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In what I hope will become a continuing series, I want to examine all things Ottawa with the alphabet serving as my organizing principle. Starting at the beginning means A, and A is for Alfie, the first name that comes to mind for most Ottawa fans.
While Alfie is enjoying a resurgent season, talk of his legacy continues. If this is indeed Alfredsson's last season, he would be Hall of Fame eligible in 2015. Alfie has meant everything to the Ottawa franchise, but most hockey
I will be upfront with my opinion/bias: I think Daniel Alfredsson is a Hall of Famer, one of the dominant wingers of the 2000s, and should find his picture somewhere between Teemu Selanne and Nick Lidstrom in Toronto's Hall once he hangs up his skates for good.
However, I also think Alfie will have a hard time getting the recognition he deserves. I don't think he will be on the first ballot and I think his case will suffer from judging criteria that hasn't caught up to the changed dynamics of the contemporary game.
One of the most difficult aspects of examining a player's candidacy is the lack of consensus about what constitutes a Hall of Fame career and how that criteria must be adapted to reflect certain eras in the game.
I have ignored individuals who played the bulk of their career before the 1960s. Seasons were shorter and world events cut short or took the best seasons from many careers. I have no interest in suggesting men who served their countries for years during the Second World War and Korea aren't Hall of Famers and their stats are too difficult to compare with modern NHLers.
From 1960 onward, there are three distinct eras: The end of the Original Six (1960-1967), a lower scoring league which did not see an Art Ross Trophy winner score 100 points in a season once. This should be qualified, as it was a 70 game schedule, and with an additional 10-14 games per season, four winners would likely have passed the 100 point plateau. What followed was the Expansion Era (1967-68 - until late 1990s): the high-flying, high-scoring, assault on the record book era that many of us, at least partly, remember from childhood. This era saw an increase in games played, with increases to 74 in 1967-68, 76 in 69-70, 78 games in 70-71, and 80 in 74-75. Expansion added a number of poorly run and not initially talented teams to the mix as well as an influx of European players who changed the game. This era saw players frequently win the Art Ross Trophy with ridiculous totals, including: over 130 points 24 times, 160 points or over 12 times, and over 200 points 4 times. Lastly, the contemporary era which features considerably less scoring, is the era Alfredsson has played his career in. The advent of trap teams like the Devils and Hitchcock's Dallas winning the Stanley Cup, coupled with a glut of teams, and rule changes have resulted in a period where scoring is more difficult. Since 2000, only three Art Ross winners have failed to score more than 100 points. However, only 3 during that span had 120 points or more, and no one has had more than 130.
Keeping these eras in mind, I will look at the careers of Hall of Fame forwards inducted in 1975, 1985, 1993 (the 1994 to 1996 Hall of Fame classes featured no suitable forwards from these eras) and 2005 to see if the 2015 class should feature a potentially eligible Daniel Alfredsson.
The 1975 induction class consisted of: George (Chief) Armstrong, Irvine (Ace) Bailey, Gordon Drillon, Glenn Hall, Pierre Pilote. Of the five, Armstrong offers the most interesting comparison. He played 21 seasons for the Toronto Maple Leafs and was named an all-star seven times. Despite being a high scoring junior player, Armstrong was never offensively dominant in the NHL. His career totals are a modest 296 goals and 417 assists, for 713 points in almost 1200 games. He scored at about the same pace in the playoffs (26-34-60 in 110 career postseason games). His best pro season saw him score at a rate well below a point a game in 1961-1962 (.76; 21-32-53 in 70 games).
Armstrong was a multiple Cup winner, include three straight victories in the early 1960s (1962, 1963, 1964, and 1967). But what seems to have put Armstrong over the top and made him a Hall of Famer is his leadership abilities; his Hockey Hall of Fame biography states as much: "He never attained the scoring heights in the NHL as he had in his junior and senior days but Armstrong brought determination, leadership, and humour to a Leafs squad that was trying to escape the shadow of the Barilko tragedy in the early 1950s". He captained the Leafs for 11 years, and was, according to Conn Smythe, the best captain the team had ever had (in addition to the Hall of Fame honour, Conn Smythe named one of his horses after Armstrong).
In 1985 Jean Ratelle was inducted after a career 21 seasons with the New York Rangers and Boston Bruins. Ratelle won the Lady Byng twice and when he retired was sixth all-time in league scoring, posting career numbers of 491-776-1267 in 1281 career games. In his prime, Ratelle was an elite player, collecting 46 goal and 63 assists for 109 points in 63 games in 1971-72, his best season, winning the Lester B. Pearson Award. The main knock against Ratelle is that he never won the Stanley Cup; however, his contribution to Team Canada during the 1972 Summit Series is cited in his Hall of Fame bio to illustrate his elite status to negate this deficiency.
In 1993, Steve Shutt was elected to the Hall of Fame. Once a first team all-star and twice a second team all-star, Shutt won five Cups with the Canadiens in the 1970s serving as Guy Lafleur's winger. He led the league in goal scoring with 60 goals in 1976-77 (60-45-105 in 80 games). However, over the course of his career, Shutt was not quite a point a game player (424-393-817 in 930 games).
Finally, Cam Neely was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2005. Despite never winning a Cup as a player, Neely attended five all-star games and was a second team all-star four times. He had three 50 goal campaigns and in 1993-94 had an unofficial 50 in 50 season (scored his 50th in his 44th game, but it was his team's 66th game). However, injuries hampered Neely for most of his career, limiting his career totals (395-299-694 in 729 games with 1241 PIMs) and resulting in a long wait to join the Hall of Fame.
Where does this lead Alfie? While many detractors waste no time in pointing out that Alfredsson has never lifted the Cup, many Hall of Famers (including Ratelle and Neely) never played for championship teams. Alfredsson has played the majority of his career in a 30 team league. In today's NHL, it is extremely difficult to win the Cup because of expansion, more playoff rounds, the salary cap, and the push for greater parity (by comparison, Armstrong won four Cups in a 6 team league). Alfredsson has been a core member of Team Sweden during the NHL's Olympic years, winning gold in 2006 (the international argument worked in Ratelle's favour and is frequently cited in the case of Paul Henderson). Alfredsson won the Calder trophy in 1996, was named to the All-Rookie Team, is a 7 time all-star (two time starter), and was a second team all-star in 2005-06. He was voted to Sports Illustrated's All-Decade team for the 2000s, and Michael Farber noted his elite offensive production as well as dominant two-way play as the reasons why. Alfredsson has recorded thirteen 20 goal seasons, four 30 goal seasons, and two 40 goal seasons. While injuries have cut several seasons short, Alfredsson remains at a near point a game pace. He has scored over 1000 points and played over 1000 games, all with the same team. Finally, he has been team captain since 1999-2000.
It is worth noting that Alfredsson lost a season in the prime of his career because of the lockout. During the years 02-03, 03-04, 05-06, 06-07, Alfie averaged 33 goals and 54 assists. However, in the season immediately following the lockout, Alfie had a career year, producing highs in goals (43), assists (60), and points (103). Adding another 35-40 goals and 85-100 points to Alfie's career totals would make his record hard to ignore for even the most critical of voters.
When both his era (low scoring/trap era, 30 teams, salary cap) and his accomplishments are considered, Daniel Alfredsson should find himself enshrined with hockey's greats in Toronto.