Wednesday, November 20, 2019

The story behind the Hall of Famer who played the fewest games for your favorite team

The Hockey Hall of Fame welcomed six new members this week, including three men in the player’s category. So congratulations to Sergei Zubov of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Vaclav Nedomansky of the New York Rangers and Guy Carbonneau of the St. Louis Blues.

OK, maybe those aren’t the teams you associate with those guys. But I’ve always been kind of fascinated by legendary players who briefly show up on weird teams. It always just looks wrong. You might even forget about those stints altogether. If you’re a new fan, maybe you’ve never heard that it happened.

So today, let’s say goodbye to another year of Hall of Fame festivities with a simple question: Which Hall of Fame player spent the least amount of time with your favorite team?

In some cases, the answer might seem easy. In others, we’ll have to dig a little. There are two teams that have never had a single Hall of Famer at all, one of which is obvious (Vegas) and one of which we’ll get to in a bit. Take a minute and see if you can figure out the answer for your favorite team before you read any further.

To be clear on the ground rules, we’re looking for guys who were inducted into the Hall of Fame as a player; no builders or other off-ice types who happened to have a cup of coffee in the big leagues. They have to have played for the team, not just worked there in the front office or behind the bench, and we’re looking at regular season games only. And we’re of course looking for somebody who played at least one game, so apologies in advance to everyone who was going to answer “Vladislav Tretiak” or something equally clever. We’ll be using the invaluable franchise histories, because I already spend eight hours a day on that site, so what’s a few more?

Do you have your guess for your favorite team, and maybe a few others in your back pocket? Think you’ve figured out the identity of that one non-Vegas franchise that’s never had even one Hall of Famer? Want to take a crack at the one outlier team that’s had multiple Hall of Famers, but somehow never a single one who played fewer than 500 games? And can you figure out which players will manage to show up as the fewest games “leader” for multiple teams?

Then let’s dive in. We’ll do this alphabetically.

Anaheim Ducks

The Ducks are a good team to start with, since they demonstrate the concept. You might think of Chris Pronger or Scott Niedermayer, but they both played several seasons in Anaheim. You probably remember Sergei Fedorov’s 85-game stopover, but maybe not Jari Kurri’s 82. But the winner here is a guy who dropped by for one season near the end of his career: Adam Oates, who had a forgettable 67-game regular season in 2002-03 but helped the team to a surprising playoff run that spring.

For what it’s worth, those 67 games from Oates will end up being one of the higher totals we’ll see on this list. Our next team can hit the under on that score by a decent margin.

Arizona Coyotes

The Coyotes have been a popular destination for veterans on the tail-end of their careers, and that’s even if we don’t count quasi-retired stars like Pronger and Pavel Datsyuk who wound up on the roster as cap-related paper transactions. Mike Gartner might come to mind, but he lasted two seasons. None of Owen Nolan, Tony Amonte or Curtis Joseph are in the Hall, at least not yet. But even if they were, they couldn’t beat out our easy winner: Brett Hull, who lasted just five games in a post-lockout comeback attempt in 2005 before abruptly calling it quits.

You might figure that it will be a while before we find a team that can undercut Hull’s total. As it turns out, we don’t have to wait long at all …

Boston Bruins

As you might expect, the Original Six teams do well on this scale; they just have more history to draw from. In Boston’s case, that history includes two Hall of Famers who played over 1,400 games for the franchise in Ray Bourque and Johnny Bucyk. It also included far briefer stopovers at the other of the scale, from guys like Mark Recchi (180), Sprague Cleghorn (109), Brian Leetch (61) and Paul Coffey (18). But you’ve got to keep scrolling all the way down to Sylvio Mantha, a Hall of Fame defenseman who played 13 seasons with Montreal in the 1920s and 1930s and then four games with the Bruins at the very end of his career.

Buffalo Sabres

The Sabres have a couple of classic “Oh, I forgot they had that guy” names, including Doug Gilmour (82 games) and Clark Gillies (86). But the winner here is Dick Duff, whose two partial seasons with the expansion Sabres in 1970-71 and 1971-72 add up to 61 games, narrowly beating out Grant Fuhr’s 64.

Calgary Flames

You might be expecting to see Brett Hull stake his claim as our first repeat winner here, and his 57 games puts him in the running, ahead of Martin St. Louis’s 69. But the winner, for now at least, is Grant Fuhr, whose 23 games in 1999-2000 take the crown. That “for now” is important, though, since Jaromir Jagr’s 22 games will steal the spot as soon as he goes in – unless Curtis Joseph and his nine games can sneak in before that.

Carolina Hurricanes

Are we counting the Whalers here? I’ll leave that call to Canes fans. If we are, then it’s Bobby Hull’s nine-game stint on the 1979-80 team that also featured Gordie Howe (80), Mark Howe (213) and Dave Keon (234). If you’d prefer to keep it in Carolina, we can go with Mark Recchi’s 20 games after coming over at the 2006 deadline.

Chicago Blackhawks

Another Original Six team means plenty of options, including Coffey (10), Lionel “Big Train” Conacher (48) and maybe most notably, Bobby Orr (26) and Dominik Hasek (25). But the crown here goes to Barney Stanley, a star from the pre-NHL days who was inducted based on his career in the PCHA but who appeared in his only NHL game with Chicago while coaching the team in 1927-28. If you’d prefer a player who was inducted based on his NHL career, we could also use the delightfully named Herb Gardiner, who won the Hart in 1926-27 with the Canadiens before appearing in just four games with the Hawks a few years later.

Colorado Avalanche

The Avs have had a few short stints by notable names, including the ill-fated 2003-04 duo of Teemu Selanne (78) and Paul Kariya (51). Their most famous temporary star was undoubtedly Ray Bourque, who stuck around for 94 games. But the winner here is a guy who tagged along in that famous Bourque trade – Dave Andreychuk and his 14 games.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Admit it, the Blue Jackets were your prime suspect for that other team that had never had a HHOFer, weren’t they? They’re close, since they’ve had only one. But let’s not forget the Sergei Fedorov era, which lasted parts of three seasons and 185 games.

Dallas Stars

Eric Lindros is probably the biggest name that comes to mind, at 49 games. Mike Gartner shows up too, with 80, as long as we’re counting the North Stars days. But we can aim way lower than that and find Sergei Makarov, a Russian star whose seven seasons in the NHL included 134 goals, the 1990 Calder Trophy and four whole games with Dallas in 1996.

Detroit Red Wings

Hoo boy. The Red Wings aren’t just an Original Six team, they’re the franchise that specializes in squeezing one last year out of other team’s franchise players. You might be thinking of names like Mike Modano (40), Borje Salming (49), Darryl Sittler (61) or Bernie Federko (73) here. But none of them end up coming all that close. Instead, it’s Doug Harvey, the five-time Norris winner who sadly did not earn the honor based on either of his two games as a Red Wing in 1966-67.

Edmonton Oilers

Edmonton’s a bit of a strange one, since it’s usually longtime Oilers who end up making brief appearances with other teams late in their career. There’s also the Chris Pronger factor; he stuck around for 80 games. But they’re notable here for giving us our first repeat winner: Adam Oates doubles down on his Ducks honors thanks to spending the final 60 games of his career in Edmonton.

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