Applying Some Baseball Rules to the Hockey Hall of Fame

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The Hockey Hall of Fame officially welcomed six new members Monday night at the annual induction ceremony in Toronto. As per tradition, there were speeches, highlights, and the unveiling of each member’s plaque.

What there was not was any kind of formal emphasis on specific teams. That’s because, unlike baseball’s Hall of Fame, the hockey version doesn’t associate each new member with one team. Cooperstown inducts each player wearing a cap of the team he’s most associated with, which can lead to plenty of debate.1

Hockey doesn’t do that. But what if we did?

It wouldn’t be an especially tough question for this year’s four player inductees; Dominik Hasek would go in as a Sabre, Peter Forsberg as an Av, Rob Blake as a King, and Mike Modano as a Red Wing.2 But other years, it wouldn’t have been such an easy call. Some of hockey’s greatest stars split their prime years between two or more teams, and choosing just one franchise to induct a player under would lead to all sorts of arguments, hyperbole, and hurt feelings.

That sounds like fun, so let’s give it a try. Let’s reimagine the Hockey Hall of Fame under Cooperstown rules: Each player has to go in as a representative of one team, and one team only.

First, let’s get a few of the easier ones out of the way. Consider this a pregame stretch:

Brendan Shanahan: Red Wings

He played the majority of his 21-year career elsewhere, but the three Stanley Cups in Detroit make this one an easy call.

Doug Gilmour: Maple Leafs

He spent more time in Toronto than anywhere else and had his best seasons there; that’s enough to trump the Cup he won in Calgary.

Dino Ciccarelli: North Stars

He moved around a lot, but he scored three times as many goals with Minnesota as anywhere else.

Al MacInnis: Flames

A tougher call than I expected; he played 10 years in St. Louis and won his only Norris there. But his offensive totals (and Stanley Cup) from his 13 years in Calgary tip the scales.

Paul Coffey: Oilers

Played just seven of his 21 seasons in Edmonton, but they were his best.

Pat LaFontaine: Islanders

A tougher call than you’d think, since his crazy 1992-93 in Buffalo was his signature season. But injuries just limited his games played as a Sabre too much.

Wayne Gretzky: Oilers

Come on.

Now that we’re all warmed up, let’s move on to some tougher cases. Here are eight Hockey Hall of Famers who’d be tougher to nail down.

Patrick Roy: Canadiens or Avalanche?

Roy played 10 full seasons in Montreal to just seven in Colorado, with one season split between the two. But in terms of games played, it’s much closer, at just a 53 percent–to–47 percent edge for the Canadiens. And that’s for the regular season; in the playoffs, Roy actually played 133 games in Colorado to 114 in Montreal.

He split his four Stanley Cups between the two teams.3 Roy’s numbers in Colorado were significantly better than in Montreal, with his six best seasons in terms of GAA all coming as an Av. But that’s a function of the high-flying ’80s and early ’90s versus the dead puck decade that followed; adjusted for era, his numbers with both teams largely even out.

Perhaps the best argument for the Avalanche is that those were the years that Roy seemed to go from “very good goaltender” to “all-time great” in the eyes of most fans. But that’s because it was the second half of his career, when he started passing milestones and breaking records. As good as he was in Colorado, he was objectively better in Montreal — he won all three of his Vezinas there, and was a postseason first- or second-team All-Star five times, compared to just once in Colorado.

The verdict: Roy goes into the Hall as a Hab, in a decision that wasn’t as close as I thought it would be. By the way, Roy himself was asked about this when he was inducted, and dodged the question.

Brad Park: Rangers or Bruins?

Park isn’t as well known to the current generation of fans as fellow ’70s blueliners like Bobby Orr or Denis Potvin. In fact, that’s a big part of his legacy — he was the runner-up for the Norris Trophy six times over nine seasons without ever winning, the first four to Orr and the last two to Potvin.

With the exception of two years with the Wings, he split his career between the Rangers and Bruins. And it was just about as even a split as you could imagine. He played seven full seasons with each team, plus one year split between them. And his productivity with each team was eerily similar. Via Hockey-Reference.com, here were Park’s per-game averages with each team:

park_splits

Yeah, I’d say that’s pretty close.

The verdict: The Rangers. They drafted and developed him, and he earned the majority of his All-Star selections (and Norris second-place finishes) in New York.

Chris Chelios: Canadiens, Blackhawks, or Red Wings?

As if picking between two teams weren’t complicated enough, now we’ve got to deal with three. Chelios began his career in Montreal, winning both his first Stanley Cup and his first Norris there. After seven years as a Hab, it was off to Chicago for the better part of nine seasons that included two more Norris wins. Then it was another nine years in Detroit, which brought two more Stanley Cup rings before he finally retired in his late forties.4

There’s a strong case to be made for all three teams. Montreal gets bonus points for drafting and developing him; his Chicago years were his most productive statistically; and he was a member of the Red Wings when he won two Cups and started shattering longevity records. He played more seasons in Detroit but more games in Chicago. He scored more points in Chicago but averaged more production per game in Montreal. These are getting tougher.

The verdict: The Blackhawks get the nod in a very close one. Despite the lack of Stanley Cups in Chicago, Chelios put up bigger totals there than anywhere else, and he was a first-team All-Star three times compared to just once each with Montreal and Detroit.

Joe Mullen: Penguins, Flames, or Blues?

And here we go again with another three-team battle. Mullen started with the Blues and spent four and a half seasons with them before being traded to Calgary, where he played four and a half more. Then it was on to Pittsburgh, where he played five more seasons before returning for one more later in his career. That gives the Penguins a slight edge in both seasons and games played, and he earned two Stanley Cup rings in Pittsburgh.

But he also won a Cup in Calgary, and that one came in his best statistical season. His 51 goals and 110 points in 1988-89 were career highs, and you could make a good case that he was the Flames’ best player that year, while he was just a very good supporting guy for his titles in Pittsburgh. He also had his only postseason All-Star selection in Calgary, as well as both of his Lady Byngs, if you want to count those.

The verdict: Mullen goes in as a Flame. And please, no more three-team dilemmas, OK?

Adam Oates: Red Wings, Blues, Bruins, or Capitals?

Oh for the love of …

Yes, it’s good old Adam Oates, who played more than 1,300 career games but never more than 400 for any one team. He played for a total of seven different franchises, and four of them can make a decent case for him going in under their banner.

So let’s do this by process of elimination. Oates was signed and developed by the Red Wings, and played his first 246 games with the organization. But he was never a star there, and had only one season that you’d even describe as noteworthy. That was in 1988-89, and the team traded him to St. Louis that offseason as part of the disastrous Bernie Federko deal. So Detroit is out.

It was in St. Louis that he developed into a superstar, establishing his reputation as one of the greatest setup men the game has ever seen. When I picture Oates, it’s as a Blue, feeding Brett Hull during the latter’s 86-goal MVP season in 1990-91. That was the year that Oates was named to the second All-Star team, the only such honor he managed over his career. But as good as he was in St. Louis, Oates played fewer than three full seasons there, so the Blues’ case is on shaky ground.

Oates actually played more games for the Capitals than any other franchise, which is odd since until his coaching stint many fans probably forgot he was ever in Washington. But while it’s tempting to chalk up his Washington run as a veteran guy playing out the string, he was actually very productive. Oates led the league in assists three times in his career, and two of those came mostly as a Capital.5 He also made his only appearance in a Stanley Cup final with Washington. So the Caps have a much stronger case than you’d think.

That leaves the Bruins, where Oates teamed with Cam Neely and had his best season in 1992-93, racking up 97 assists and 142 points. Amazingly, he still only came in fourth in All-Star voting among centers that year, and he never won an award in Boston. But his offensive totals were higher in Boston than anywhere else.

The verdict: The Bruins are the choice, as we opt for quality over quantity. Also, let’s put his plaque between Hull and Neely and watch all the goalies run for their lives.

Larry Murphy: Capitals, Penguins, or Red Wings?

Murphy is another Oates-style star who played for a long time but never settled in with any one team. I’m calling this one a three-team race, although you could make a case for the Kings to be included in the discussion. They drafted him, and he played his first three seasons in L.A., including being the runner-up for the Calder Trophy in 1981. He also played three seasons for the North Stars, as well as two for the Maple Leafs and oh weird how did this get here.

But it’s the Caps, Pens, and Wings who are going to fight this one out. As with Oates, Washington can claim that Murphy played more games there than anywhere else. He also racked up more points, as well as a second-team All-Star nod and one of his two seasons as a Norris finalist. But he didn’t win a Cup in Washington, which opens the door for our next two teams.

Murphy played five full seasons in Pittsburgh and almost five in Detroit, and he won two Cups with each team. His offensive numbers as a Penguin dwarfed his totals as a Wing, and that’s true even when you adjust for era. While he was still a very good player when he arrived in Detroit, he was firmly into the “grizzled veteran” phase of his career.

The verdict: The Stanley Cups and slightly better era-adjusted totals make Pittsburgh the choice, in a narrow decision over Washington. Sorry, Caps fans. At least you get Mike Gartner.

Lanny McDonald: Maple Leafs or Flames?

McDonald’s 16-year career was split fairly evenly between Toronto and Calgary, with a brief stop in Colorado in between. He was primarily known as a goal scorer, and he did that equally well with both teams, scoring 219 career goals with the Leafs and 215 with the Flames. Of his four 40-goal seasons that were spent with just one team, three came in Toronto compared to one in Calgary. But that one was the big one, a 66-goal campaign in 1983 that ranked as one of the most productive scoring seasons any player had ever had.

His assist numbers were better in Toronto, giving him higher point totals as a Leaf despite playing fewer games, and on an era-adjusted basis the gap gets even wider. He had one second-team All-Star berth with each team, which were his only two major awards (although he did win both the Clancy and the Masterton as a Flame). But his only Stanley Cup came in Calgary, as he finally captured his first championship in 1989 in what would turn out to be the final game of his career.

The verdict: In a photo finish, Lanny goes in as a Maple Leaf. The Cup win was a great moment and the 66-goal season is tough to ignore, but he was drafted by the Leafs and was more productive while playing his prime there than he managed to be as a veteran in Calgary.

Mark Messier: Oilers or Rangers?

Messier’s NHL career lasted for 25 years, including 12 with the Oilers, 10 with the Rangers, and three where he was strapped into a rocketship and shot into space, according to Vancouver Canucks fans.

His numbers in Edmonton were far better; he averaged 1.37 points per game there, and 0.99 in New York. But again, that’s as much about era as anything; adjust for that, and his Ranger numbers are marginally better. He also had three first-team All-Star selections in Edmonton along with a second-team pick, compared to just one first-team selection in New York, although you’d probably expect that given that he spent his prime years with the Oilers (if a guy who stuck around for 25 years can really be said to have had a prime).

Messier claimed one Hart Trophy as league MVP for each team; he also had one runner-up finish for the Rangers, which was the only other top-eight finish of his career. And of course, there are the Stanley Cups, which are pretty lopsided: He won five with the Oilers to just one with the Rangers, and also claimed his only Conn Smythe in Edmonton.

So the numbers are close, but would seem to lean toward Edmonton. But if you want to factor in sentiment and story lines, the call gets tougher. Messier’s most famous moment, The Guarantee, came in New York, and his reputation as the best leader in sports was born there. And while he won only one Cup as a Ranger, it was a huge one, ending the franchise’s record 54-year drought. When you hear the words “Mark Messier Stanley Cup,” you picture him laughing maniacally next to a terrified Gary Bettman before you think of anything he did in Edmonton.

You could also argue that Messier spent most of his time in Edmonton playing under Wayne Gretzky’s shadow, while the Rangers were definitively his team for his entire time there — even in the late ’90s when Gretzky was on the team.

The verdict: Messier goes in as an Oiler. Sorry, Rangers fans; story lines and media hype are nice, but they don’t trump five Cup rings.

Filed Under: NHL, Brendan Shanahan, Doug Gilmour, Dino Ciccarelli, Al MacInnis, Paul Coffey, Pat LaFontaine, Wayne Gretzky, Patrick Roy, Brad Park, Chris Chelios, Joe Mullen, Adam Oates, Larry Murphy, Lanny McDonald, Mark Messier

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Sean McIndoe ’s work can be found at Down Goes Brown. When he's not writing, he makes hockey jokes on Twitter at @downgoesbrown.

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