One gem in an underwhelming Hall crop, Devils' new hire, more notes
Joe Nieuwendyk may be the only surefire hall of famer among this year's eligibles
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Back when I was President of the Professional Hockey Writers Association (a time that corresponds roughly to when mankind was learning to master the use of fire), there was an annual obligation to select an Elmer Ferguson Award winner (contributions to journalism) and present the name to the Hockey Hall of Fame for inclusion in the annual festivities.
It is the highest honor the PHWA could award to what was then limited to the print media and there was a time, or two, when we didn't put forth a candidate. We didn't exactly agonize over it. Some years, no one mustered the necessary number of votes, but when that happened the Hall folks made it clear they weren't happy. I never got a reason why, but it seemed to have the smell of money around it, something about having to host a luncheon for the broadcaster winner of the Foster Hewitt Award and not having a print guy. Well, it just didn't add up or something to that effect.
I mention this only because it made me wonder what the Hall would do if it didn't have an annual candidate for greatness. Would it cancel its annual gala in Toronto, one that, for the record, is a major component regarding fundraising for its annual budget and the feting of corporate sponsors? Would it relegate itself to a "B" pool and inform sponsors and other buyers of the highly coveted (and highly priced) tickets that the chance to rub shoulders with hockey greats would be "slightly different" this year, something akin to mingling with the "celebrities" lined up for the NHL Awards Presentation on June 23 in Las Vegas? (Jay Mohr is hosting a cavalcade of folks, some of whom wouldn't make Kathy Griffin's D list.) Would the Hall leave a spot on the wall that read: "This Plaque Intentionally Left Blank"?
It won't happen this year and the Hall should be so grateful for Joe Nieuwendyk's availability that the electors vote him in on a unanimous first ballot. The former Cornell University standout is in his first year of eligibility and proved himself to be a superb two-way center who won Stanley Cups with three different teams -- Calgary, Dallas and New Jersey -- and was the driving force for each of them.
Nieuwendyk, the freshly-minted general manager in Dallas, is a salvation for the Hall. It's a fair bet that electors this summer will likely admit other candidates in a field that showed talent or perseverance (or in some cases both), but aren't exactly the likes of last year's class -- Brett Hull, Steve Yzerman, Luc Robitaille and Brian Leetch -- or the all-world group of Mark Messier, Ron Francis, Scott Stevens and Al MacInnis who graced the podium in 2007.
Not all years are great years for talent. Drafts prove that, as do careers. What follows is a capsule look at this year's top Hall-eligible candidates and an opinion regarding their joining Nieuwendyk in enshrinement:
Few players were ever more hyped, and as complete packages go, Lindros often lived up to the hype. He won the Hart Trophy in the 1994-95 (a lockout-shortened season) and was among the league's best through much of his time with the Philadelphia Flyers. The "Big E" scored 372 goals and 865 points in an injury-plagued career. He also averaged better than a point per game in the playoffs (57 in 53 games) and was perhaps the most imposing physical force the game has ever known. But there are downsides.
Lindros was never a part of the solution in Philadelphia, Toronto or Dallas and he, among others, was singled out by his own coach as "a choker" in a Stanley Cup Final vs. Detroit in which the Flyers were dominated while Lindros refused to accept any leadership mantle. While winning a Hart Trophy is a noteworthy accomplishment, that too was controversial. Lindros that year was up against Dominik Hasek, who had become the first goalie in decades to post a goals-against average under 2.00 (1.95 in 58 games). Hasek had his supporters, but there was talk of a rush to judgment in favor of Lindros due, some would argue, to a bias toward Europeans by those who still thought that foreigners were "taking jobs away" from North Americans.
Ultimately, Lindros' career was shortened by injuries that were inevitable, given his style of play. He may also lose votes because he snubbed the Quebec Nordiques at the draft table and had many high-profile battles with the Flyers as well as some behind the scenes actions with the players association. But he's also likely to draw some votes just for having played in Toronto where the Hall is located and where most of the gala tickets are sold. On a scale of 1 to 5, his chances for induction this year are likely at 3 with the Toronto connection carrying real weight.
In a much-traveled career that included stops in Buffalo (twice), Toronto, New Jersey, Boston, Colorado and Tampa Bay, Andreychuk became the game's all-time leader in power play goals (274). He was a feared player around the net and he earned his just reward with a Stanley Cup in Tampa Bay in the next-to-final season of his 23-year career. His 640 career goals rank 13th all time, are tops among players not in the Hall, and include a memorable six-tally game against the Bruins (while with Buffalo) in Boston Garden.
On the downside, Andreychuk was considered one-dimensional. He was good around the net, but too slow to get back on defense and he was easily neutralized in playoff competition where shadowing scorers was the norm. Andreychuk, however, likely will earn points for his commitment to the Lightning, a team that was a playoff also-ran but grew into a Cup contender in part because of his leadership. He'll also get votes for perseverance in refusing trades from Tampa to Cup contenders, choosing instead to help build a winner. On the 1-to-5 scale, he's a 4 and likely to go in this year or next.
One of the most talented offensive players to ever grace the game, Mogilny defected from his native Russia in order to play in the NHL. Blessed with speed, superb hand-eye coordination, and an innate ability to find openings and score from almost anywhere on the ice, he tallied a stunning 76 goals and 127 points when he teamed with Sabres center Pat LaFontaine in 1992-93. He also had stellar moments with Vancouver, Toronto and New Jersey, winning a Cup with the Devils in 2002.
However, Mogilny angered many in the hockey community with what was perceived as a rigged move (a stated fear of flying) to force his way out of Buffalo. He was also thought to have quit on the Sabres, posting by unofficial count 17 consecutive missed breakaways in his final year with Buffalo, including several in a first-round playoff loss to Philadelphia after which he refused to fly home with the team. He was eventually traded to the Canucks. Later in his career, Mogilny seemed to grow up and was an admired figure in Toronto and New Jersey, something that should offset those rocky Buffalo moments. He, too, should benefit from being in Toronto and rates a 4 regarding electability.
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