You go to the Hockey Hall of Fame’s website and you look under the category of inductees by place of birth. You look for the Czech Republic and you don’t even see the country listed. You think there must be some kind of mistake until you realize that Dominik Hasek is the first Czech player ever to be inducted.
Jaromir Jagr will, of course, follow Hasek three years after he finally decides to retire, but it’s incredible to think that of all the great Czech players who have played the game, Hasek will be the first to achieve Hall of Fame immortality. Even if the Hall of Fame decides not to induct any more women into the hall for the next decade – and with this group anything is possible – there will be more women (three) than Czech players (two) in the Hall of Fame for the foreseeable future. (Stan Mikita, who was born in the former Czechoslovakia, but grew up in Canada, is in the Hall, but is considered Slovak by birth. So is Peter Stastny, who starred many years for the Czechoslovak national team.)
More than anything, this year’s Hall of Fame induction class reflects the global excellence in the game. Of the four players inducted, only Rob Blake is Canadian. It also reflects the fact that the Hall of Fame is not above correcting its own mistakes, doing so when it moved to induct Pat Burns as a builder almost four years after his death.
It was, all in all, a very good day for the Hall of Fame – despite the fact it couldn’t find a single woman worthy of induction, but, hey these things tend to move slowly. Of course, much of the work was already done in the sense that Peter Forsberg and Hasek were no-brainers to be inducted. Mike Modano, the goal and points leader among American-born players, was as close to a shoo-in as you’re going to see. All three are Stanley Cup winners, were all dominant players at their positions and have enjoyed bountiful success on the international stage.
That leaves Blake, who is the only player among the four who had to wait beyond the minimum three-year period after retirement. Of the four players, probably the only one anyone might have any quibble with would be Blake. And they might just have a case. If you’re goal is to fill the Hall with truly great players and not just very good players, you might have an issue with Blake getting in.
Blake currently sits 18th on the points list all-time for defensemen and the only eligible players ahead of him on the list are Doug Wilson, Phil Housley and Gary Suter. Of those players, Wilson, like Blake, won a Norris Trophy, but Wilson had 50 more career points in 266 fewer career games. Like Blake, Wilson played both ends of the ice well and was a stalwart, so you could probably argue that Wilson deserves to be in the Hall of Fame every bit as much as Blake does. Blake does have a Stanley Cup on Wilson and Olympic gold, but Wilson should not be punished for not having the opportunity Blake had to play in the Olympics as an NHLer.
On the other hand, it’s not as though there are no one-time Norris winners in the Hall of Fame. In fact, Al MacInnis, Harry Howell, Tom Johnson, Jacques Laperriere and Red Kelly are all one-time winners who are also Hall of Fame inductees. Chris Pronger, another one-time winner, is sure go get in as well, but he also has a Hart Trophy to his credit. (Although Kelly might have won a few more Norris Trophies had the award been introduced before 1954, seven years into his NHL career. He might have won a couple more had he not moved to center when he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1960. Coincidentally, both Blake and Kelly hail from Simcoe, Ont., and wore No. 4.)
In any event, it’s good to be Rob Blake. Ten days after winning the Stanley Cup as the assistant GM of the Los Angeles Kings, he gets inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. It doesn’t get much better than that.
It was probably a good day to be a part of Pat Burns’ family, too. Burns’ wife Line was overcome with emotion when she received the call informing her of her late husband’s induction. And good on the Hall of Fame’s selection committee for basically bestowing an honor that Burns should have enjoyed when he was still alive. And you won’t get any arguments on the induction of Bill McCreary in the referees’ category. McCreary’s resume speaks for itself, as does his ability to take the pulse of a game and be even-handed in his approach.