Hall debate continues, but for different reasons
One of the great criticisms of the Hockey Hall of Fame in recent years is there has been more debate about the players who get inducted than those who don't.
That's not a good thing.
Starting with Tuesday's announcement of the Class of 2008, however, the pendulum appears to be swinging the other way as the 18-member selection committee rectified two oversights -- one long-standing, one more recent -- in honoring Glenn Anderson and Igor Larionov as the only two players inducted this year. They can induct a maximum of four players every year.
Linesman Ray Scapinello, who never missed an assignment in 33 years in the NHL, will be inducted in the referee/linesman category and Ed Chynoweth, a former junior hockey commissioner from Western Canada, will be an inductee in the builders' category (he died of cancer in April).
While there can be little debate about the worthiness of all four men, this year's selection process should spark debate in hockey circles about those who didn't get in.
Too often in recent years, the selection committee has opened the Hall doors to players whose careers were exemplary but not great, whose numbers were impressive but not the stuff of legend, players who were model citizens but not models of greatness. Too often in recent years, the annual Hall announcement was greeted with cynicism -- "You mean so-and-so is in the Hall of Fame?" -- instead of the reverence such an honor should create.
This is an honor for players who are judged by a blue-ribbon, 18-member panel that includes Scotty Bowman, Peter Stastny, Serge Savard and Pat Quinn. It shouldn't be easy to get in; and with all due respect to Dino Ciccarelli, Pavel Bure, Doug Gilmour and the rest of those whose phones did not ring Tuesday, it is far better to debate the definition of greatness, the qualities that should be considered when it comes to determining Hall members, than lament that those standards weren't met after the fact.
And as Anderson and Larionov both proved with their selections, being passed over does not necessarily suggest there isn't a place for them in the Hall; it means such an honor may take time.
Here's a look at the two inductees and some of those who didn't make the grade -- at least not yet.
Who's in for 2008
It's hard to imagine a classier player, on or off the ice, than the gifted forward who was among the first great Russian players to help break down the wall that had long divided the Russian hockey world and the NHL. Larionov did not start his NHL career until he was 29 and was already considered one of the greatest players in the world. After winning two gold medals with the Russian national team and six more golds at the World Championships, Larionov won three Stanley Cups in Detroit and became a mentor and role model to an entire generation of young Russian players from Sergei Fedorov to Pavel Datsyuk.
Larionov, who is now a successful winemaker in California, recalled a 7 a.m. phone call from Bowman. The then-Red Wings coach told Larionov he had been acquired by Detroit from San Jose and Bowman planned to use him with Fedorov and Slava Kozlov on a forward line playing with defensemen Vladimir Konstantinov and longtime Larionov teammate and friend Slava Fetisov. The Russian Five was formed and the group was instrumental in bringing the Stanley Cup to Detroit in 1997, debunking the myth that European players didn't have what it takes to win in the playoffs.
Larionov, overlooked a year ago when Scott Stevens, Al MacInnis, Mark Messier and Ron Francis made up one of the strongest Hall classes of all time, had just finished a swim when he got the Hall call. He talked about the emotion of the moment (he had lost his mother a month ago) and how this was one of the proudest moments of his career.
Larionov recently took part in a series of benefit hockey games in Russia and Belarus, including one to help celebrate old friend Fetisov's 50th birthday. Among those who took part in the event was Anderson.
Anderson is one of those players whose name has come up every year at induction time with the perpetual question: Why isn't he in? Now, he said, he won't have to answer that question anymore, at least not after the Nov. 10 gala in Toronto.
There are a number of reasons for Anderson's delayed entry. First, he was part of an Edmonton Oilers dynasty, which has already sent Wayne Gretzky, Messier, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey, Grant Fuhr and Glen Sather to the Hall of Fame. Anderson hopes his induction isn't met with the "Oh, it's just another Oiler" refrain.
He need not worry. Anderson was one of the best clutch performers of all time -- six Stanley Cups, fourth all-time in playoff goals and points and second to Maurice Richard in overtime goals (five).
Yet Anderson was abrasive at times and hadn't endeared himself to the media, meaning that, until recent years, there was no real groundswell of support to see him selected to the Hall. Now that he's been selected suggests that justice may not be timely, but it is just.
Who didn't get the call
We must admit, we've changed our attitude a bit regarding the feisty center from Kingston, Ontario. He collected 1,414 points in 1,474 regular-season games (16th all time), won a Stanley Cup in Calgary in 1989 and then became a cult figure in Toronto in leading the Leafs to back-to-back Western Conference finals in 1993 and 1994. Over the course of those two playoff years, Gilmour collected 63 points. Far from one-dimensional, Gilmour earned a Frank J. Selke Trophy in 1993. In 182 postseason games, Gilmour piled up 188 points and 13 game-winners. So why isn't he in? Good question. Maybe there's a bit of a Toronto backlash. Being beloved in the center of the hockey universe sometimes skews people's views of a player's worth, both positively and negatively. Gilmour, like Anderson, might be a player whose value will be considered greater as time passes. Don't be surprised if he's on next year's list of inductees.
Bure is almost the anti-Gilmour. Not gritty, but flashy; one of those rare talents who had the ability to bring fans out of their seats at any given moment. The Russian Rocket recorded back-to-back 60-goal seasons in Vancouver in 1992-93 and 1993-94. The latter season marked the only time Bure reached the Stanley Cup finals as the Canucks dropped a classic seven-game series to Anderson and the New York Rangers. Bure failed to reach the 500-goal plateau, but did collect 779 points in 702 games and twice (in 2000 and 2001) led all NHLers in goals with 58 and 59, respectively. Was he, for a time, among the best players in the game -- a question often asked of potential Hall of Famers? The answer is unequivocally yes. But along with the collection of trophies that includes a rookie of the year award, is it enough to earn Bure a Hall nod in the absence of any meaningful postseason production (he played in only four postseason games after 1995)? Larionov said Tuesday he believes Bure has earned a spot. We aren't so sure.
The gifted playmaker presents another interesting case. Adam Oates' 1,420 regular-season points, collected through 1,337 regular-season games, ranks 15th all time. All the players in front of Oates on that list all are in the Hall or will be first-ballot Hall of Famers (Steve Yzerman, Joe Sakic, Jaromir Jagr). So why is Oates still on the outside looking in after retiring in 2004? Well, the fact he never won a Stanley Cup will be one mark against him. Oates managed to play in only one Stanley Cup finals with Washington in 1998 (the Caps were swept by Detroit). Oates also doesn't have either an international résumé to beef up his case for inclusion or the individual awards that can sometimes offset a lack of playoff success. If the selection committee holds to its apparent higher inclusion standards, this is a call that might never come.
So, the goalie wins two Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe as playoff MVP in 1997 and is 11th in all-time wins and still can't get his face in the Hall? Hardly seems fair, does it? Or is it the right call? Vernon will certainly never match up against his generational peers like Dominik Hasek, Patrick Roy or Ed Belfour. He indeed suffers from what former teammate Chris Osgood is likely to face when he retires -- the perception that he was a good goaltender on very good teams. He wasn't required to carry a team, a la Roy or Hasek, and was never considered the best at his position at any given time in his career. This doesn't diminish what Vernon accomplished, but it also isn't likely to earn him an invitation into the Hall of Fame.
In an era when players were filling the nets every night, the Palmarolle, Quebec, native turned in a stellar 2.99 goals-against average over 795 regular-season games, most of which came with an average-to-pitiful L.A. Kings team. Vachon didn't win a Stanley Cup and played in only 48 postseason games, but he did share a Vezina Trophy with Gump Worsley and made the Canada Cup All-Star team in 1976. All in all, not enough to earn a ticket to the Hall of Fame.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.