The Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 2017 was a study in contrast.
There was Paul Kariya, who had 989 points in 989 games, in a career cut short by injury. The induction of players like Pavel Bure (702 games) and Eric Lindros (760) made the world safe for Kariya, who made an unquestioned impact in a short time frame in the NHL.
Then there were Dave Andreychuk and Mark Recchi. Andreychuk played 1,639 NHL games, scoring 640 goals in that span with 1,338 points in total. Recchi played 1,652 games, scoring 577 goals with 1,533 points. They both retired at age 42, playing effective hockey well into their fifth decade on this mortal coil.
“It was an honor to play 22 years. To stay healthy through that was never easy. Taking care of myself on and off the ice was a huge part of it. Being mentally prepared to play the game was a huge part of it,” said Recchi.
They’d be the first to tell you that their candidacies for the Hall were not built on “Fame.” Neither Andreychuk nor Recchi had the starring roles that Teemu Selanne or Paul Kariya had. They were supporting players, even in their best years: Recchi hit 54 goals and 123 points playing on the Crazy 8s line with Eric Lindros; Andreychuk had 53 goals in 1993-94 on a team that say Doug Gilmour score 111 points.
I know this bothers some people that consider Hall of Fame enshrinement to be for the true stars of the game, the elite of the elite, players who truly made an impact during their time in the NHL.
Yet I’m trying to figure out how longevity has somehow been deleted from the description of “impact.” How doing what Andreychuk and Recchi did during their marathon careers isn’t, in its own way, as laudable as what Kariya did in his tragically shorter one.
The counterargument was made by Colin Fleming of Sports Illustrated, who wrote that Andreychuk and Recchi are what he deems “compilers” rather than true Hall of Famers.
What increasingly matters for me is doing something at elite levels, in unique ways and making stylistic impacts on the game. Changing components of it. I’d rather see a peak of six seasons, from a mercurial player, who did what he did better than anyone else ever has, or close to it, than 30 goals and 70 points year in, year out, for fourteen years.
That’s fine, although the “stylistic impact” argument would limit the Hall of Fame to about five players a generation. (Although it was a great one to make when it came to the candidacies of Bure and Lindros.)
What I’d take issue with is the notion that longevity, and effective play in the totality of a player’s career, can’t be considered an “elite level” in and of itself.
From Quant Hockey, a summary of NHL player career lengths through the 2013-14 season:
A typical career of an NHL player can be summarized with one word. Its short! Over half of all NHL players play less that 100 games during their career and for approximately 5 percent of players, their first NHL game is also their last. If we look at this from a different angle, long careers are extremely rare. Only 4 percent of players (that’s 1 out of 25) dress up for more than 1000 games.
And then you have players like Andreychuk, who won his only Stanley Cup at 40, and Recchi, who won one at 37 and then again at 42.
Look, if judged by “Fame,” these guys fall short of the standard. If judged by individual awards, they … don’t have any. If judged by “stylistic impact,” it’s hard to say that an immovable object in front of the net on the power play and a 5-10 pug known as the “Wrecking Ball” are really shifting the paradigm for playing style like, say, Nicklas Lidstrom did.
They have the career numbers – Andreychuk is No. 14 all-time in goals, while Recchi is No. 12 in points – but not those several straight years of dominance that other Hall of Famers have. And obviously some people are content with explaining away those numbers as “well, you complied them over a long career.”
Except that’s the point: They won the war of attrition vs. the NHL.
They played through pain, through injuries, through massive shifts in how the game was played. (Although in Andreychuk’s case, there’s no question that the shift to positional defense in the 1990s probably helped add years to his career.)
(And by positional defense I mean the Trap, but I’m a Devils fan, so…)
And in the end, after over 1,600 games for both of them, there is absolutely no debating that they have Hall of Fame numbers. Top 15 in goals or top 15 in points all-time punches your ticket every time, even if you have to wait as Andreychuk did.
And if the debate is that they only earned these tickets because they played into their 40s, so what? They thrived, excelled and succeeded in a sport that’s inherently violent and injurious, and in a League that’s designed to physically decimate players by the championship rounds.
We all have our own thoughts on what the Hall of Fame should be, but I came to understand what this Hall of Fame is a few years ago when Clark Gillies was inducted: It’s place where all kinds of greatness is lauded. Where an enforcer has a plaque near Bobby Orr, or where a stay-at-home defenseman has a plaque near Rocket Richard, or where Dave Andreychuk’s 640 “garbage” goals will have a plaque near Wayne Gretzky’s 894 mini-masterpieces.
You can point to Gillies and tell the next generation “here is what the sport was, and here is what he did and why he’s here” and you can point to Recchi and say “this guy played more games as a player than the Nashville Predators have as a franchise, and here’s why that’s an incredible achievement in hockey” and you can point to Andreychuk and say “there are guys in this league they never want to pay the price in front of the goal like this guy did.” It all tells the story of the NHL. It’s just that some chapters are more compelling than others.
Greatness comes in many forms. Including long-form.
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