Who should or shouldn’t be in the Hockey Hall of Fame is always a topic hotly debated among fans, media and historians of the sport. There is no defined set of criteria for entry into the hallowed Hall. The game has changed significantly over the past century and comparing statistics of today with those in the 1940s is a meaningless endeavor. However, it is fun to debate which players eligible for selection have been snubbed, and alternatively which players got in that maybe didn’t deserve to. Here are my picks for the top 10 eligible NHL players not in the Hall of Fame:
10 – Rick Martin
A member of the fabled French Connection line that was so dominant for the Buffalo Sabres in the 1970s, Rick Martin was overshadowed by the great Gilbert Perreault throughout his career. Even after retirement, when many thought Martin would finally get out from under the shadow of his slick centerman he continued to play second fiddle. Perreault was inducted – deservedly – in 1990, while to this day Rick Martin remains on the outside looking in. Though he played a relatively small number of games – 685 – he racked up 701 points, including 384 goals. He twice scored 52 goals and just missed the 50 goal mark a third time, notching 49 in 1975-76. His career was cut short by a devastating knee injury otherwise his stats would surely have been much higher.
9 – Phil Housley
One of the best offensive defensemen of all time, Housley’s contributions throughout his career were always underrated. With 1,232 points he ranks second all time among American-born players, having only recently been passed by Mike Modano. He also ranks 4th all time in points by a defenseman, and all those ahead of him – Ray Bourque, Paul Coffey and Al MacInnis all sit comfortably ensconced in the Hall of Fame. Sure, he never won a Stanley Cup, but his statistics more than make up for that.
8 – Dino Ciccarelli
Consistency and longevity are two traits that it seems are not highly valued by the Hall of Fame. Guys like Mike Gartner and Larry Murphy were almost “grudgingly” admitted to the exclusive club, despite consistently putting up solid numbers over lengthy NHL careers. Dino Ciccarelli falls into the same category of player. He did enjoy a couple of “peak” years, however, where he scored over 50 goals and 100 points, and his 608 career goals and 1,200 career points in only 1,232 career games are certainly nothing to sneeze at. He was also great in the playoffs, scoring 73 times in 141 games, including an impressive 14 goal total in his rookie year that helped the Minnesota North Stars reach the Stanley Cup Finals. Again, a lack of a Stanley Cup ring is probably the biggest strike against him, but if guys like Joe Mullen and Michel Goulet are in the Hall there is no reason Ciccarelli shouldn’t be.
7 – Tom Barrasso
Though Patrick Roy and later Martin Brodeur stole the spotlight through much of Tom Barrasso’s career there is no denying this guy was one of the best in the game throughout the 80s and 90s. Barrasso started off with a bang, earning himself the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year and the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goalie (the youngest goalie to ever do so) in his first campaign with the Buffalo Sabres. He went on to win 124 games with the Sabres before moving on to join the Pittsburgh Penguins. Barrasso didn’t play much in his first two seasons with the club, but in 1990-91 he took the reins, and while Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, and Ron Francis were providing the offense Barrasso was a brick wall between the pipes, back-stopping the club to two consecutive Stanley Cup wins in 1991 and 1992. He’d play for another decade before finally calling it quits. He was the first American goaltender to reach 300 wins and his 369 currently rank him second all time in that category. He also holds NHL records for most assists with 48, most consecutive playoff victories with 14, and is tied for the record for most consecutive regular season victories with 11. If all that isn’t enough to get him into the Hall of Fame then I don’t know what can.
6 – Carl Brewer
Though most of the overlooked players on this list are relatively fresh out of retirement here is one example of a guy who’s been passed over by the Hall for decades. Carl Brewer starred for the Toronto Maple Leafs for the bulk of his career, and once remarked that he wanted to die a Maple Leaf. Brewer’s numbers pale next to Phil Housley’s but you must remember he played in a completely different era. He was a slick stickhandler and one of the best passers in the game during the 60s. He anchored a Maple Leafs’ blueline that won three Stanley Cups during the 60s. After a four year absence from the NHL during which he starred for the Canadian National team as well as spending some time playing hockey in Finland he returned with a vengeance. He lit it up from the back end, racking up 39 points in 70 games for the Detroit Red Wings. He would finish his career, where he belonged, with the Toronto Maple Leafs, finally hanging up the skates after one final hurrah in 1979-80.
5 – Rogatien “Rogie” Vachon
It really seems like goalies have to excel even more than other players in order to get into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Rogie Vachon is another prime example of a goalie who has been overlooked for far too long. Vachon was superb as a member of the Montreal Canadiens in the late 1960s and early 70s, winning a Vezina Trophy and three Stanley Cups. However, the emergence of Ken Dryden in the 1971 playoffs made Vachon an expendable asset. Vachon would move on to join the Los Angeles Kings where he continued to sparkle, stymieing shooters with his incredible reflexes and his signature lightning quick glove hand. Though he would never again sip out of the Stanley Cup, Vachon did help lead Team Canada to the 1976 Canada Cup, where he was named both goalie of the tournament and the Canadian MVP. Vachon would go on to record an impressive 355 wins during his career, and has the rare distinction of not allowing a single penalty shot goal during that span.
4 – Mark Howe
Obviously having a famous relative in the Hall of Fame is no help in getting inducted. Yes, Mark’s father, Gordie Howe, is one of the biggest legends in NHL history, and has been in the Hall for decades, but Mark himself has been snubbed by the voting committee despite his famous dad. Of course, no hockey fan wants to see someone enter the Hall based solely on their bloodlines. However, Mark Howe makes a very compelling case for induction based solely on his own merits. He actually spent the first several years of his career playing with his father and his brother Marty in the WHA, starring with both the Houston Aeros and the New England Whalers. When the WHA and NHL merged prior to the 1979-80 season he went along for the ride, patrolling the blueline for the Hartford Whalers. He racked up an impressive 80 points (as a defenseman) in his first season and was a consistent point producer for the Whalers and the Philadelphia Flyers during the prime of his career. He was a three time runner-up for the Norris Trophy, and played in the NHL All Star game on four separate occasions.
3 – Lorne Chabot
Hmmm, another goalie on the list of the best NHL players not in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Seeing a trend here? Lorne Chabot goes back even further than Carl Brewer, and was one of the best goalies of the 1920s and 30s. He won two Stanley Cups, one with the New York Rangers in 1928, and another with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1932. He won the 1935 Vezina as the league’s best goalie. Chabot was one of the stingiest goalies of his time and in just 411 career games he posted an incredible 73 shutouts. When The Hockey News came out with their list of the top 100 hockey players of all time in 1998 Lorne Chabot was ranked #84 – the only player in the top 100 not in the Hall. How is that for a snub?
2 – Pavel Bure
If this guy’s career wasn’t cut short by bad knees there is no question in my mind he would already have a well-deserved spot in the Hall of Fame. However, Cam Neely’s NHL career was shortened much like Bure’s and while the former Boston Bruins’ star has been in for years, Bure has yet to get the call. If the voting committee at the Hall of Fame values “peak years” over consistency and longevity then one would think that Bure would be a no-brainer. Back to back 60 goal and 100 point seasons, over 50 goals on five separate occasions, and the third highest career goals per game ratio in NHL history, behind only Mario Lemieux and Mike Bossy should be more than enough. With 437 goals and 779 points in just 702 games played Bure’s exclusion to this point is a huge oversight on the part of the voters.
1 – Doug Gilmour
There is only one clear choice (for me) for the #1 spot on the list of the best NHL players not in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Gilmour had consistency and longevity and peak years where he dominated the game. At only 175 pounds Gilmour played the game as fearlessly as any in the history of the sport. Three times he broke the 100 point barrier, including 1992-93 when he had a staggering 127 points while racking up 100 penalty minutes as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He went on to play almost 1,500 games during his career, starring for the Calgary Flames and St. Louis Blues before the Leafs before becoming “well traveled” towards the end of his career. In that span he scored 450 goals and recording nearly 1,000 assists, finishing with 1,414 points. With such an impressive resume there is no question that “Killer” has earned a deserving spot in hockey lore. Induct him into the Hall of Fame already!