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:
Kent Nilsson has the highest APG and PPG of any eligible NHL player not yet in the Hockey Hall of Fame, he is the only eligible player in the Top 10 in APG and PPG not in the Hall. Why is a player with Top 10 career rate stats not in the Hall of Fame? Does it have to do with how he left the NHL? Does it have to do with his games played and inflated ’80s stats?
926A (18th All Time)[2. 2nd All Time at his retirement] for
1467P (14th All Time)[3. 3rd All Time at his retirement]
+159[4. Since 1967-68] in
1394 games;[5. 7th at his retirement]
143.7 PS[6. 5th at his retirement]
Mikita is 20th All Time in Offensive Point Shares[7. Mikita was also 2nd All Time in Offensive Point Shares]
At his retirement, Mikita was 6th All Time in GPG, 2nd in APG and 5th in PPG[8. Minimum 1,000 games]
Era: Mikita is 3rd in Goals, 2nd in GPG, APG, Points, PPG, OPS, PS and Games, and 1st in Assists[9. Of the 6 players to play in at least 1200 games between 1958 and 1980, as only 3 players played in 1250 games, and only 2 players played in 1300 games over that span]
82-game average: 32G, 54A for 86P
3-year peak:[10. 1966-69] 74-game average of 36G, 60A for 96P
731G (5th All Time), 1040A (10th) for 1771P (6th), +28 in 1348 games; 155.5 PS
Dionne is 16th All Time in GPG, 9th in APG and 6th in PPG
Dionne is 9th All Time in Offensive Point Shares
In his Draft Class,[1. 1971] Dionne[2. Drafted2nd overall] is 1st in Games, Goals, Assists and Points
Era: Dionne is 1st in Goals,[3. Dionne is ahead by 231 goals] GPG,[4. Dionne is ahead by .09 GPG] Assists,[5. Dionne is ahead by 260 assists] APG,[6. Dionne is ahead by .07 APG] Points,[7. Dionne is ahead by 517 points] PPG,[8. Dionne is ahead by .18 PPG] OPS,[9. Dionne is ahead by 46.2 Offensive Point Shares] and Games, he is 2nd in PS[10. Of the 5 players to play in at least 1100 games between 1971 and 1989. Because Dionne was remarkably healthy and his career so long, only 1 of other player played 1200 games during this span.]
82-game average: 44G, 63A for 107P, +2
3-year peak (1978-81): 82-game average of 57G, 77A for 134P, +38
Playoffs: 21G, 24A for 45P, -5[8. Since 1984-85] in 49 games
Adjusted: 610G (16th All Time), 883A (18th) for 1493P (12th)
Adjusted 82-game average: 37G, 54A for 91P
If the qualifier is set to 750 games, Dionne is 14th All Time in Adjusted PPG[11. If the qualifier is raised to 1,000 games, Dionne is 8th All Time]
717G (6th All Time), 873A (23rd) for 1590P (10th), +197[1. Since 1967-68] in 1282 games; 163.8 PS (25th)
Esposito is 12th All Time in GPG, and 10th in PPG[2. Esposito held the career PPG record at the end of the 1970-71 season]
Esposito is 5th All Time in Offensive Point Shares
Era: 1st in Goals,[3. Esposito is ahead by 243 goals] GPG,[4. Esposito is ahead by 0.15 GPG] Assists,[4. Esposito is ahead by 97 assists] Points[5. Esposito is ahead by 356 points] PPG,[6. Esposito is ahead by .14 PPG] OPS,[7. Esposito is ahead by 42 OPS] PS,[8. Esposito is ahead by 41.1 Point Shares] Games, and 2nd in APG[9. Of the 5 players to play in at least 1100 games between 1963 and 1981, as only 2 players played in 1150 games, and because only Esposito played in at least 1200 games during the span]
82-game average: 46G, 56A for 102P
3-year peak (1970-73): 78-game average of 66G, 73A for 140P, +48
Playoffs: 61G, 76A for 137 in 130 games
Adjusted: 671G, 837A for 1508P
Adjusted 82-game average: 43G, 54A for 96P
Esposito is 11th All Time in Adjusted PPG[10. If the qualifier is set at 750 games; if the qualifier is raised to 1,000 games, Esposito is 6th All Time]