NHL mailbag: when a short season is silly; Hall of Fame outsiders
A shortened season like the one in 1995 will make for much uncertainty
A reader suggests ex-Flyers coach Fred Shero is worthy of Hall of Fame induction
Readers argue that Scott Niedermayer and Peter Forsberg should be locks
Each Friday, SI hockey writer Brian Cazeneuve will be answering your questions about the NHL and the good old game of hockey. You can send queries directly to him via the email link above.
The lockout drags on and the clock continues to tick down on the 2012-13 season. As of this writing, we've lost the entire schedule for October and November plus the Winter Classic on Jan. 1 (327 games in all). With CBA talks stalled and none scheduled, December is now on the block and January is becoming the talked-about starting point if an agreement can be reached.
The looming question is: at what point does a shortened season become too short to carry legitimacy or merit?
After the 1994-95 lockout ended, the NHL went to a 48-game schedule that was the same size its eight-team circuit played as far back as 1931-32. (The schedule gradually increased to 50 games in 1942-43, 60 in 1946-47, 70 in 1949-50 and then rose in periodic increments of two games until it hit 80 in 1974-75. It was briefly up to 84 and then down to the current 82, where it has been since the '94-'95 work stoppage.)
The difference between way back when and now is that the postseason lasts four rounds and up to 28 games spread over two months. The league can do various things to extend the campaign (keeping training camp brief, pushing the playoffs back a week or two, having fewer days off, adjusting schedules to stay within the conferences as the league did in '95, and canceling the All-Star Game), but all kinds of problems can arise.
The playoffs often turn the regular season results into an afterthought, but if this lockout cuts the schedule to 40 games, you might as well flip a coin to see which teams get ino the tournament. Players who aren't in shape will be more prone to injury and such a shortened season drastically increases the chances that a hot streak or two will get some bad teams in while a slump keeps some worthy ones out. All in all, you have to wonder if a silly season will do more damage to the NHL's already battered image.
And now on to your questions for this week.
You covered players' chance of getting in the Hall of Fame. (Who deserves the call?) What about non-players? Specifically, Freddy "the Fog" Shero, for more than just his record of accomplishments, but his innovations.
-- Tim, Philadelphia, PA
It's hard to tell why Shero hasn't been inducted. He was part of an era -- The Broad Street Bullies -- that many in the game would like to forget, but Bobby Clarke, Bill Barber, Bernie Parent, Keith Allen and owner Ed Snider are already in the Hall, so why not Shero? He was an innovator; coming up with odd drills and hiring an assistant coach, among other things; even if he was known as The Fog because his mind tended to wander. I'd put him in.
There are many other coaches who rank high on the list of games and wins, including Pat Quinn, Mike Keenan and Bryan Murray. Others, such as Jacques Martin, Ron Wilson and Jacques Lemaire aren't far behind. They should get consideration.
NHL officials are an especially overlooked group and haven't been admitted to the Hall very often in recent years. The last three selections were John D'Amico (1993), Andy Van Hellemond (1999) and Ray Scapinello (2008). Here are other retirees who could merit some votes:
Kerry Fraser was once voted the NHL's most consistent referee in a 2005 poll of NHL players conducted by The Hockey News.
Bill McCreary worked in 14 Stanley Cup Finals and called the gold-medal game at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Don Koharski spent 32 years on the ice and worked 11 Stanley Cup Finals. He reached the milestone of 1,500 games in 2006.
Terry Gregson, "The Head Zebra," is now the NHL's Director of Officiating after a career that lasted from 1981 to 2004. He worked the seventh game of the Cup final in 2004.
Gerard Gauthier called 2,345 games as an NHL linesman from 1971 to 2003, and worked six Cup finals.
Kevin Collins worked in 10 Cup finals as a linesman from 1977 to 2005.
I was more interested than most to hear your opinions on the worthiness of various Hall of Fame candidates. I grew up here in Kamloops playing my minor hockey with Mark Recchi and Murray Baron and was fortunate enough to see Scott Niedermayer bless us with his quiet, understated greatness for our local Kamloops Blazers.
Something to remember about the Hockey Hall of Fame is that it represents a lifetime in hockey and in Niedermayer's case, he may be the most decorated player to lace them up in terms of achievement at every level: provincial champion at the minor hockey level, Memorial Cup champion in junior, gold medalist at the World Junior championships, gold medalist at the World Championships, Olympic gold medalist, and of course, a four-time Cup-winner in the NHL.
As for offensive output, it is well acknowledged that he accepted without the all too common petulance seen today that to be successful in New Jersey's system, letting him loose was not in the cards. I certainly hope those in the voting authority do their homework and make him a lock rather than a maybe. Thanks for listening to a lifelong hockey person.
-- Dan Harms, Kamloops, BC
You make some smart points about Niedermayer's performance in international play and that record certainly adds merit to his case. Yes, those achievements are taken into account when making decisions about the Hall. Remember that four Russian players from the Soviet era (Igor Larionov, Viacheslav Fetisov, Vladislav Tretiak and Valeri Kharlamov) are enshrined in Toronto. Only Larionov had a career of distinction in the NHL. Fetisov was well past his prime when he played in New Jersey and Detroit. Tretiak and Kharlamov never played in the NHL.
Sure, the system in New Jersey was hardly conducive to offensive displays. I recall one random regular-season game that the Devils played on the road when Jacques Lemaire was coaching them. He did a pre-game interview in which he was asked about loosening the reins on Niedermayer, and spoke for two minutes about how they needed to let him go, give him the freedom to rush the puck without restriction so he could do his thing.
Then during the game, Niedermayer did just that, but he turned the puck over at the opposing blueline. After the next play stoppage, you could see Lemaire in Niedermayer's face, pointing in the direction of the turnover and scolding him on the bench. Lemaire rarely got on his players publicly like that, but he yapped at Niedermayer for a play in which he was being perhaps too offensive for the coach's liking. I'm guessing that the Hall committee will take that into account when they consider him. He was really a better defensive player than people acknowledged because of his more publicized offensive skills. He was also known as a supportive teammate, which might have at least a tiny sway over people who consider intangibles (not everyone does).
In terms of career points, Niedermayer's 740 trail other non-Hall defensemen such as Phil Housley (1,232), Gary Suter (844), Doug Wilson (827), Sergei Zubov (771), Steve Duchesne (752) and Mathieu Schneider (743). Dave Babych is only 17 behind him. Niedermayer's numbers alone won't get him in. But in taking a step back and assessing Niedermayer's value to his teams and to the game, I imagine we'll see him in Toronto some year.
Peter Forsberg a 60-40 proposition? I would say he's a lock. It would be hilarious to see Mats Sundin get in, but not Forsberg.
-- Fredrik Bjerkeland, Uppsala
This is another case of a player whose shortened career was the only obstacle to induction. Because of his injuries, Forsberg played just seven season in which he totaled more than 55 points. Few non-goalies from the modern era are in the Hall of Fame with just 708 games played. Still, Forsberg is one of the rare players to win rookie of the year and MVP and lead the league in both scoring and plus-minus at least once in his career. His time at the top is undeniable. He also had an iconic shootout goal for Sweden at the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer. His 171 points in 151 post-season games tells you he didn't shrink under the confines of tighter checking in the playoffs. The reader adds that Forsberg sits in fourth place all-time in assists per game (.898) behind only Wayne Gretzky (1.320), Mario Lemieux (1.129) and Bobby Orr (0.982).
I put him in for all those reasons. Yet you can't really discount longevity as a consideration for all Hall candidates. Forsberg didn't have it, largely because of the aggressive style that made him successful in the first place. I do think that will hurt him, but not enough to keep him out.