Hasek's toughness will be called into question

Updated: May 15, 2006, 1:39 AM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- We're pretty sure that none of the plaques in the Hockey Hall of Fame contain the word "malingerer." And we're not suggesting that when Dominik Hasek goes into the Hall of Fame, his plaque will be the first.

Dominik Hasek
(Photo by Charles Laberge/Getty Images)Dominik Hasek hasn't played since suffering an injury in the first game of the Olympic tournament.

But during a playoff season that recently featured the inspiring sight of Ryan Smyth returning to set up the winner in triple overtime for the Edmonton Oilers after having his face destroyed by a puck, Hasek's inability to answer the bell as his team careens toward elimination has hardly been inspiring.

A Stanley Cup champion, a gold medalist, six-time Vezina Trophy winner, six times a first-team NHL All-Star, two times a Hart Trophy winner, two times a Lester B. Pearson Award winner. Those are the credentials of a sure-fire Hall of Famer. As such, they mark Hasek as one of the finest netminders of all time. But he will go into the Hall accompanied by the whispers that there was little in the way of "suck it up" in his résumé.

Although he insists he's close to being game-ready, it's hard to imagine Hasek will return to the Ottawa nets this season. If that's the case, Hasek's last NHL game may well have been a 29-save performance in a 3-2 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Feb. 11.

Four days later, he suffered an adductor muscle injury during the first game of the Olympics and has not played since.

Although he practiced vigorously Wednesday and Thursday, Hasek said he still wasn't ready to play, or rather, that if he played he wouldn't be able to do everything he needs to be effective.

Fair enough. The man knows his limitations. Still, for a team desperate for a lift, staring into the abyss and trailing in its second-round series against Buffalo 3-0, wouldn't it have been something if Hasek had gone to coach Bryan Murray and said, "Let me give it a go." But that's not Hasek's way. He has always been fanatical about his own well-being. Play at 100 percent or don't play at all.

Back in May 1997, when he was with the Buffalo Sabres, Hasek attacked legendary hockey writer Jim Kelley when Kelley questioned Hasek's mental state after Hasek pulled himself from a playoff game with an injury about which there was some debate.

Hasek was subsequently suspended for three playoff games and fined $10,000. After winning a Cup in Detroit in 2002 and then retiring, Hasek unretired but played only 14 games for the Red Wings in 2003-04 before pulling the chute on the season because of injury.

This spring, players and officials in Detroit quietly expressed little surprise that Hasek seemed to be taking an abnormally long time to recover from his recent injury.

In the end, this curious trait will be as much a part of his legacy as his greatness. Too bad.

Scott Burnside is an NHL writer for ESPN.com.