In the past, I have been rather agnostic about whether Patrik Elias or Alexander Mogilny would get into the Hockey Hall of Fame one day. Both had great careers. Elias became the best forward in New Jersey Devils history, an analytical monster, and one the best Czech forwards of the past few decades not named Jaromir Jagr (who is still playing). Mogilny has broke the 1,000 point mark in under 1,000 games (1,032 in 990 to be exact), won a Lady Byng Trophy, and he was the first NHL drafted player to defect from the USSR to play for Buffalo in 1989. Both have made history and have been honored respectively. No one will wear #26 again for the Devils. Mogilny’s defection was historically important for the game. I was fine with Elias not being in it and I figured Mogilny will eventually get in; but I could see why they have not made it so far given that their individual resumes were lacking compared to others in the Hall. It’s the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Team Legends after all.
The Hockey Hall of Fame announced this year’s inductees this afternoon. Now I am more passionate about both Elias and Mogilny getting in based on who actually got selected for 2023’s class. Per the Hockey Hall of Fame’s website:
- Henrik Lundqvist, player
- Pierre Turgeon, player
- Caroline Ouellette, player
- Tom Barrasso, player
- Mike Vernon, player
- Ken Hitchcock, builder
- Pierre Lacroix, builder
This class of inductees is just not good. More than that, it weakens the nature of the Hall. I mean, if Vernon and Barrasso are Hockey Hall of Famers, then Elias and Mogilny should be in ASAP.
Let me get the deserved ones out of the way first. As much as I do not want to praise a key member of Our Hated Rivals, Lundqvist was legitimately one of the best goaltenders of his generation. He finished his 15-seaosn career, all with one team, with an overall save percentage of 91.8%, was constantly in the mix for Vezinas (and won it in 2011-12), and elevated his team. I have no doubt that the young goalies of today, particularly those from Sweden, look up to Lundqvist. His induction was the most obvious one going into this year and I have no complaints about it. Even my hatred of Our Hated Rivals has its limits.
Likewise, Caroline Ouellette is the most decorated player out of this whole class. Medals? She has four Olympic golds, six World Championship golds, and earned honors in a lot of those tourneys around the early to mid 2000s. It is true that women’s hockey is a small pond where there are two nations that matter and Ouellette played a lot for one of them. She was a reason why Canada was such a force. As such, her influence (among others) is seen in the current and future of Canadian women’s hockey. Shame that she spent so much time playing for a CWHL that did not pay its players until 2017, but it is what it is. Ouellette absolutely deserves to get in and even over Lundqvist to be honest about it. If there was a year for the HHOF to induct two women’s players, then this would have been the one given the other members.
Pierre Lacroix was the GM and President of Quebec in 1994 - and he went to Colorado in 1995. He was the one that took a Nordiques team and turned the Avalanche into contenders. He made the deal for Patrick Roy. He was part of that Claude Lemieux three-way deal in 1995. And the one back to NJ in 1999 for Brian Rolston. He swapped Owen Nolan for Sandis Ozolinsh. He flipped Mike Ricci and a pick for Shean Donovan and the pick that became Alex Tanguay. He acquired Ray Bourque and Dave Andreychuk. He added Rob Blake for Adam Deadmarsh and a package. Colorado under Lacroix won two Cups and went to the Western Conference Finals four other times. He remains as Colorado’s longest serving GM, although I think Joe Sakic will pass him in a few years. I can understand his inclusion as a builder.
The last really deserving member is a bit of a reach: Pierre Turgeon. Similar to Elias and Mogilny, Turgeon has not accomplished much. He has a Lady Byng trophy from 1992-93 and that is it. He never made an All-Star Team (not the All-Star Game, the team announced at the end of the season). Although he was a center in a world that had Gretzky and Lemieux among others blocking his path. Turgeon scored over 500 goals (515) and put up over 1,300 points (1,327) while mostly playing in the 1990s when scoring went down. Turgeon was a consistent 60+ point player up until the final five seasons of his career and even then he put up at least 40 in each of those until his last stand in 2006-07. There is a case that he was better than he was given credit for. Again, if Turgeon is in (and he is now), then the case for putting Elias and Mogilny is much stronger as both achieved more individual accolades than Turgeon.
That case is also stronger given the other three inductees. How are any of these three in the Hockey Hall of Fame?
Let me begin with Ken Hitchcock. This man won one (1) Jack Adams trophy in 2011-12 and one (1) Stanley Cup with Dallas in 1998-99. While he bossed the Stars back to the Finals in 2000 for a glorious defeat to the Devils, that was the high-water mark of his career. Was he good at getting the team going in the regular season? Yes. His teams missed the playoffs just five times in the seasons where he lasted until the end. He had a run from 1996-97 through 2005-06 where the team he coached earned at least 100 points save for 2001-02 when Dallas canned him. Yet, since 2000, Hitchcock’s teams won a grand total of seven playoff series. The 2011-12 season that earned him his one and only coaching trophy ended with St. Louis enduring a second round loss to Los Angeles. That would be the only time the Blues won a playoff series under Hitchcock until their run in 2016. That run did not avoid him getting fired in 2016-17 after a poor 50 games - similar to when Dallas fired him in 2001-02. Hitchcock may be a very good coach but he was not a legend like Pat Burns or supremely accomplished. How is he in the Hockey Hall of Fame? Because he was around for a long, long time, won a heap of division titles with Dallas and Philly, and rode one championship for nearly 20 years? Come on.
His credentials are better than goaltender Tom Barrasso’s though. Barrasso had an amazing 1983-84 season. He won the Calder and the Vezina and made a NHL All Star Team and the All Rookie Team. An 89.3% overall save percentage back then was really good! His 1984-85 season was nearly as good with Barrasso’s second All Star appearance, a William Jennings trophy he shared with Bob Suave, and finishing second to Pelle Lindbergh for the Vezina. Barrasso was all of 19 by then. Then came the rest of his career of compiling good numbers for his era. And more compiling. And even more compiling. The only other thing Barrasso ever won was two Stanley Cups with Pittsburgh in the early 1990s and a third All Star team in 1992-93. That’s it out of a 19-season career. One amazing rookie season, an excellent sophomore season, and a career of being good enough to pile up a lot of numbers. How this is Hall worthy, I could not tell you. He was a finalist for the Vezina, which would be great reason to put Barrasso in Hall of Almosts. Maybe this induction is the HHOF’s way of honoring runner-ups with a career save percentage of 89.2%. At least Turgeon broke rare milestones with his points. What Barrasso did beyond be around for a while is beyond me.
Barrasso looks like Brodeur or Lundqvist compared to the least deserving player of this year’s class: Mike Vernon. Mike Vernon! Mike Vernon, who made one All Star team in his career and it was the second team in 1988-89! Mike Vernon, who never won a Vezina! Mike Vernon, whose only goaltending trophy was a William Jennings trophy in 1995-96 he shared with Chris Osgood! Mike Vernon, who played for over a decade in Calgary and then joined a monstrous Detroit team in the mid-1990s, which won it all in 1997. Not that he needed the Cup ring so badly as he was part of that 1989 Calgary team that did it. Vernon got the Conn Smythe in 1997 for a legitimately hot 92.7% overall save percentage over 20 games. Spoiler: He had just four playoffs with an overall save percentage over 90% and the other one was a 92.4% as San Jose was dumped in five games in 1999. Even when considering the era, these are not amazing numbers! And Mike Vernon is in the Hall of Fame! This is not a legendary goaltender! This is a guy who got hot a handful of times after playing throughout the 1980s for Alberta’s second best team! Mike Vernon finished his career with an overall save percentage of 88.9%! Mike Vernon, who added nothing new to the goaltending position like a Roy or Brodeur or Hasek! This man is now in the Hockey Hall of Fame! No, not Calgary’s Hockey Hall of Fame. Or the Mike-Only Hockey Hall of Fame. The real, complete Hockey Hall of Fame! How! HOW.
With Barrasso and Vernon now entering the Hall, does this mean we will see a run on this level of goaltender from the past entering the Hockey Hall of Fame? Who’s next? Andy Moog? Mike Liut? Chris Osgood? Cam Ward? Nikolai Khabibulin? Craig Anderson? Mike Smith? Chico?
The inclusion of Barrasso and Vernon (and Hitchcock too) are the latest examples of the Hockey Hall of Fame watering down its own legacy. My understanding and belief is that the Hall should be a museum, inclusive only the finest and important players of their era. Individual accolades like end-of-season awards and All Star selections often drive who gets in and who does not. Reality has taught me otherwise. The selection committee involved clearly has a different opinion. As such, the Hall has added some dubious selections. Players that were really not the best in their day, such as Guy Carbonneau, Kevin Lowe, Mark Howe, Glen Anderson, and Clark Gillies among others. Older fans can debate on some of those, but the reality is that their inclusion only invites arguments for other players to get in. Which only weakens the meaning of being inducted further as those other players may be more or less very good but propped up because of someone else. Again, if there was a year to name another women’s hockey player or even an international-based player to be part of this class, then this was it. Or even just not induct four players - the Hall has done that before too. I am indeed seething a bit about the Vernon induction.
Alas. What is done is done. Undeserving as I think they are, Barrasso and Vernon are getting into the Hall. What this means is that there really should be more thought and consideration given to inducting Patrik Elias and Alexander Mogilny (among others) in the future. Elias has done far more than Barrasso and Vernon and carries the meaning of being one of the best Czech forwards of his era and the best Devils forward (until The Big Deal unseats him in time). Mogilny has as many Lady Byng trophies as Turgeon and edges him out in career points per game (1.04 to 1.03). His defection from the USSR alone should have warranted inclusion given how young he was when he did it.
To that end, I am converted. Elias and Mogilny were snubbed by the Hockey Hall of Fame. Definitely based on this underwhelming class of 2023 inductees. I hope there is justice in 2024, but the selection committee gives me no reason to believe they will induct Elias or Mogilny. After all, this is the same group that would not induct Pat Burns until after he died.