The Hall of Fame Candidacy of Daniel AlfredssonJared Wickerham/Getty Images
It’s not looking good for Daniel Alfredsson. The 41-year-old free agent has yet to rejoin the Red Wings, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that the back problems that bothered him throughout the summer are still an issue. While the Red Wings are willing to give the veteran as much time as he needs to make a decision, a return is becoming less likely with every week that goes by.1
With Hall of Fame induction ceremonies taking place this weekend in Toronto, attention will naturally turn to potential future classes. And that makes Alfredsson’s status all the more interesting, because if his career ended today, he’d become one of those tough calls that make Hall of Fame debates so much fun.
So let’s do this: If Alfredsson has indeed played his last NHL game, is he a Hall of Famer? Here’s the case for and against.
For: His numbers are good
For forwards in the modern era, topping the 1,000-point mark has long been considered the minimum threshold to get into the Hall of Fame discussion, and Alfredsson clears that mark comfortably with a career total of 1,157. He falls short of the 500-goal mark, another milestone that bolsters a case, but he was never viewed as a pure goal scorer, and his 444 goals are within the lower range of what the Hall seems to consider acceptable.2
Against: His numbers are good; they’re not great
Alfredsson’s career totals are decent, but they fall well short of sure-thing territory. He sits 51st in career points, behind guys like Bernie Nicholls and Vincent Damphousse who never even dipped a toe into serious HOF conversation.
That’s not an especially great comparison, since those guys played in a higher-scoring era.3 But nobody ever said these debates were fair, and some selection committee members might look at Alfredsson’s totals and feel underwhelmed when the comparisons start getting thrown around.
He also only topped 40 goals and 90 points once in his career. Basically, his numbers fall into that “consistently very good, rarely great” category that sometimes fails to impress voters.
For: Some comparable players are already in, or will be soon
One Hall of Famer who overlaps much of Alfredsson’s era and had similar career point totals is Joe Nieuwendyk (1,126), who made it in his second year of eligibility. Sergei Fedorov (1,179) is expected to get in once he becomes eligible in 2015, and Jarome Iginla (1,176) would make it if he retired today. Guys like Glenn Anderson and Joe Mullen are also in, despite playing in the high-scoring ’80s and putting up fewer career points than Alfredsson.
Of course, the most unavoidable comparable for Alfredsson is Mats Sundin. Those two have always been linked thanks to the Leafs/Senators rivalry, and because they were off-ice friends as well as teammates on various Swedish international teams. Sundin finished with significantly better career totals, including 564 goals and 1,349 points, but he had the benefit of playing a few years in the early ’90s. Sundin made it in in his first year of eligibility and nobody really batted an eye, so that would imply that Alfredsson should at least have a shot.
Against: Plenty of other comparable players aren’t
According to hockey-reference.com’s career similarity scores,4 Alfredsson’s two most comparable players are Jeremy Roenick and Keith Tkachuk. Both of those players have been eligible for a few years and settled into that perpetual “close, but not this year” territory, although Roenick, at least, has an outside shot to get in eventually.
Other guys with similar career numbers include Pierre Turgeon, Alexander Mogilny, Rod Brind’Amour, and Theo Fleury, not to mention a guy like Dave Andreychuk who’s well ahead of all of them. That’s a group of really good players, but none of them ever gained much Hall of Fame momentum.
(By the way, if you’re getting the sense that the Hall of Fame tends to be all over the map with the way it treats offensive forwards, you’re on the right track.)
For: He had a reputation as a solid defensive player
“Reputation” is the key word here, since these things are always up for debate, but most who watched him play would agree that Alfredsson was a decent two-way player.
He never won a Selke or was even a finalist, but he earned votes most years and finished as high as fourth in 2006. He killed penalties and earned the trust of defensive taskmaster Jacques Martin in the early ’00s. His possession stats were merely OK, but we only have those for the later stages of his career, and I’m guessing that the selection committee isn’t going to worry about Corsi and Fenwick all that much.
We can split hairs over whether Alfredsson was a great defensive player or merely a good one, but he clearly wasn’t some sort of one-dimensional guy who could only be trusted in one half of the rink. That will serve him well, taking some of the sting out of his not-quite-elite offensive totals. Defense isn’t always enough to get a guy into the Hall – Brind’Amour won two Selkes and finished with more points, and he’s not in – but it sure helps.
Against: He never won a major individual award
Alfredsson never won a Hart Trophy, and he only finished in the top 15 of voting once (in 2006, when he finished fifth). He never came close to winning the Art Ross or Rocket Richard, nor did he win a Conn Smythe. He was never a first-team All-Star, and he only made the second team once. It’s hard to look at his résumé and point to a time when he was ever seriously in the “best player in the league” conversation.
He did win the Calder as rookie of the year in 1996, which some would consider a “major” award. But if the Calder has an impact on a player’s Hall of Fame chances, it seems like a relatively small one. Alfredsson also won the King Clancy in 2012 and the Mark Messier Leadership Award in 2013, which are nice enough honors that won’t help his HOF case much. Other than those awards, his only other appearance as an awards finalist was a second-place finish for the Lady Byng in 2004.
It’s worth mentioning that while winning awards certainly helps, a lack of hardware doesn’t disqualify a player from Hall of Fame consideration. Sundin never won anything besides the Messier Award. Adam Oates and Dino Ciccarelli didn’t win anything either, and both guys were inducted recently. When the selection committee gets together, it appears that individual awards fall solidly into the “nice to have” category, but aren’t a deal-breaker.
For: He was always pleasant with the media
This is the dumbest possible reason to put somebody in the Hall of Fame, but it always ends up being a factor so we might as well mention it. Alfredsson was unfailingly pleasant to deal with, and virtually nobody has a bad word to say about him. Whenever he makes his retirement official, every article about it will include the word “classy.”
Being nice to the ink-stained wretches doesn’t help a hockey player as much as it does in baseball, since hockey’s Hall of Fame isn’t voted on exclusively by media. But perception matters, and in an especially close vote, being seen as a nice guy could make a small difference.
(And by the way, Ottawa fans and media will absolutely go to bat for Alfredsson’s candidacy. Any bad feelings left over from his departure are fading quickly; in this town, he’s viewed as a 100 percent sure thing.5 If he doesn’t make it on the first ballot, the entire city will find a way to blame the whole thing on Toronto and declare civil war. Toronto will not notice.)
Against: He never won a Stanley Cup
Alfredsson made the playoffs 15 times, 11 of those as team captain, but was never able to lead his team to a Stanley Cup championship. Should that matter? No, because Cup rings are a dumb way to measure an individual player’s worth.
Alfredsson was among the best player on plenty of very good Senator teams. They went to the final in 2007,6 and they probably would have won the Cup in 2003 if they’d been able to win a Game 7 at home against the Devils. Alfredsson’s career numbers in the postseason were lower than his regular-season totals, but not by so much that you’d point and yell “choker.”
He was one guy out of 20. He did all he could. If his teams never managed to win a Cup in a 30-team league, that’s just how it goes for good players sometimes. But yes, somebody will try to hold this against him.
For: He won an Olympic gold medal
If judging an individual player based on Stanley Cups is bad, this may be even worse. Yes, Alfredsson helped Sweden win gold in 2006. The Olympics are the highest level of international competition and make for great fun. They’re also a two-week tournament that basically includes just six possible winners. One result doesn’t tell us much about individual guys on the roster.
And let’s not even go down the road of world championships. Yes, as certain types of people love to endlessly point out, it’s the Hockey Hall of Fame, not the NHL Hall of Fame, but that doesn’t mean that every random tournament needs to be factored in.
If you’re the type of fan who thinks that Alfredsson’s lack of Cup rings somehow makes him “not a winner,” then sure, go ahead and mitigate that by considering his Olympic gold. But the Hall of Fame shouldn’t worry much about either.
Against: He’ll be up against some tough competition
If he never plays another game, Alfredsson will be eligible in the class of 2017. That’s stacking up as an awfully tough year. Teemu Selanne will be a first-ballot lock. Then there’s Martin Brodeur, who’s still holding out hope for a comeback but increasingly looks like he could be done. That would be two no-doubt selections for a class that’s only allowed a maximum of four. Alfredsson would also be up against whatever backlog of good candidates are still hanging around from previous years. And after a recent trend of inducting the maximum four players, the selection committee could always throttle back to its more traditional two or three. Add it all up, and Alfredsson’s case for making it in his first year would be dicey.
Then again, the whole “first year” distinction is kind of silly — you either make it or you don’t. It’s hard enough to project what the class of 2017 might look like; anything beyond that is basically a guess. But at some point, a spot or two should open up.
For: He spent almost his entire career with one team
We hear a lot about bias in the Hall of Fame process: whether certain positions are favored, whether guys from Original Six teams or big media markets have a better chance, whether the Hall’s location creates a pro-Toronto bias.7
But I’ve always argued that there’s a different bias at play, and it’s one that really does seem to affect the selections: the bias in favor of guys who are primarily identified with one (and only one) franchise.
Think about it. Some of the most controversial Hall of Fame selections spent their entire prime with one team, such as Clark Gillies (Islanders) and Bernie Federko (Blues). Meanwhile, players who bounced around a lot tend to have a much tougher time getting in; consider guys like Roenick, Turgeon, Mark Recchi, and Phil Housley, all of whom have the numbers to make a good Hall of Fame case, but each of whom played for at least five teams, none for more than half his career.
It’s not a hard-and-fast rule — Nieuwendyk moved around during his career and still got in fairly quickly — but it certainly looks like players who are strongly identified with a single team get a major boost to their chances. Alfredsson’s late-career heel turn aside, his 17 years as the face of the Senators should help him.
The bottom line: Is he in or is he out?
I think he gets in. I’d probably put his odds at just a shade under 50/50 for his first year of eligibility, but he should get in reasonably quickly after that. And again, all of this assumes he doesn’t play again. His career numbers are so borderline that if he did come back and added even another 20 goals and 40 points, it could be enough to move the needle even further toward induction.8
Should he get in? That’s a tougher question, and one that depends on which players you want to compare him too. If Glenn Anderson is a Hall of Famer with 1,099 career points while playing in the greatest offensive era ever, then Alfredsson is a no-brainer. If Dave Andreychuk can score 640 goals and captain a Cup winner and still not get any serious buzz, then Alfredsson shouldn’t even be allowed to buy a ticket. That’s the beauty of Hall of Fame debates — you can cherry-pick whichever comparables you want in order to make an ironclad case for either side.
At the end of the day, Alfredsson will be the sort of selection that could raise a few eyebrows, especially among the “Hall of Very Good” crowd, but it shouldn’t generate any real outrage. The Hall has certainly done worse. Not every pick needs to be a slam dunk.
(Plus, it will be fun when he does his entire acceptance speech wearing a Red Wings cap while Senators fans set themselves on fire.)
This article was updated to correct that Bernie Federko had a lengthy career with the Blues.