Who should make the Hall in 2008 and beyond?
Editor's note: In our "Friday Faceoff," ESPN.com NHL writer Scott Burnside (based in Atlanta) and Toronto Star columnist and frequent ESPN.com contributor Damien Cox (based in Toronto) duke it out over any given hockey topic. Let the games begin!
This week's topic: It's Hockey Hall of Fame time, always an interesting time given some of the controversies that have dogged the institution in the past. Not much debate over this year's class, but what about 2008 and beyond?
Damien: Agreed. A truly excellent class, and superb individuals, too. Scott Stevens might end up being the last truly defensive defenseman to get in. If there's any disagreement, it's that I would argue Igor Larionov deserves induction, possibly ahead of all but Mark Messier. Larionov had an enormous impact internationally and was a star in the NHL even though he got here past his prime. The Hall of Fame, whatever you think of it, is still NHL-centric and North American-centric.
Scott: It's kind of fun to have this kind of debate with these kinds of players. I agree. I thought Larionov should have received the nod ahead of both Al MacInnis and Ron Francis given his résumé, both in North America and beyond. But that's not to suggest MacInnis and Francis aren't absolutely Hall of Fame material. The problem in the past, I think, has been classes where you could debate whether half or more actually belonged in the building without a ticket. As for the North American bias, I think that's been pretty obvious for a long time; although, I think the makeup of the selection committee with Jan-Ake Edvinsson and Peter Stastny on board may help to even that out a bit. At least, I hope it does.
Damien: It's not an insult not to get in on the first try, and I would imagine Larionov will get in easily next year. It's just that this thing has been out of whack for a few years and aggressively moving to acknowledge the contributions of Europeans now would only make sense. But it's not just the Euros. Given that Cammi Granato received the Lester Patrick Trophy on Wednesday for contributions to U.S. hockey, isn't it about time the HHOF woke up and realized it's time to start inducting a few women? I know you despise the women's game, but you would have to admit it's grown substantially.
Scott: Now, let's not be too hasty. I don't despise it. That would take too much effort. I am all for women's hockey. And if Cammi and Hayley Wickenheiser want to go to the Hall of Fame, I know where they, too, can get tickets. I agree the Hall of Fame has to reassess exactly what its mandate is. There are probably half a dozen fine European players, maybe more, that deserve consideration ahead of guys like Rod Langway, Bernie Federko and Clark Gillies. But what qualifies Granato or Wickenheiser or anyone else for inclusion in the Hall? If we complain about lesser lights from the NHL getting in, I think it just adds to the Hall's woes if you start including women who essentially exist on the very fringes of the game. I'll tell you what, when Canada and/or the U.S. gets dusted in a gold-medal game by any other hockey nation, then I'll be willing to listen. Until then, keep the ticket sales number handy.
Damien: Same old arguments. As a dad with two girls playing the sport, you couldn't be more wrong. More to the point, this is about pioneers. I'm not even talking about the Granatos and Wickenheisers, but about the women that came before them. Perhaps they should be acknowledged as builders -- France St. Louis has done more for the game than Harold Ballard or John Ziegler ever did. Or, perhaps, there should be a separate female wing. You can't just stick your head in the sand and pretend there hasn't been an explosion in women's hockey. Oh, hang on. It's you. Of course you can stick your head in the sand.
Scott: You mistake my reluctance to have women in the Hall of Fame for a dismissal of women's hockey. Not so. The explosion of women playing hockey in Canada and the United States is heartening and I hope it manages to transcend continental borders so that we see some actual international competition in the future. Because then, and I think only then, will women's hockey be afforded a greater acknowledgement from fans and the media. And if you want to put in a couple of women in the Builder's Category, I'm OK with that. Or even have a women's category in the same way there is kind of a media arm in the Hall. But if we acknowledge that this year's class is bona fide blue chip, what about those waiting in the wings next year? Have a favorite?
Damien: I do, but let's not forget to go back to the Eric Lindros (Hall of Famer or not?) debate that's already raging up here in Canada. Bob Clarke says he should get in. Who would have thunk it? With regard to next year, I would go for Larionov and Pavel Bure, then go for two players so far denied admission: Steve Larmer and Glenn Anderson. You?
Scott: I agree on Larionov, but I must admit, I am less enthused about Bure. Fewer than 500 goals, no Stanley Cups and, in fact, just one decent playoff season. Wasn't a pioneer (to use your criteria; must be a Canadian thing, no?) and displayed little in the way of heart and/or character that usually has to be on display in large doses to make up for statistical inadequacies when we're talking Hall of Fame. What about Phil Housley, recently inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame? Or, if we're looking at throwbacks, how about Mark Howe? And given our desire for a more global look at the Hall, what about Ivan Hlinka?
Damien: Oooh you're on your game today. Recent run by the Thrashers wake you up?
You're not wrong on Bure. What about Doug Gilmour instead? I like Mike Richter more than Housley, maybe just because Housley was so bloody pathetic as a Maple Leaf and in his final few NHL stops. I like Alexander Yakushev better than Hlinka, and Germany's Erich Kuhnhackl possibly better than both. The guy was a one-man team! What's your stand in Vince Dooley country on Paul Henderson?
Scott: Well, in the same way that you argue for pioneers from the women's game to be included, I wouldn't have any problem with Paul Henderson being in the Hall of Fame given his historic turn in the '72 Summit Series. But that presumes the rest of the world felt the same way about the series as Canadians do. If you put Henderson in, don't you owe a turn to some of the boys from the Miracle on Ice team from 1980 or even the Czechoslovakian team that upended the Russians back in the day? The problem is that our pioneers or seminal players (I use the Canadian "our" here) may not resonate with the rest of the hockey world in the same way. Speaking of resonates, as in having your bell rung, where do you stand on Mr. Lindros?
Damien: Good point on the Miracle on Ice guys, although having Herb Brooks in represents that group. Who would you pick? Jim Craig? Mike Eruzione? Re: Lindros, I say he gets in, although roughly three-quarters of the people who have e-mailed me would disagree. I think people are getting the fact he missed a lot of games and the fact many didn't like him, and his family's involvement will be linked to what he did accomplish. More to the point, he was a very, very big name in the game for almost a decade, for better or worse.
Scott: The problem when discussing the Hall of Fame is that too often if you say "So-and-so doesn't belong," it takes on a personal edge that shouldn't be there. That said, I think the fact Lindros had but one long playoff run in his whole career, plus his relatively short career as a whole, and the fact he did little outside to mitigate those shortcomings (he wasn't a catalyst for Canada's gold in 2002; he didn't have a Paul Henderson moment) should keep him out. People compare him to Cam Neely in terms of stats, but Neely had the kind of intangible qualities in terms of leadership that, fairly or not, Lindros does not possess.
Damien: Fair comment. But I think if you look at the credentials of individual players who are in the Hall -- Bernie Federko, Clark Gillies, even Joe Mullen -- Lindros was a better player than all of them. Here's an interesting one. What about Claude Lemieux?
Scott: Here's the problem with using past inductees as a bar. I'm more comfortable with Claude Lemieux than I am with Clark Gillies given Lemieux's ability to deliver in the playoffs across a broader spectrum and with different teams. But the bigger question is whether either of them are truly Hall of Famers. So using that rather lame criteria -- "Oh, this so-so player is in, so we should let this other so-so player in, too" -- makes me a bit queasy and I think it's the biggest challenge facing the current selection committee. It is the Hall of Fame after all, not the Hall of Pretty Good.
Damien: It's an interesting conundrum. But clearly the HHOF has chosen to be more inclusive than the rather exclusive Baseball Hall of Fame, and there's merits to both arguments. The great news about this year's class of inductees is that they'd belong on anybody's lists of greats, and that would include league executive Jim Gregory, to be inducted as a builder, and the late Dave Fay, a terrific beat writer who covered the Washington Capitals. The beauty of being you and me, of course, is that excellence has never clouded our work space. Until next week, my friend?
Scott: Until then.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com. Damien Cox, a columnist for The Toronto Star, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of "Brodeur: Beyond The Crease" and "'67: The Maple Leafs, Their Sensational Victory, and the End of an Empire."
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