Brendan Shanahan's 656 career NHL goals were passed over in his first season of Hall of Fame eligibility. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)
It all started out so promising. After announcing the inductions of one of the greatest goal scorers and set-up men the game has ever seen, the Hockey Hall of Fame’s induction committee was on a roll. It seemed that for one of the few times in recent years, it would run the table on worthy inductions.
Naming slam-dunk choice Joe Sakic as the next inductee made it a perfect three-for-three. But then they blew it by bypassing Brendan Shanahan for Mats Sundin.
I think I’ve finally got this group figured out. It’s made up of 18 NHL-establishment white guys, not a single one of whom is under the age of 50. And the ones who carry the most weight among them are the same people who had to be dragged into the 21st century to allow women to be inducted. Just listen to them when they call the inductees, basically congratulating them for becoming one of their little insular group. They’re not going to be dictated to by anyone and it’s almost as though they thumb their nose at people by making these bizarre selections, just to remind everyone it’s their group.
How any group of selectors could choose Sundin over Shanahan for the Hall of Fame is mind-boggling. As far as your trusty correspondent is concerned, Shanahan deserves to be inducted and Sundin does not. But I can also appreciate there is a sizeable contingent that believes Sundin is a Hall of Famer. Unlike a lot of people in the hockey world, I don’t have a problem with Shanahan not getting in, at least not yet. But to select Sundin at his expense really doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Shanahan was an elite player who, unlike Sundin, benefitted from playing for a dynastic team. He combined skill and fractiousness like few other players in the history of the game, scoring 656 goals and accumulating 2,489 penalty minutes. Sundin, on the other hand, was the epitome of consistency and a player who had to be watched regularly to be fully appreciated. His on-ice leadership skills were without peer, but as a captain he also allowed the Toronto Maple Leafs dressing room to become a fractured, spiteful place at times where fourth-liners and undeserving players had far too much negative influence. Sundin was a far more consistent points producer than Shanahan was – largely because he was much more productive than Shanahan at the beginning and the end of his career. But at the apex of their careers, Shanahan was a more impactful player. In terms of their international contributions, they were both integral parts of championship teams for their countries.
You could say that in terms of their Hall of Fame credentials, it was a saw-off. (Others will insist Shanahan’s career was far better, but they’re close.) So why induct Sundin ahead of Shanahan? Why not leave both of them out if there isn’t room for them? Well, just spit balling here, but the selection committee has always had a soft spot for anyone who spent the bulk of his career playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs. And I don’t buy for a second that the selection committee might have seen Shanahan’s induction as a conflict of interest given his close ties to the NHL’s head office. This is not a group that has ever concerned itself with perception. After all, they inducted the co-chairman of the selection committee when they welcomed Jim Gregory as a builder five years ago. (Gregory was on hiatus from his position as co-chairman due to illness at the time of his induction.)
It’s too bad, because the Hall of Fame finally did the right thing by inducting Pavel Bure and Adam Oates. Bure had to wait six years for his induction and Oates had to wait five. It would not have been a travesty to make Sundin wait a year or two.
And there’s still no place for Pat Burns or Fred Shero in the builders’ category. And after finally agreeing to induct women in 2010, there have not been any worthy female inductees the past two years. A little curious, isn’t it?
But we’ll never find out the real feelings of the committee or if there were any dissenting views because its members are sworn to secrecy over every aspect of their selection process. So we’ll also never know why they decided to pick Sundin over Shanahan this year.
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN's other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.