Hall of Fame chairman Lanny McDonald says the coronavirus pandemic will prevent the committee from gathering as a full group for two days of meetings at the Toronto shrine. McDonald is now preparing in a very different way for June's session to elect its newest class, and in the back of his mind is the very real possibility that the gala induction weekend in November might not happen as scheduled.
With some assembling in Toronto and others joining via video or phone conference from the United States and Europe, plenty of printed material in their hands, the 18-member committee will convene June 23-24 to debate, discuss and ultimately elect the Hall of Fame's newest members.
It's not ideal, McDonald says, but he's confident the process will achieve the goal of electing a worthy class, "one that people will be extremely pleased with."
"Change is all around us," McDonald said on Wednesday by phone from Calgary. "There's nothing you can do about it, so you might as well relax and try to enjoy yourself."
If these were normal times, McDonald and selection committee chairman John Davidson, president of the New York Rangers, would be joined in Toronto on June 23 by the 17 individuals appointed by the Hall of Fame's board of directors to consider eligible candidates in Player, Builder and Referee/Linesman categories.
Hockey Hall of Fame chairman Lanny McDonald (left) and selection committee chairman John Davidson make a phone call to a Class of 2018 member.
They would gather that day for a brief meeting, continue discussion over dinner, then reassemble at the Hall on June 24 for an all-day session, with an announcement of the Class of 2020 made on live television in the late afternoon.
This year, McDonald hopes to convene as many of the members of the committee who reside in Canada as he can -- there are 10, including himself -- and assemble the rest with technology. If travel would permit that Davidson, in New York, and any of the five other U.S. residents can attend, so much the better.
McDonald expects that three in Europe -- former players Anders Hedberg, Jari Kurri and Igor Larionov -- will join remotely.
All committee members now have in hand the briefing and background material prepared by Kelly Masse, the shrine's director of corporate and media relations.
"This year, we're asking people to be completely up to date and well versed with all of the material because it's not a normal time. So do your homework," McDonald said with a laugh.
From left, Class of 2019 Hall of Fame inductees Jim Rutherford, Sergei Zubov, Guy Carbonneau, Hayley Wickenheiser, Vaclav Nedomansky and Jerry York model their Honoured Member blazers alongside Hall of Fame chairman Lanny McDonald at Toronto's Scotiabank Arena on Nov. 17, 2019.
"We're not sure whether this meeting will this take more or less time. Hopefully, it doesn't stretch out to be such a long exercise. We've tried it in different ways already, with trial runs. Anthony [Fusco, the Hall's manager of information services] will make sure it's completely confidential, so that part doesn't change. We look forward to it, we believe we're ready to go. Change is here and the sooner we adapt to it, the faster we can get on with our lives."
Since closing its doors, a reopening date not yet on the calendar, the Hockey Hall of Fame has used technology to hold a full board meeting and a few different committee meetings.
"We try never to have board meetings, especially with the entire board, at a distance like that but we had no choice," McDonald said. "You try to find a way to get through them."
The Class of 1992 inductee acknowledges that a virtual selection-committee meeting will be very different, not having everyone at the same table for what is always a spirited debate as members pitch candidates and make their case for those they believe are worthy of induction.
"It will be a different challenge, not having everyone in the same room," he said. "You obviously have a different flair and understanding when you're together to see the presentation that's being made. But these are different times.
"We certainly have not cancelled our November induction ceremonies but we've got lots of time to figure that one out. We'll get through this one first of all and go from there."
The induction weekend, one of the annual highlights of the hockey season, is scheduled Nov. 13-16 at the Hall of Fame in downtown Toronto. The Nov. 16 enshrinement ceremony caps a weekend of events and meetings that include the presentation of Hall of Fame rings, a popular fan forum, presentation of Hall blazers, and the Toronto Maple Leafs' annual Hall of Fame game and a Legends Classic alumni game, both at Scotiabank Arena.
Lanny McDonald's Hockey Hall of Fame ring.
"We will work with the NHL on the timing of our induction weekend," McDonald said. "If November doesn't work, depending on when the League comes back to start the 2020-21 season, we would move our weekend ahead if it works perfectly and it's safe to do so.
"But you can't just throw this weekend at the wall and see if it sticks. There's so much planning that goes into it. There's probably nine different events and we want to make sure that if we do it, we do it right. Does that mean having move it maybe to January or February of 2021? We would certainly look at that, depending on health issues and if we could pull it off and do it right. If we can't, then we look for alternatives."
That, McDonald says, is a bridge to be crossed after the one ahead of the selection committee. Before he heads to Toronto for that meeting, having now been housebound in Calgary for more than 75 days, he's worked on sharpening other skills, his competitive juices still flowing 31 years after his final NHL game.
"When your 6-year-old grandson keeps kicking your butt in the Mario Kart video game, then you know you have to change the way you're doing things," he said, laughing again. "He goes home every night and says, 'Grandpa, if you get some time, maybe you should practice.'"
Photos: HHoF Images