Anders Hedberg’s Hall of Fame case is very similar to that of his countryman’s, Ulf Nilsson. Both came to North America at the same time. Both dominated the WHA and won Avo Cups. And then they left the Jets together for the Rangers, where they had some team success and less individual success. (And lots of injury problems.)
By some metrics, Ulf Nilsson was the Greatest Player, or at least Greatest Forward, in WHA history. (APG and PPG, specifically.) But when he moved to the NHL he saw his numbers plummet and his career fall apart due to injuries.
In this episode we discuss whether or not Ulf Nilsson did enough in the WHA for us to say he belongs in the Hall of Fame.
Since the position of defenseman was created, there have been defenders who contributed to the team’s offense and there have been players who didn’t much. But this difference was exacerbated by the expansion of the NHL in 1967 and the phenomenon of Bobby Orr, who destroyed scoring records for defenders, and showed that teams could expect scoring from the back-end in ways they never imagined.
This change essentially created a dichotomy between “offensive” defensemen, who scored a lot, albeit not quite as much as Bobby Orr, and “defensive” defensemen, who didn’t score much at all. For our purposes, we’ve arbitrarily assumed that a “defensive defenseman” is a defender which manged .35 adjusted PPG or less throughout their NHL career.
The Hall of Fame’s attitude towards defensively inclined defenders also changed since expansion. The Hall of Fame has inducted six NHL defensemen from that era who scored less than .35 adjusted PPG (of a total of 16 legitimate candidates they could have inducted). But the Hall of Fame has inducted exactly one player who fits the bill, Rod Langway, to play the majority of his career since expansion.
This leads to three possible conclusions:
Rod Langway was the best defensive defenseman since expansion, significantly better than any other, and he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame while no other player with a similar skill set deserves the honour. OR
There are other players of Rod Langway’s ability who have been forgotten or overlooked because they didn’t get the awards votes (Norris and Hart) that Langway got, and they deserve to be in. OR
Rod Langway’s awards votes are a historical curiosity that won’t happen again and he didn’t necessarily deserve them, nor do other players who fail to contribute offensively, and no defensive defensemen should be inducted into the Hall of Fame going forward.
How do we sort out this problem?
That’s the topic of our latest episode. Listen here: