Good call by the Hockey Hall of Fame’s selection committee this year inducting first-year candidate Ed Belfour and three stars passed over in previous years - Doug Gilmour, Joe Nieuwendyk and Mark Howe.
For years I was starting to get the feeling the Hall’s 18-member selection committee was snubbing its nose at candidates who have a less-than-pristine off-ice profile. Glenn Anderson had to wait eight years after being first eligible. He finally made it in 2008. Dino Ciccarelli had to wait eight years as well before getting in last year. Gilmour waited just five years after being first-time eligible in 2006. And Belfour? Well, he didn’t have to wait at all, getting in on his first attempt.
Pavel Bure is still waiting, five years after being first eligible. So is Theo Fleury.
So is the selection committee making a statement to stars who aren’t completely model citizens off-ice? No probably not, because the 18 members don’t think as one. They’re highly credentialed individuals who have their own opinions and standards. Say what you want about a player being judged strictly for what he does on the ice, some committee members do take into account the skeletons these players had in their closets.
I’m not going to get into the details about the trouble Anderson, Ciccarelli, Gilmour, Belfour, Bure et al. got into away from the rink. All that matters is that it takes just five members of the 18-man committee to give a thumbs down and they don’t get in.
The committee gradually turns over a couple members every couple of years. Just for the record: Igor Larionov is new to the board this year, replacing Dick Irvin. Mike Gartner and David Branch were added in 2008, replacing Ed Chynoweth and Emile Francis. Lanny McDonald, Peter Stastny, Bill Torrey, Michael Farber and Jan-Ake Edvinsson were added in 2007, replacing Al Arbour, Stan Mikita, Marty Pavelich, Richard Patrick and Frank Selke.
I recite this to add transparency to a process that has very little. Since 1999, the Hall has done away with mentioning candidates who were on the ballot because rebuffed players claimed the news they didn’t quite make it was an embarrassment.
I don’t know about you, but I would have loved to hear a detail such as Bure falling two ballots short this year, or Eric Lindros being one ballot short his first time eligible last year and again this summer, if that’s indeed how it played out.
Mark Howe had sterling credentials to get inducted when he was first-time eligible in 1998. Why he had to wait 13 years we’ll never know. Why Gilmour was good enough this year, but not good enough in 2006 when Patrick Roy and Dick Duff got in is a mystery. Only the selection committee knows for sure and maybe the changing faces we see on it can provide a clue as to why.
In our Hall of Fame primer this year, we had Belfour, Gilmour, Bure and Nieuwendyk as the top four candidates. We didn’t include Howe, quite frankly, because he’s been turned down every year since 1998. But THN did think he was worthy back then and like fine wine, he’s even better today.
And like last year, THN is still in shock the late Pat Burns hasn’t received induction in the Builders category. To us, that’s an automatic.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.