In the hours leading up to the Hockey Hall of Fame's Class of 2012 announcement on Tuesday, NHL.com led with a story that labeled Joe Sakic and Brendan Shanahan as sure-things for induction. The story was still displayed prominently as the names were revealed on NHL Network: Sakic, Adam Oates, Pavel Bure and Mats Sundin.
"How any group of selectors could choose Sundin over Shanahan for the Hall of Fame is mind-boggling," wrote Ken Campbell of The Hockey News, in a rare majority opinion.
Although it won't be on the first ballot like it should have been, Shanahan will be a Hall of Famer. He's No. 13 all-time with 656 goals, a tribute to his consistency as an offensive performer, considering he scored many of them during the trap years — without the benefit of the remedial defense and porous goaltending equipment that enabled, say, Dino Ciccarelli to achieve immortality.
I thought of Ciccarelli when Shanahan was snubbed on Tuesday. He too had impressive numbers, like the golden ticket of 600-plus goals. What kept him out, at least in theory, were the off-ice issues during his career: Like an indecent exposure charge in Minnesota in 1987, and a day in jail for a stick-swinging incident against Luke Richardson. Not to mention the limo incident in Washington, D.C.
As the hockey world tries to suss out how Shanahan went from Hall of Fame lock to bridesmaid — without any candor from the clandestine Selection Committee — it's the off-ice stuff that's in focus for his candidacy.
It begins, perhaps, with his behavior as a player — clashing with Mike Keenan in St. Louis, and then forcing a trade from the Hartford Whalers in 1996
It continues in his current role as NHL senior VP of player safety. It could be argued that other than NHL commissioner, it's the most divisive job in the League considering how controversial the rulings (and their rationale) are. Shanahan's made slightly more enemies in the past year than Charlie Sheen.
Jimmy Devellano, senior vice president of the Red Wings, believes Shanahan's role "could be" something that swayed the committee.
You have to wonder if his relationship and then marriage to the wife (eventually ex-wife) of former St. Louis Blues teammate Craig Janney caught up with Shanahan on Tuesday, when he was denied first-ballot admission into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Even though the Shanahans have been married for 14 years now and have three children, how else can you explain this jarring snub?
Shanahan has always marched to a different drummer. Although he was respected by his Red Wings teammates for his play, he wasn't the most popular guy in the room. Many thought that it was too much Brendan Shanahan and not enough Detroit Red Wings. This frustrated his Detroit teammates because — despite his bravado and the Janney thing — when they were all on the ice together, they became champions.
The Hall of Fame Selection Committee loathes misbehavior and ego. They're the leading causes for placing a deserving player in purgatory until they've been properly shamed.
Pavel Bure experienced it. Ciccarelli did. Jeremy Roenick will. And it could be argued that Brendan Shanahan did this week, losing the undeniable honor of getting into the Hockey Hall Fame on the first ballot.
According to Ken Campbell's theory, it's ego that drives these decisions, too:
I think I've finally got this group figured out. It's made up of 18 NHL-establishment white guys, not a single one of whom is under the age of 50. And the ones who carry the most weight among them are the same people who had to be dragged into the 21st century to allow women to be inducted. Just listen to them when they call the inductees, basically congratulating them for becoming one of their little insular group. They're not going to be dictated to by anyone and it's almost as though they thumb their nose at people by making these bizarre selections, just to remind everyone it's their group.
Every time there's a Hall of Fame debate, someone will try to take the air out of it by calling the entire venture meaningless; a piffle, like pissing in the wind over who wins an NHL Award.
And while there may be more imperative issues in life worthy of attention — this being a debate about the entertainment industry and all — there's no denying that it does carry significance in the hockey world.
Listening to the four men on Tuesday's Hall of Fame call was listening to four children achieving a lifelong dream. It was listening to four professionals whose individual work was validated within the context of the ultimate team sport.
Shanahan was absent from the call, and never mentioned by anyone on it. Out of sight, out of mind, outside the Hall of Fame looking in.
Those of us who feel we witnessed a career with more resonance than some already honored in the Hall, we're left to wonder why this snub happened — and if petty politics and hurt feelings should carry any weight in deciding the value of a player's contributions to the game.