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Therien's Take: What Makes a Hall of Famer?

by Chris Therien @ctherien6 /

My congratulations go out to this year's induction class for the Hockey Hall of Fame. There were some no-brainer selections, led by Jarome Iginla, and some surprises, including Doug Wilson and Kevin Lowe. 

There was never any doubt that Iginla, who retired in 2017, would go in on the first ballot. He was a prototype power forward; great goal scorer, tough and physical. He was a tremendous leader, and an iconic figure for the Calgary Flames franchise. Off the ice, I have never heard anyone say anything both glowing remarks about Jarome, and I can vouch from my own dealings with him that he is an outstanding human being and ambassador for our sport. 

I was also not surprised that Marian Hossa earned induction, but I did not consider him to be a lock for first-ballot selection. He had a career that was a little bit similar to that of fellow Hall inductee Mark Recchi in that Hossa had a few great seasons along the way and a whole lot of good ones. But whereas Recchs had to wait several years between his first time on the ballot and his eventual selection in 2017, Hossa got in on the first try. 

Why? I wish I could tell you but I can't. Although the list of Hall of Fame selection committee voters -- which includes Flyers legend Bob Clarke -- is public information, the selection process itself is shrouded in mystery beyond the rules and time limit for eligibility. 

What are the specific criteria that each voter uses for why someone should or shouldn't be in? How close did a candidate who missed out come to getting picked? Why are some long-retired candidates (such as Lowe and goalie Rogie Vachon) suddenly inducted after missing out for a decade or more? 

Doug Wilson's selection year came as a little bit of a surprise, simply because it took so long. I thought it was ridiculous that Mark Howe -- who is now a member of the "big" Hall, the United States HHOF, and the Flyers HHOF -- had to wait as long as he did, too. I thought Howie should have been a first-ballot guy. It was similar with Wilson, who might not have been as complete as Howe but was an excellent offensive defenseman. In Wilson's case, I guess the fact that he mostly played for middling Chicago teams until they were a contender in the latter part of his career worked against him.

How much does career longevity play into selection? There are some inductees who were great players for a short period of time, like Pavel Bure or Eric Lindros or Cam Neely but others whose primary reason for exclusion seems to be that their prime was cut short by injury? An example would be Flyers Hall of Famer Tim Kerr, who had four straight years of 54 to 58 goals but who was never a healthy player again by the time he was 30 and who played "only" 655 games in the NHL. 

On the flip side, is there such a thing as "too much" longevity? Did it hurt Recchs that he only had two seasons with 65 or more points over the final seven years of his career? He did collect two additional Stanley Cup rings and was a solid contributor to both. 

Again, I don't know the answers. While I don't think outside pressure from fans or the media should be a factor in why the selection committee makes its selections, I do think there should be a little more transparency in the process. I also think that potential honorees contemporaries -- whether as teammates or as opponents -- should be consulted in cases where a potential inductee misses out more than, say, five times. It's just an idea; I don't think it's going to happen.

 Before we close out for this week, I'd like to make mention of a few candidates of interest to Flyers fans. Let's start with Rod Brind'Amour, who missed out on induction as part of this year's class.

Was Roddy a world-class hockey player? Yes. I can tell you first-hand that he had a tremendous work ethic, on the ice and in the gym. He won two Selke Trophies. He captained a Stanley Cup champion. He put together one of the longest Iron Man streaks in league history. He was a very, very good player for a long time in the league, and got nearly to 1,500 games and finished just short of 1,200 career points. 

Was Brind'Amour a slam-dunk Hall of Famer? No. Except for the first year of his Flyers career (the year before Lindros' arrival), he was never his team's top-line center. He did have one season where he flirted with 100 points but that was not the norm, nor did he hit the 40-goal plateau in a season.

As such, it's not an easy decision, one way or the other. I would not be surprised if Roddy eventually get into the HHOF -- Guy Carbonneau got in last year, and Brind'Amour was the better offensive player -- and I will be happy for him if he does. But if he does not get in, it's no slight of what a fine hockey player he was.

Two players that I think should get more HHOF consideration than they've apparently gotten so far from the selection committee are John LeClair and Jeremy Roenick. Both are members of the United States Hockey Hall of Fame, but neither is in the big Hall.

I'll discuss Johnny first. There was a five-year stretch -- a not-insignificant period of time -- where he was the NHL's top goal-scorer. He had three straight seasons of 50-plus goals and five straight years of 40-plus goals. He had back-to-back 97 point seasons, three with 90-plus points and four with 87-plus points. Oh, and let's not forget that he scored back-to-back overtime goals in the 1993 Stanley Cup Final while with Montreal.

LeClair was one of the best forecheckers I have ever seen. He bumped many a defender off the puck with ease. I practiced against him for years, and played against him in the latter part of our respective careers. I will tell you without a moment's hesitation that I was VERY grateful he was on my team's side on game days for the majority of my career, because it was a bear to play against him. 

He also was world-class when it came to protecting the puck or trying to move him out from in front of the net. It was almost impossible to do it legally, and all the cross checks he took and defenders literally draping themselves across his back eventually took a physical toll on him.

Why is LeClair (apparently) not considered a more serious HHOF candidate? Beats me. 

Is it that he had Lindros as his center for much of his prime? Is it that, after a major back injury and surgery that cost him most of the 2000-01 season, he wasn't quite the same caliber player? Was it that he "only" scored 406 goals and didn't get to the 1,000 game milestone. Maybe.

By the way, if it truly gets held against LeClair that he was on Lindros' line, I would point out that Johnny played roughly half of the 1997-98 season on a line with Chris Gratton. No slight meant to Chris here, but Johnny still scored at the same rate that season with a less-gifted center on his line for much of the year.

With Roenick, maybe it was that he was too colorful or too outspoken? If so, I think it speaks louder that he scored 510-plus goals and 1,200-plus points in the NHL and played 1,350-plus games despite playing a pretty aggressive style. He had three straight 100-point season and back-to-back seasons with 50 or more goals. 

Was it the "Recchi effect" of more moderate stats over the latter half of his career? If so, then why is Hossa a first-ballot guy? He never had a huge offensive season again after 2006-07, but was consistently productive year-in and year-out. Fine, but so was Jeremy. 

I will say this, and it's one of the biggest compliments I can give a player: If I had to assemble a roster of every NHL player that I played with during my career to play in one single must-win game, I'd pick Jeremy Roenick for my roster without a moment's hesitation. I would suspect that a lot of my fellow NHL Alumni who played for the Blackhawks, Coyotes or Flyers with JR would agree. 

When it comes to HHOF selection, I do think that Canadian players hold a bit of a selection advantage over comparably effective and talented guys from the USA. If Jeremy Roenick were from Ontario rather than Boston -- or if he'd had his best year in a Maple Leafs uniform rather than a Chicago Blackhawks sweater -- JR would have been in the Hall of Fame already.

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