By Allan Muir
The Hall of Fame selection committee voted in five new members to join the game’s greatest legends on Tuesday and did as well as it has done in years. After honoring a stream of marginal players like Bernie Federko, Leo Boivin and Dick Duff, the 2013 class of Scott Niedermayer, Chris Chelios, Brendan Shanahan, Geraldine Heaney and Fred Shero deserve all the accolades coming their way.
But as good as this group was, there’s plenty of room for debate because of who didn’t make the cut.
Again, nothing wrong with the Shero nod, but the Pat Burns snub in the Builder category has gotten past the point of reason. Forget that the committee had a chance to do the right thing and induct him just before he died of cancer three years ago — that refusal may have been the its self-important way of saying it wouldn’t be influenced by the massive social effort aimed at pressuring it to induct Burns while he was still alive. But it’s been three years now. Three years. Whichever voters the admittedly brusque ex-cop offended along the way need to step back and recognize the greatness of the only three-time Jack Adams winner in NHL history, a man who guided the Devils to the Stanley Cup in 2003 and who won 501 games during his 14-season career.
Clare Drake is an equally odious omission in that category, though I wonder if that’s simply because he doesn’t have a strong champion on the committee because his CV was built outside the NHL. Bruce McCurdy wrote an excellent piece detailing Drake’s qualifications a couple of years back. Read it and you’ll be stunned that he’s still on the outside.
Russian players have always been given the short shrift by the Hall — blame that on an Old Boys Network that surely must harbor anti-Soviet grudges if it won’t honor the careers of men like Vladimir Krutov and Sergei Makarov or legends of the ’60s and ’70s like Boris Mikhailov, Alexander Yakushev and Alexander Maltsev. It’s a shame that it’s probably going to require a significant overhaul of the committee before players like these get their due.
And then there’s Eric Lindros. Unlike the others, there’s legitimate room for debate on his candidacy. In fact, my colleague, Stu Hackel, believes Lindros should continue paying admission to the Hall just like the hoi polloi. But for me, it’s a two-second deliberation: ummmm … he’s in. Lindros epitomized what a Hall of Famer should be: a transcendent player who defined his era. If you watched him play, you understand that there may never have been a human born with a greater gift to play the game than the Big E. In his prime, he was unstoppable, his switch set permanently to beast mode. Think back to the 1991 Canada Cup when he dominated the world’s best players before he’d ever set foot on NHL ice. Remarkable.
Yes, injuries cut his career short before he racked up the honors that many expected him to earn. Yes, he had a tumultuous relationship at times with coaches, management and the media. Yes, he was mocked because of the boorish behavior of his parents. Yes, his legacy is imperfect. But if you simply focus on the ice, before concussions turned him into a thin-shelled disaster waiting to happen, he was magnificent. That’s what the Hall needs to remember.
It won’t be easy for any of the names above to cut a break against next year’s first-year eligibles. Mike Modano and Dominik Hasek are dead locks. Peter Forsberg should be as well, although with this bunch of voters, who knows? That leaves one slot, and women like Cassie Campbell and France St-Louis deserve serious consideration as well.
Hopefully the committee makes it right for at least one of these men in 2014. Just don’t count on it.