There is no set formula for entrance into the Hockey Hall of Fame. The relative merits of individual stats, major awards, longevity and Stanley Cup wins are weighed by fans and pundits alike to determine which former stars are worthy of enshrinement in a former Bank of Montreal building in Toronto. There was considerable debate when Angela James and Cammi Granato were the first women inducted in 2010. The 18-person committee of Hall Members, former players, coaches and others associated with the game don't discuss the process to provide insight into their thinking. The Hall has been accused of favouring players from the Original Six-era, of showing preference to NHL players while ignoring WHA accomplishments and players from international leagues; it has been accused of having lax standards and setting the bar too high.
I think Daniel Alfredsson is a Hall-of-Famer. I don't think he is a shoe-in, I don't think he'll be a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. But I do think he deserves to be there. I think individual statistics should be considered in the context of the era any given candidate played in.
Too often we judge players who have played in the last 20 years by the incredible scoring feats of the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s. A Stanley Cup ring shouldn't be a necessary qualification. A team achievement like a championship is great and might enhance a player's chance but should not limit the candidacy of any one individual. In the Original Six era when 4 of the 6 teams made the playoffs and there were only two playoff rounds a Stanley Cup win was a necessary achievement. Maybe in the first couple of decades after expansion when 16 of 21 teams made the playoffs a championship might have been more attainable. But in a 30-team league with a salary cap, the Stanley Cup has become more elusive than ever. Some insist international play shouldn't matter. But it isn't the NHL Hall of Fame and the inclusion of players such as Valeri Kharlamov and Vladislav Tretiak, who played their entire careers in the Soviet Union, illustrate the importance of international competition. Many advocate that Paul Henderson should be in the Hall of Fame and the basis of their arguments is his strong play in international competitions for Canada. Some people want a more restrictive Hall, with only a small handful of legends, like Orr, Gretzky, and Lemieux, enshrined. And that's fine, but I want a more open Hall, with a space for the elite players of every generation.
Impact of the 2012 HHOF Class
What the 2012 Hockey Hall of Fame class illustrates is a shift in standards. Forget Joe Sakic's inclusion. Sakic is a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer in any era; he has enough NHL and international competition success, as well individual awards, to rank among the very best the NHL has seen. The selection of Adam Oates and Pavel Bure after several years of eligibility and Mats Sundin on his first attempt, illustrate a dramatic shift in voting. 3-time Stanley Cup winner Brendan Shanahan was considered a first-ballot lock by many and yet he was left out in favour of Oates, Bure, and Sundin. While Shanahan will undoubtedly make the Hall in future years and deservedly so, this shift is good news for Daniel Alfredsson's candidacy when he eventually retires.
Never Won a Stanley Cup
Oates went to the Finals twice: in 1998 with the Capitals and in 2003 with the Mighty Ducks and came up empty-handed both times. In fact, he holds the league record for most career playoff points without winning the Cup. Bure went to the Finals just once in his injury-shortened career, in 1994 with the Vancouver Canucks, and also came up short. Sundin never made the Finals but made it to the Eastern Conference Finals twice, in 1999 and 2002. Sadly, Alfie doesn't have a Cup either, but he tied teammates Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza for the playoff scoring lead during Ottawa's run to the Finals in 2007.
Individual NHL Awards
Pavel Bure is the most decorated. In addition to taking home the Calder Trophy in 1992, Bure twice added the Richard Trophy to his collection (2000, 2001; he also led the league in goals in 1994 before the award was created). Both Sundin and Oates never won individual awards while in the NHL. Alfie's only piece of significant hardware is the Calder Trophy. While the NHL All-Star Game is more popularity contest than significant achievement, selection to the end of season All-Star Teams still carries some weight. Again, Bure leads the group. An NHL First Team All-Star in 1994, he was a Second Team All-Star in 2000 and 2001. Sundin made the NHL Second All-Star Team in 2002 and 2004, while Oates and Alfie made it only once (Oates in 1991, and Alfie in 2006).
Of the four, only Adam Oates never played for his country (Canada) in international competitions. Bure played for the USSR/Russia on several occasions, winning a bronze medal in the 2002 Olympics and a silver medal in the 1998 Olympics with Russia. He also won bronze and gold medals at the World Championships with the Soviet Union. Earlier this year he was inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame. In addition to captaining Sweden to Olympic Gold in 2006, Sundin won 3 gold medals with Sweden at the World Championships. Alfredsson has won 4 World Championship medals and was part of the leadership team which won gold for Sweden at the 2006 Olympics in Turin. His average P/G in 3 Olympic tournaments is 1.15.
All four have been leaders in the NHL and internationally, wearing letters for their teams. Oates served as captain of the Washington Capitals from 1999-2001. Sundin was the long-time leader of the Leafs, serving as team captain from 1997-2008. Alfredsson has had similar longevity and has worn the "C" for the Senators since 1999.
Bure was a 2-time 60-goal scorer and a 3-time 50-goal scorer in the NHL and scored 437 goals in just 702 games. Because of their lengthy careers, Sundin and Oates are better comparisons for Alfie. Oates led the league in assists on 3 separate occasions (1992-93, 2000-01, and 2001-02) and finished 3rd in the scoring race 3 times (1990-91, 1992-93, and 1993-04). Oates finished his career with over 1000 assists (1079), and 1420 points in 1337 games. Sundin scored 564 goals (T-21st all-time) and 1349 points (27th all-time), in 1346 career games. Along with Marcel Dionne, Sundin is the only player to record at least 20 goals in his first 17 NHL seasons. Admittedly, Alfredsson's career numbers don't quite match up with Oates and Sundin. However, Alfie does have over 400 goals (416) and almost 1100 points (1082) in 1131 career games - more than 200 less games than Oates and Sundin. If Alfie's career P/G average is applied to the length of Sundin's career, Alfie would have over 200 more career points. While such comparisons don't take into account injuries, they are telling.
One thing that should be considered when evaluating the cumulative totals of players whose careers were interrupted by the lockout is what that season might have looked like. Alfie was a late-bloomer and was in the middle of his five most productive seasons (2002-03 to 2007-08) when the lockout hit. The best season of his career came in 2005-06, directly after the lockout, when he recorded 43 goals, 60 assists, and 103 points in 77 games. What might Alfie's 2004-05 NHL season have looked like? In his 2 best seasons during that span he averaged 96 points. He averaged 87 points per season during that period as a whole. In his best 2 seasons during that time he averaged 41 goals. Over the whole period he averaged 34 goals per season. While Sundin also lost out during the lockout (he averaged 75 points per season during the period Alfie averaged 87 points per season), he didn't lose out on a season during the best statistical period of his career.
Oates, Bure, and Sundin were all rightly given the nod yesterday. Bure and Oates should have received it sooner. Sundin's candidacy was subject to much debate since he retired (he never won a Cup or a major award, but was a long-serving captain). Perhaps he benefited from playing the majority of his career in Toronto, but his first-ballot entry into the Hall of Fame bodes well for Alfie. While Alfredsson is not likely to make the Hall of Fame during his first year of eligibility, the committee's willingness to enshrine Sundin at the first opportunity suggests a new willingness to overlook traditional benchmarks for candidacy which have hampered the legacies of many former players. If the career numbers of the best players from the 1970s to the mid-1990s are the litmus test for admitting more recent players, no one should get in anymore. Sidney Crosby's best individual seasons wouldn't stack-up. Only one player, Evgeni Malkin, scored over 100 points this season. Jarome Iginla's career has spanned the same period as Alfie's and he is considered a lock for the Hall of Fame despite never having a 100-point season in his career, never winning a Cup, and a lower career P/G average than Alfie (.90 P/G for Iginla, .96 P/G for Alfie). Yet Iginla is rightly considered a lock to make the Hall of Fame because his achievements are considered in the context of the era he played in. When the same context is applied to Alfie's achievements, he too should find himself enshrined in Toronto.