Jim Kelley
Wednesday June 23rd, 2010

Having trouble understanding the latest doings of the Hockey Hall of Fame?

Me too!

I thought about using a movie metaphor; one of those medieval classics where the King, simply because he is the King, condemns a worthy but perhaps flawed hero to the dungeon, seemingly for life. Time passes -- lots of time -- but just when the hero is all but forgotten and the common folk are certain the King has quietly (and permanently) disposed of him, His Highness reverses himself. He summons the tragic one to the throne room and for reasons inexplicable makes him a knight.

All is forgiven, everyone is happy, but as the movie comes to an end we see another would-be hero being slapped into chains for no apparent reason. With the dungeon door closing behind him, the scene fades to black.

Oh, and did we mention how the Queen and the Princess play scene-stealing roles that save the King from total embarrassment?

Hey, do you have a better explanation for how and why the Hall (the King) rightly appointed the first two women -- Angela James and Cammi Granato -- to enshrinement, but then brought Dino Ciccarelli back from a near decade-long banishment and made him the sole NHL player who will enter its hallowed ranks this fall?

Can you comprehend the King ignoring pleas from a legion of boosters who sought to lift the dying Pat Burns into his seemingly rightful place as a builder while he's still alive to enjoy the honor and instead anointing Red Wings executive Jimmy Devellano, a deserving candidate who was bypassed on more than one occasion, and the late Darryl "Doc" Seaman, one of a seemingly endless string of Flames owners? (His contributions to the game outside of Calgary are virtually nonexistent.)

Is there logic that exceeds what appears to be nothing more than a "because-I-said-so" decree that leaves vacant three slots the Hall could have used to honor Joe Nieuwendyk (who in this space last week was expected to be a first-ballot shoe-in) and two players off a perceived B-list that included Dave Andreychuk, Adam Oates, Doug Gilmour, Peter Bondra, Phil Housley, Tom Barrasso, Pavel Bure, Eric Lindros and Mark Howe?

It's hard to explain, especially when the Hall won't explain itself. By decree, the 18 members of the selection committee sign an agreement not to speak of nominees who don't make the cut in any given year. It's understandable given that nominees might be embarrassed to hear how they failed to muster votes. It's perhaps even understandable that in the rush to protect the players, the Hall electors also protect themselves.

The Hall, more in years past than the present, has often been accused of taking care of favorites even if they weren't up to a standard of greatness that almost any fan would want the selection committee to consistently demand. The Hall has also been accused of punishing some players who don't necessarily meet subjective criteria for good citizenship. Simply being pals with someone who is currently out of favor has been cited as enough to keep a player out of the Hall.

Like Glenn Anderson before him, Ciccarelli, who retired in 1998 with 608 goals, 592 assists, a reputation for giving coaches trouble, and a few off-ice run-ins with the law that caused him and the NHL some media embarrassment, is probably worthy of enshrinement. He was never a player for the ages and, like some of the B-listers above, he had flaws in his game that opponents could always use to diminish his impact on the sport. Still, 600-plus goals have long been a Hall-worthy number and this year the Hall chose to recognize that.

But why now and why the exclusion of Nieuwendyk, who was a model NHL citizen while winning three Stanley Cups with three different teams, and a Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP? He had multiple 50-goal seasons, was a natural leader, and had the ability to perform under pressure. It's not as if the Hall didn't have room.

Could it possibly be that the selection process is flawed?

A candidate for inclusion needs 14 of a possible 18 votes, a super majority of the highest order. If you concede that the committee is made up of qualified voters (and I would argue that is indeed the case), then it appears that something is amiss.

The Hall does have protocols. It does not mix voting. No matter how many openings there are on the men's side, the election of women does not impact the vote totals or the number of men who might be enshrined any given year. According to several sources, the committee takes up female and male players separately and then the issue of builders. It seems, historically speaking, that coaches and general managers have a far more difficult time getting in as builders than do owners and administrative types from the various leagues. In this regard, European builders are virtually nonexistent and European players have only recently begun to get their just rewards.

This year, the controversy seems to center on the male players, and one could presume that several -- Nieuwendyk and perhaps Lindros -- were close. One could argue that none, including Nieuwendyk, had the "wow" impact of last year's class that included Steve Yzerman, Brian Leetch, Luc Robitaille, Brett Hull and builder Lou Lamoriello. That perception worked against this year's crop. Had Nieuwendyk gotten in this year, he would have been a first-ballot inductee. You can trace the history of players being so honored. For every exceptional standout like Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux, there were some who perhaps deserved the first ballot honor but were denied for personal, and maybe even petty reasons.

One could also argue that enough voters came to the conclusion that Ciccarelli had been punished enough for his sins or that his significant numbers had been too long overlooked. When his name was placed into consideration, there was debate and then a vote. The vote itself is not subject to debate. After arguments were heard, the voters marked their ballots, the ballots were counted, there was a yes or no decision, and the voters moved on. Had there been three other names that achieved that "yes" status, the voting would have been closed and all remaining eligibles would have to wait until next year. To get to that status, one has to be both eligible and nominated. It's possible that some of the most seemingly likely inductees for 2010 weren't actually brought to the table despite the fact that they are Hall-eligible.

That's likely for perhaps Oates or maybe Housley, and highly unlikely for Nieuwendyk, Lindros, Andreychuk and several others. That means they didn't get to 14, and they may have gotten as high as 13, but that doesn't matter. It's 14 of 18. Falling short means falling out.

That leaves the Hall open to criticism that small blocks of voters can effectively deny worthy candidates. The Hall could fix this by adding more voters (thereby defusing the possibility of cliques conspiring to block candidates that a simple majority argues are worthy) or it could lower the bar a bit, perhaps requiring a two-thirds majority or slightly higher. Just adding one more voter could be another way to change the dynamics here. Even if the Hall still demanded 14 "yeas" it would be statistically easier to get one vote from the remaining five instead of four.

That's not a perfect solution. It could mean all the difference to Nieuwendyk or Burns, but then it might also open the door to some others who arguably don't deserve first-ballot admission or even inclusion at all. There is no perfect answer, but the system the Hall uses now isn't exactly solid.

Dino Ciccarelli as a stand-alone Hall of Fame inductee after years of being denied any status at all?

Even old school movies don't end like that.

There has been criticism that the two women elected have not had near the impact on hockey as some of the men who have been denied, but that's an apple to oranges comparison. The two were not only pioneers in the women's game, they both accomplished all there was to accomplish in their sport. While one can argue that there are many men in the Hall who could be considered "suspect" choices, that's not the case with Angela James and Cammi Granato. In electing them, the Hall set the bar famously high for those who come after them. That hasn't always been the case on the men's side.

The decision to not re-sign Evgeni Nabokov not only impacts the San Jose Sharks, it dramatically changes the already-swelled ranks of free agent goaltenders on the open market come July 1. Nabokov will likely rise to the top of the lists of teams looking to upgrade in net and he'll be a must-consider candidate for the Philadelphia Flyers, who might have won the Cup with better netminding.

Cutting Nabokov loose also gives credence to the theory (fast turning into a trend) that goaltending is not as important as offense in today's game. That theory remains highly suspect here as one can argue that the Detroit Red Wings might have gone deeper with better netminding than rookie Jimmy Howard was able to supply. The Red Wings give weight to the theory because they played Howard while GM Ken Holland has seemingly made better quality offense and defense a prerequisite over goaltending. But let's not forget that it was Holland who pried Dominik Hasek out of Buffalo with an eye toward winning the Cup several years back and it's not unreasonable to say the Red Wings went with Howard simply because they weren't able to re-invigorate Chris Osgood or get a high quality netminder via trade or free agency.

Offense matters and it's fun to watch, especially in the playoffs, but goalies still matter. Just ask any team that missed a berth because it didn't have enough in goal to win a majority of shootout games.

In not signing Nabokov, the Sharks can likely afford to re-sign Patrick Marleau, but how are they farther ahead? They didn't win it all with Marleau and Nabokov in their lineup and now they still need a veteran goaltender. The Sharks will pay a smaller price for their next netminder, but that alone won't guarantee a Cup.

The "goaltending doesn't matter" theory is more an argument over price points than the actual need for talent.

We told you last week that it wasn't a given that the NHL Players Association would extend the current CBA, but for their purposes it was the right thing to do. They did that Tuesday, in a decision that won't sit well with all the team owners, but it does guarantee labor peace through the 2011-12 season and that is not a bad thing for hockey on both sides of the table.

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