I have been asking myself this question for some time. You see, the Hockey Hall of Fame has a lot of people in it: 375 people, of which 259 are players. Now, I’m not one of these people who think we should have a cap; say 200 “greats” and that’s it. A cap is stupid.
Why is a cap stupid? Well, if you have a cap, you either don’t let anyone new in, once you reach it. Or you kick out old members. I think there’s nothing wrong with having a list of “The 200 Greatest Hockey Players of All Time” that changes from year to year. But you shouldn’t penalize and evict someone who was inducted to the HOF solely because they were born before sports medicine was a thing, or because they played in an era where nobody counted assists, or what have you. Trailblazing is a part of greatness.
Rather, the HOF should include all the “greats”, regardless of age, gender or nationality.
What is Greatness?
In sports, I think we can think of individual greatness in a few ways:
- outstanding athletic achievement;
- sustained success (i.e. consistency);
- incredible longevity (yes, in part due to luck);
- trailblazing ideas or performance styles;
In hockey that translates to:
- incredible performances in single seasons and / or playoffs (or even single games, for some people);
- good-to-great performance over multiple seasons and / or playoffs;
- retiring as a leader in goals, assists, points, or games-played;
- originating the position of defenseman, originating the goalie mask, originating the role of offensive defenseman, originating the role of defensive forward, originating the butterfly, originating the role of puck-moving goalie, etc;
within the sport, not necessarily a specific league. If it’s just the NHL we’re talking about, let’s call it the NHL Hall of Fame already. (But of course the NHL is the top male league and so performances in the top leagues are more important than performances in the ECHL, for example.)
(As another aside: notice I didn’t mention championships. You know why? Because the NHL is a 30 team league right now. 30 teams. At one point it was a 6 team league. There are players who won a lot of championships entirely because of when they were born. And now they’re Hall of Famers. That makes sense.)
I think these are reasonable standards for the Hockey Hall of Fame. The problem is that when a light is shone on the 259 players that have been inducted, there are some people who do not qualify as “great” in any of the above ways. Sometimes they barely qualify in one way – usually longevity, the least “great” of the forms of greatness – and sometimes they don’t qualify at all. Sometimes a player was just pretty good and yet now he is a Hall of Famer. I will cover these players in subsequent posts but to give you some idea of how I feel about the hockey HOF’s inductees, have a look at these posts:
One more thing: I would just like to note that I will be focusing almost entirely on the NHL because it’s what I know. Anyone who would like to contribute to a subject such as great female hockey players or great European players who never made it to the NHL, I would love to hear from you.