including 455 goals. His candor about mental health has been inspiring, but his political commentary on social media has been divisive. As for Roenick … well, he’s had better years.
All of these individuals have Hall of Fame cases. Some will get in, some won’t. It’s a waiting game. And unfortunately, even they don’t know the rules they’re playing by.
From the archives, a St. Louis Blues classic:
Jersey Foul classic, from the archives. pic.twitter.com/1yduk3i4nH
— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) June 24, 2020
This is one of those fouls that just leaves you baffled. Like, why not a player? Why not yourself? Is this the biggest fan of the NHL’s 1967 expansion walking the Earth, outside of Clarence Campbell? Granted, until last season, the years around 1967 were the most memorable in franchise history for the Blues, winning the expansion team conference (i.e. the kids’ table) for three straight seasons before getting drubbed by Montreal twice and then Boston. Fun fact: There has never been a No. 67 in Blues history.
Three things about attending Game 4 of the 1995 Stanley Cup Final
1. July 24 was the 25th anniversary of the New Jersey Devils winning their first Stanley Cup in a sweep over the Detroit Red Wings. I grew up a Devils fan and was there in the upper deck with my father to witness it. To this day, it’s hard to capture what that moment of catharsis meant for Jersey fans. Years of mediocrity. Years of being the bullied little sibling, not just to the local hockey teams but to almost every other franchise in the New York metropolitan area. Wayne Gretzky calling them a “Mickey Mouse” organization. Stephane Matteau crushing their Cup dreams one year earlier. Absorbing all the mockery of being a New Jersey team, while also playing in a swamp.
I can still remember the clock ticking down. I can still remember the gloves flying in the air, the mass of bodies crushing Martin Brodeur. I can still remember hugging strangers and watching my father sprint down those treacherous upper deck stairs — ones we had ascended and descended hundreds of times for Devils and Nets games at the Meadowlands — to be one of the first to purchase a Stanley Cup champions hat, even though half of them had the decal ironed on crooked.
I remember it drizzling outside after we finally left the arena, although maybe that’s just how it felt: Years of inferiority and insecurity washed away, in a series no one gave them a chance to win.
Of course, the Devils were never completely clear of their detractors. The 1995 lockout warranted an asterisk, they said. The trap was going to kill the NHL with sheer tedium, they said. They kept saying it. Until 2000 and 2003, that is.
It’s the 25th anniversary of the @NJDevils winning their first Stanley Cup. My dad and I were there to witness the sweep in Game 4. A few photos I found from the pregame tailgate (1/2) pic.twitter.com/WM21o5vebh
— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) June 24, 2020
2. True story: I ended up at Game 4 in 1995 because my father won the lottery. Not a lottery for tickets. The actual New Jersey Lottery. He won a $1,000 second-place prize in the New Jersey Lottery in 1995 — we shudder to think how much money he “invested” through the years for those wins — and used half of it to buy two tickets to Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final. Why Game 4? Because like everyone else, he thought the Devils were going to get demolished by the Red Wings. At least Game 4 would happen and, hey, maybe we’d get to see Steve Yzerman skate the Cup. Instead, he watched the Devils do it.
(Stick tap to my mother, who had to deal with her husband taking their son to a playoff hockey game on the night of their wedding anniversary.)
3. I found some old photos of the tailgate party before Game 4 in my desk. I had forgotten how much vitriol was on display in what was a celebratory moment for the franchise. There were signs disparaging Nashville, a potential relocation site with whom Devils owner John McMullen was flirting because he was unhappy with his lease with the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority. There were negative signs toward New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman. There were negative signs toward the NHL for not stepping in to “save” the Devils.
Beyond that, there were even negative signs towards WFAN, New York’s sports radio behemoth, because fans felt they had an anti-Devils bias. If you somehow stumbled into that parking lot in 1995 without knowing what was going on inside the arena, you might have thought it was a political rally. But as any Devils fan would tell you, it’s the defiance that defined us. We couldn’t have watched them win it any other way.
One of the things from that Cup win: The threat of the Devils relocating to Nashville hung over the playoffs, and WFAN’s “anti-Devils bias”‘was very much a thing for fans. pic.twitter.com/8KIJqc6LpC
— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) June 24, 2020
Listen to ESPN ON ICE
Huge show this week. Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba, a member of the new Hockey Diversity Alliance’s executive board, joins us to talk about race and hockey, as well as the “return to play” vote. Chris Thorburn joins us to talk about his recent retirement and the challenges of raising an autistic son as a pro athlete. Plus, instant reaction to the Hockey Hall of Fame announcements, the NHL and COVID-19 and much more. Listen here.
Winners and losers of the week
Winner: Lanny McDonald
If Hall of Fame class announcement day is Christmas, then the Chairman of the Hockey Hall of Fame is Jolly Ole St. Lanny. He brings the right amount of joy to these proceedings and seems to truly relish spreading good news to inductees and their families. My favorite moment of the week: When Iginla couldn’t figure out if his line was live during the Hall of Fame conference call, and McDonald bellowed in his unmistakable voice: “YOU’RE A HOCKEY HALL OF FAMER, JAROME! YOU CAN SAY WHATEVER YOU WANT!”
Loser: Hall of Fame Selection Committee
While we’re thrilled Kim St-Pierre became the first women’s hockey goaltender selected for the Hall of Fame — is Shannon Szabados on deck? — perhaps it’s time the committee realized that it’s actually allowed to induct up to two women in a Hall of Fame class. Considering how much catching up they have to do on the women’s side, that would be advisable, going forward.
Winner: Doug Wilson, Hall of Famer
We’ve been lobbying for years to get Wilson into the Hall as a player, so it was wonderful to hear one of the best defensemen in NHL history receive his “pleasant shock,” as Wilson described it …
Loser: Doug Wilson, GM
Winner: Marian Hossa
As we noted last week, the list of first-ballot Hall of Famers is a list of Hockey gods. These are the crème de la crème: the top 30 scorers of all time, multiple award winners, names that are spoken in hushed tones. That Hossa might not have had the numbers to warrant that status no longer matters. He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer now.
Loser: Jere Lehtinen
One of Hossa’s selling points was his status as an elite defensive winger, despite never finishing higher than fifth for the Selke Trophy. This was usually ascribed to “positional bias,” as centers typically only win the award. The last winger to win the Selke was Lehtinen, in 2003 with the Dallas Stars. It was his third win, part of six instances in which he was a finalist for the award. This isn’t to say Lehtinen has Hossa’s case for the Hall. Despite a Stanley Cup and strong international stats with Finland, his 0.59 points per game average is far from Hossa’s pace (0.87). But given the weight “great defensive winger” was given in a first-ballot selection, no one was greater in his era than Lehtinen, judging by the accolades.
Winner: Defensive defensemen
Kevin Lowe’s selection for the Hall of Fame was a surprise, because it seemed like the selection committee had squeezed all the oil out of the Edmonton dynasty, and because “defensive defensemen” aren’t typically inducted. You have to go back 18 years to Rod Langway (career points per game: 0.33) to find the last one they selected. Maybe they give Adam Foote a glance at some point?
Losers: Craig MacTavish and Charlie Huddy
Sorry boys, but we’re going to assume the Hall of Fame train stops at seven Oilers in the Hall from the dynasty teams. Turns out Lowe wasn’t the Dave Concepcion of this Big Red Machine after all.
Winner: Diverse job candidates
As mentioned last week, the Buffalo Sabres had more than 20 job openings after their hockey operations bloodletting. While some of these jobs will be filled by analytics-crunching computer programs, others will be filled by hockey people. We assume that’s good news for minority candidates: Team president Kim Pegula was just named co-chair of the NHL’s executive inclusion council last week. And if the co-chair of the NHL’s executive inclusion council doesn’t interview a wide swath of diverse candidates and fill some of those positions with women or minorities … well, “practice what you preach” comes to mind.
From the Tampa Bay Lightning temporarily shutting down their facilities, to players testing positive, to the news across the U.S. on COVID-19 looking grim — including spikes in potential hub locations like Nevada and California — it was a really bad week for optimism that hockey will be played this summer. That’s not me saying it; that’s having spoken to a few players who are admittedly spooked about the recent news. But we’re still hoping the bubble plan can work. (Probably in Canada.)
The Kansas City Scouts are back? (NAHL)
Here’s the statement of claim filed in Ontario Superior Court in Toronto by former CHL players Daniel Carcillo and Garrett Taylor, targeting the Canadian Hockey League and its three major junior leagues with a class action suit over hazing and abuse of minors. Warning: The details are horrific.
The biggest winners and losers in NHL draft lottery history. The Edmonton Oilers are featured. (SportsNet)
Great feature on Erica Ayala, the force behind the Social Justice in Women’s Hockey video series. “When you try to contain people into what they should be as an athlete, as a woman, as a Black person, you’re missing all the other ways they can identify,” said Ayala. (SB Nation)
Remembering Herbert Carnegie, robbed of the NHL dream by racism. (CTV)
Calgary’s proposed new arena looks pretty sweet. (CBC)
Another scathing look at the Sabres and their owners: “The Pegulas have lacked leadership and direction throughout their tenure as owners of the Sabres.” (The Hockey Writers)
An interesting story about an NHL draft prospect, a delayed draft and a decision to maybe play football instead. (Star Tribune)
This was a fun and innovative approach to a Hall of Fame story, as The Athletic follows the actual selection committee protocol to determine the class of 2020. How’d they do? Not bad!
In case you missed this from your friends at ESPN
Chris Peters with the most-hyped prospect on every NHL team over the last 30 years.