Monday, November 16, 2020

Building an ultra-exclusive Hall of Fame, one player at a time

Today should be a big day in the hockey world. It was supposed to be induction night at the Hockey Hall of Fame, with Jarome Iginla, Marian Hossa, Doug Wilson, Kevin Lowe, Kim St-Pierre and Ken Holland getting their moment in the spotlight to receive the highest individual honor the sport has to offer.

Instead, nothing. Thanks to the pandemic, tonight’s induction ceremony has been postponed, and the class of 2020 will have to wait a year. As part of that delay, we also won’t be getting a class of 2021, as the Hall has decided to hold off on any new inductions until this year’s class has been recognized.

That was a strange decision, but it will probably be popular with a certain segment of fans. Whenever I write about the Hall of Fame, I hear from readers who insist that the whole thing should be far more exclusive. It’s not supposed to be an honor for very good players, they argue, or even great ones. Only the very best of the best should earn a spot. On the men’s side, at least, the typical three or four inductions a year is too many.

I don’t necessarily agree, but I’m willing to play along. So today, let’s take that concept to an extreme. What would the Hockey Hall of Fame look like if we could only induct one player each year?

Just one. That’s all we get. Each year, we recognize one and only one player from the men’s side. The best of the best, and everyone else has to wait.

A few ground rules:

– We’re not worried about builders or officials here. And the women have the opposite problem, with not enough representation, which is a topic for another column. Today, we’re only worried about paring down that list of men’s players that so many of you seem to think is inflated.

– The real-world Hall has always had a weird relationship with international players and stars from other leagues, often acting like a de facto NHL Hall of Fame while occasionally remembering that they’re supposed to be honoring stars from elsewhere. For our purposes today, we’re just looking for inductees based on what they did in the NHL. Apologies to Vaclav Nedomansky.

– Because our version of the Hall is so exclusive, nobody can be inducted until they made it into the real thing, even if they were eligible.

Can we do it? I don’t see why not. I’m not a small Hall guy, but even I can admit that there’s some room to trim. So let’s get to work and see where we end up. We’ll do this by decade, starting when Hall inductions became a regular thing.

The early years

The Hockey Hall of Fame’s first class came in 1945, but inductions were sporadic. The second class came in 1947, followed by 1949, 1951 and 1952. Then there was a six-year gap until a huge class of 1958, at which point new Hall classes finally became an annual event.

In theory, I could argue that our “one per year” limit means I should get 15 slots for those early years, or even more if we’re counting every NHL season. But honestly, I’m not even sure I want to, because a lot of those early names aren’t especially well-known today. Instead, I’ll give myself the same seven pre-1960 inductions that the real Hall had, covering off the very best of the best of the NHL’s early years.

A few picks are obvious. I’ll start with Howie Morenz, Newsly Lalonde, Phantom Joe Malone and Eddie Shore. I’ll also add Georges Vezina and King Clancy, which leaves me with one spot and more than a few worthy candidates. That list includes Hart Trophy winners Aurel Joliat and Nels Stewart, as well as Dit Clapper, Sprague Cleghorn, Cy Denneny and Frank Nighbor. It’s a tough call, but I’m going to give the last of our early spots to two-time MVP Nels Stewart, and work on the assumption that I’ll be able to sneak in some of the other names as we get into the 1960s.


The real class of 1960 was highlighted by Frank Boucher and Sylvio Mantha, two good players who’ll have to wait their turn behind some of the other name on our list. I’ll use my 1960 slot on Dit Clapper, a six-time all-star and two-time Hart finalist on the blueline, in part because it’s just such a great hockey name.

Our first sign of a problem comes with the class if 1961, which featured 11 players. We only get one, and it’s a pretty easy call, as we induct Rocket Richard. But that leaves out names like Syl Apps, George Hainsworth, Charlie Conacher and Milt Schmidt, so our backlog is already growing.

Things get even worse in 1962, which featured 26 player inductions. No, that’s not a typo. The Hall really announced 26 additions in one year, and while many of them were old-timers from the pre-NHL days, we do see some recognizable names like Sweeney Schriner and Punch Broadbent that we’ll have to think about.

They’ll have to wait as we work through our backlog by inducting three-time Vezina winner George Hainsworth in 1962, and five-time goals king Charlie Conacher in 1963. The class of 1964 offers up one must-have candidate in goalie Bill Durnan, and we can find room for Milt Schmidt in 1965 at the expense of goaltending legend Clint Benedict.

There’s bad news for our backlog in 1966, as we run into three apparent slam dunks in the same real-world class: Ted Lindsay, Toe Blake and Teeder Kennedy. I’m going to cheat a little bit here, because we’re from the future and know that Blake is going to finish with eight Cups as a coach, more than enough to get him in as a builder. Instead, our 1966 slot goes to Ted Lindsay.

We have to use our next spot on the NHL’s first 300-game winner, Turk Broda; who retired in 1952 but somehow wasn’t inducted into the real HHOF until 1967. The 1968 class only had one player, Bill Cowley, so we can use that to dip into our waiting list for Ted Kennedy. And we’ll close out the decade with another sure thing in 1969 inductee Red Kelly.

One decade in, and while we’ve certainly had to squeeze out some big names, I don’t think we’re in bad shape. This might not be so bad!


We start a new decade with another thin real-world class, which means we can reach way back for our 1970 spot and induct Clint Benedict, followed by an easy one in 1971 with Terry Sawchuk.

And then we run into the class of 1972. Hoo boy.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

No comments:

Post a Comment