In this day and age, success in professional sports is measured in championships. Dan Marino, Karl Malone, Ted Williams – all great players who are often overlooked when mentioned as the greatest athletes their sports have ever seen, all because they failed to win the ultimate prize.
When it comes to sports’ ultimate prize, nothing beats the Stanley Cup, but these days winning doesn’t seem to carry quite as much weight in earning a trip into the Hockey Hall of Fame – just ask the Class of 2012. On Monday evening, Pavel Bure, Adam Oates, Joe Sakic, and Mats Sundin earned hockey’s single highest honor, though three of the four NHL forwards never got their names engraved on the Stanley Cup. Bure, Oates, and Sundin each had illustrious careers filled with records and firsts, but was it enough to be forever immortalized in the Hall of Fame?
That has been a topic of debate since the four were announced back in June.
First things first, there’s no denying that Joe Sakic was perhaps the greatest player in Colorado franchise history. Not only did he post the most career goals, assists, and points in team history, he was defined by his leadership during his 20-year career. He won the Conn Smythe during the Avalanche’s Stanley Cup run in 1996, but he also won the Hart Trophy in 2001, as he led Colorado to its second Stanley Cup.
It’s these reasons that make Sakic stand out as the elite member of this year’s inductees but that’s where the debate begins. Hockey fans and purists alike have discussed until they are blue in the face – or red in the fingertips – whether the other three should be inducted.
Since 1992, there have been 56 former NHL players immortalized in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Including this year’s class, 14 of them have never won the Stanley Cup. Sundin – who holds several Toronto Maple Leafs records – likely made the cut thanks to stats. He never even sniffed the Finals but Sundin did have 82 points in 91 career playoff games, led the Maple Leafs in career goals and points, and was instrumental in paving the way for European-born players.
Like Sundin, Oates too was inducted because his stats – but also because of the path it took him to get to the NHL. He played his college hockey at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute – a small Division III college – where he helped the team win the 1985 national championship, though eventually Oates entered the NHL as an undrafted rookie. Oates went on to score 1420 points – 1079 of which were assists – in 1337 career games but it was his 156 points in 163 playoff games that were the most impressive, despite losing in both Stanley Cup Finals appearances – first as a member of the Washington Capitals in 1998 and then again in 2003 as a member of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.
When it came to European-born players, no one was more popular in the 1990s than Bure. That’s why he likely earned the nod, not for his stats but rather because of his cultural significance. He helped define that generation, though with all the hype surrounding him, some might look at his career as a bit of a disappointment and yes, he was offside when he scored the overtime winner in Game 7 of the 1994 Western Conference Quarterfinals. In 64 playoff games, he scored 70 points and finished his career with 779 points in 702 games with the Vancouver Canucks, Florida Panthers, and New York Rangers.
While Sakic and Sundin are first-ballot inductees, Bure and Oates are hold overs. Meanwhile, players such as Theo Fleury, Claude Lemieux, Dave Andreychuk, and John Leclair – all of who are fringe players that did win the Stanley Cup – are still awaiting a potential induction. But we never really know how much the selection committee takes international play into consideration, because Bure, Sundin and Sakic each played a big role in their country’s international success.
This is probably my favorite draft class of all time, simply because of the excitement of the players involved and the fact that the 1990s will always be my favorite era of NHL hockey. Perhaps there were players that should have gotten the nod before this year’s inductees – or one that should not have been included at all. However, should a player be punished for being with lackluster teams his whole career?
We will let you be the judge.
Photo Credit: Getty