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Hockey Hall of Fame: Where the Stanley Cup is meaningless

Greg Wyshynski
Puck Daddy

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The Stanley Cup resides inside the Hockey Hall of Fame as a symbol of the NHL's championship heritage, as well as so that fans of woebegone teams can witness what their jersey looks like next to one for the first time in their lives.

In the words of Dr. Henry Jones, Jr., it belongs in a museum; but given the Hall's induction standards, it's odd that the Cup is a centerpiece inside its walls.

[Related: Mats Sundin's Hall of Fame plaque comes with hair and all]

Hall of Fame Class of 2012 inductee Joe Sakic is a player defined by his leadership, which in turn was defined by his championship success. He won the Conn Smythe when the Colorado Avalanche won the Stanley Cup in 1996. He was the Hart Trophy winner when the Avs won it again in 2001. One could argue that the two images that define Sakic have him holding the Cup over his head as captain, and handing it to Ray Bourque so he could raise it himself for the first time.

It's that success that makes Sakic seem like the Homecoming King of this induction class, with the rest of the quartet having "Despite Never Winning the Stanley Cup …" under their yearbook photos.

Pavel Bure scored 70 points in 64 playoff games but never won the Cup, despite coming close with the Vancouver Canucks in 1994.

Adam Oates had 156 points in 163 playoff games but never won the Stanley Cup, despite making the Final with the Washington Capitals in 1997-98.

Mats Sundin had 82 points in 91 playoff games but never won the Stanley Cup … primarily because you have to appear in the Final to have a chance at winning one. But hey, he sure did wield that no-trade clause effectively, eh?

All three are deemed worthy of induction for various reasons: Oates and Sundin have the stats-based arguments, while Bure's appeal goes beyond the numbers into something culturally significant as a player — at least for a generation of fans.

Their images will be etched in glass in the Hockey Hall of Fame, but their names were never etched on the Stanley Cup. The Class of 2012 is another reminder of the peculiar relationship between Hockey's Holy Grail and admittance into one of its most sacred temples.

Going back to 1992, there have been 56 former NHL players inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Including the Class of 2012, 14 have never won the Stanley Cup.

[Photos: Class of 2012 Hockey Hall of Fame slideshow]

Now, there are two essential questions about the Cup's relationship to "immortality":

1. Is it the Hockey Hall of Fame or the NHL Hall of Fame?

2. Should an individual player be punished for his lot in life, a.k.a. the teams he was unfortunate enough to play with during his Cup-less career?

To that first point: Ideally, the totality of a player's hockey career should be considered for his candidacy. Slava Fetisov isn't in the Hall of Fame for his two Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings, but for his status as Russia's greatest defenseman.

But not every player has that body of work outside of the NHL, which means they're judged by their accomplishments within the League — comparable stats with other candidates and other measures of success.

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In some cases, the Stanley Cup created the Hall of Famer: Clark Gillies is just another rugged goal-scoring winger with a pugilistic streak without the New York Islanders' dynasty (and, well, the talent that contributed to it). Glenn Anderson had five rings and one for the thumb, assuring his entrance in the Hall.

But it's not automatic. Dave Andreychuk lingers on the fringe with Theo Fleury, for example.

What's become clear in the Selection Committee's rulings is that having multiple rings can gain you entrance, but lacking a ring isn't a major strike against a player's candidacy.

In just the last two years, Dino Ciccarelli, Pavel Bure, Mats Sundin and Adam Oates all earned enshrinement sans Stanley Cups. Jeremy Roenick should continue the trend; could Eric Lindros join him?

All of this tracks back to that second point, which is that the Hockey Hall of Fame Selection Committee isn't going to penalize players for skating with crap-tastic teams. Which is why Mike Gartner is a Hall of Famer.

So what's odd about the Hall of Fame's consideration of the Stanley Cup in the selection process? It's how summarily obsessed everyone in hockey is about winning championships, and yet the Hall of Fame considers it a small detail in a larger biography.

[Sam McCaig: Who's next in line for Hockey Hall of Fame?]

Players dream about hoisting the Cup, and position their careers to one day do so. Executives search for players with championship experience to populate their locker rooms. Fans and media judge players on their playoff success or lack thereof — can you imagine how Roberto Luongo's legacy will be rewritten if he ever captures the Stanley Cup?

So is the Hockey Hall of Fame right to look past the importance of Stanley Cup champions, or does it regrettably undervalue them?

I'd argue the latter, especially in evaluating players that don't possess one. Sure, you can't hold Mats Sundin accountable for a supernatural hex upon the Toronto Maple Leafs, but you can also delay his entrance to the Hall in favor of a player that did drink from the Chalice — looking at you, Dave Andreychuk.

Go ahead, make the argument that it's the Hockey Hall of Fame and not the NHL Hall of Fame, when fame gained in the NHL is the reason the vast majority of the players earn induction.

Go ahead, make the argument that it's a Hall of Individual Honors and not of championship teams. That's fine. Fact is that 75 percent of the NHL players inducted since 1992 have won the Stanley Cup. Call that a product of dynastic franchises or complete coincidence, but the great ones all seem to find a way to win the big one.

Which is why, on the occasion of their induction, Joe Sakic seems like he's in a class by himself.

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