November 08, 2010
The Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto welcomes its newest class Monday, with former Minnesota North Stars great Dino Ciccarelli; women's stars Cammi Granato and Angela James; and builders Jimmy Devellano of the Detroit Red Wings and the late Daryl (Doc) Seaman, who founded what's now the Calgary Flames.
As with any year, there are annoying controversies that linger during the celebration. This year's class debates:
• That Ciccarelli didn't actually score all of his 608 goals, making him the first player in NHL history to ever be credited with a goal he actually didn't get a stick on (and, in turn, making this the first blog to ever employ sarcasm in a news item).
• That Ciccarelli being the only player among a maximum of four to make the cut from voters, and that Pat Burns wasn't elected, speaks to the muddled confusion that is the Hall of Fame voting process.
• That the voting for the Hockey Hall of Fame should therefore be made public.
The question is: Would making those totals, and/or those voters' decisions, public do anything to improve the process or would it simply embarrass the also-rans?
Or is this simply another case of fans and media craving another debate topic, another argument to wage over the airwaves?
Vote totals in the NHL aren't exactly state secrets. The league began real-time All-Star Game voting a few seasons ago, where fans could reload a page and see the numbers climb. The NHL Awards vote totals are released the night of the show; if players are red-faced about it, they've not made a stink over them. (Despite the fact that Alex Ovechkin(notes) had more first-place votes for defensive player of the year than Patrick Marleau(notes) in 2009-10.)
The Hall of Fame obviously isn't an NHL property, and thus keeps its vote totals close to the suit jacket. The Baseball Hall of Fame isn't an MLB property either, but releases vote totals for players so fans and media can see who came closest to meeting the necessary threshold of support for induction.
Joe Pellitier, the great hockey historian, argued for that minimum amount of sunshine for Hockey Hall of Fame voting after Ciccarelli's solo induction was decided last summer:
The Hall of Fame does not release voting results, saying that they don't want to hurt or embarrass the players who do not make the cut. But this would make the Hall more accountable. Right now the rather anonymous Hall of Fame selection committee (admit it, you can't name more than a couple of guys in that room) are hockey insiders. Voting guidelines are even vaguer. The Hall comes across as, at best, an old boys network or, at worst, holier than thou.
I have always doubted the Hall of Fame will change their ways. The best I had ever hoped for was that they would release voting results 10 years later on, or something like that. There is never enough pressure on them to do so, although that might finally change now.But is that enough? Pierre LeBrun revealed on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday that there was massive confusion among Hall voters this year, as they expected additional rounds of voting that never materialized:
This confusion, and the notion that Dino wasn't more deserving than Nieuwendyk or Gilmour or other nominees this season, has Bruce Dowbiggin of the Globe & Mail asking for full disclosure of votes for the Hall:
The problem with the Hall's voting is a lack of transparency. Anonymity gives voters cover for their actions, unlike voters for baseball's Hall Of Fame, the gold standard in such things, where votes are made public. Hence the tribal-council odour wafting from the votes suggesting friendships and agendas matter as much as stats and contributions. As well, what are journalists doing on a panel that promotes such secrecy? While you can make the argument about reforming the Hall voting from within, it's the job of the Fourth Estate to throw light on the dark corners, not obscure them.
What's true about hockey that's not true about baseball: The individual votes for the Hall of Fame are usually never revealed after the fact by the media. In baseball, you're going to eventually find out who that one guy was that refused to give First-Ballot No-Questions-Asked Superstar his vote; not so with hockey.
Thanks to the Internet, more people have been able to learn how writers voted and why. That has led to spirited discussion, debate and a free flow of opinion that has increased the knowledge of the voters and broadened their views (as well as made us aware of how many angry people there are out there with spare time on their hands). Making all votes public would help even more.
If you're embarrassed by your ballot, maybe you shouldn't have one.
Look, from a fan standpoint, there would be nothing more fun that ravenously scrutinizing publicly disclosed votes with names attached to them: accusations of cronyism, ignorance, inconsistency ... it could probably fill a week on this blog.
But would total disclosure of votes change anything? And if it does, is it a change for the better?
Voting for the Hall of Fame is and isn't a popularity contest. Yes, as a player, you have to have smooched the right asses and been a good citizen and said the right things; and then, once that's all been established, they'll check your stats.
But "Fame" in "Hall of Fame" is a misnomer. The biggest fan favorites don't always make the cut. Doug Gilmour and Pavel Bure are good examples. Yes, their cases can be made based on career achievements (and all the other stuff Down Goes Brown listed). But in the end, they're better candidates than Ciccarelli because we liked them more. Because they made more of an impact on our entertainment.
These voters are tasked with determining immortality. Do they really need 10,000 angry letters from Doug Gilmour fans the day after the inductees were revealed because Ciccarelli never had a cool-ass nickname like "Killer"?
What the Hockey Hall of Fame shouldn't do: Release the votes and who cast them.
What the Hockey Hall of Fame should do: Release the vote totals anonymously like the Baseball Hall of Fame. Because that's a debate worth having annually, and that's information that the ticket-buying public deserves to see.
What the Hockey Hall of Fame will do: Nothing, because if you don't like it, go start your own Hall of Fame, jerks.