No matter how you look at it, leaving Joe Nieuwendyk out of the Hall of Fame this year was a mistake. We've documented his resume for you the past few days (and will do so again at the bottom of this post). But his numbers, awards and Stanley Cups scream of inclusion into the Hockey Hall of Fame. But Nieuwendyk's name was not called on Tuesday. It means he'll have to wait at least another year.
To Nieuwendyk's credit, he wasn't mad about it. He didn't demand a recount (though I'm tempted to do so).
"It's disappointing," Nieuwendyk said. "It would have been a real thrill. I’m not going to lose sleep over it, though. I think the support I’ve been receiving leading up to this has been really nice. I’m proud of my career and what I accomplished. Just because I didn’t get in this time around isn’t going to diminish this at all."
No, it won't. But this idea that some players shouldn't go in on the first ballot has never sat well with me. It happens in baseball all the time. The Hall of Fame is an elite honor. A voter should determine if a player is in or out, not whether he's in on the first ballot or not.
And to me, Nieuwendyk is in. But that's just me. You want some evidence? Here's a quick glance at his resume:
* Three Stanley Cups with three different teams and in three different decades -- (Calgary in 1989, Dallas in 1999 and New Jersey in 2003).
* He seemed to save his best hockey for the playoffs. Nieuwendyk appeared in 158 career postseason games and had 116 points, including 66 goals. He won the Conn Smythe Award (playoff MVP) for the 1999 season in which the Stars won the Stanley Cup.
* Won the Calder Trophy as the NHL Rookie of the Year in 1987-88 with Calgary, scoring 51 goals. That was second at the time for most goals scored by a rookie in one season (it's now fourth).
* Played in 1,257 games for five different teams (Calgary, Dallas, New Jersey, Toronto and Florida). He scored 564 goals and 562 assists for 1,126 points.
* Had two 50-goal seasons, two 40-goal seasons and four 30-goal seasons during his career.
* Was selected to the All-Star team four times.
* He played 442 games for Dallas, scoring 178 goals and 162 assists.
But more than the numbers, Nieuwendyk was a leader. He was an important example for teammates in the dressing room and wasn't afraid to speak out when necessary. Bob Gainey felt Nieuwendyk was a critical piece in the Stars' attempt to build a winner in Dallas. Just as Tom Hicks was putting the finishing touches on buying the Stars (and agreeing to put more money into the club), Gainey traded for Nieuwendyk, sending Jarome Iginla and Corey Millen to the Flames on Dec. 19, 1995 to do it. He also added Guy Carbonneau a few months earlier and Sergei Zubov and Darryl Sydor a few months later, setting the stage for Stars' success.
It was certainly a team effort in winning the Stanley Cup (and gaining valuable playoff experience in the years leading up to it). But there's little doubt that Dallas doesn't hoist that Cup without Nieuwendyk, who was sensational in the playoff run with his penchant for making things happen offensively on the ice and his ability to rally the team off it.
That's the kind of player that is Hall of Fame worthy. And it's why he should already be joining former teammate Brett Hull in that exclusive club.
At least Nieuwendyk can take some solace in Dino Ciccarelli going in this year. He's been waiting since 2002. So it's not as if leaving Nieuwendyk off this year means he won't get in. He certainly will. Some other really great players that seem to have Hall of Fame credentials like Adam Oates, Carbonneau and Doug Gilmour still aren't in. I asked the selection committee on a conference call why Nieuwendyk didn't make the cut. They said they have a policy on not commenting on players who weren't selected. I respect that. But I'd sure like to know what kept Nieuwendyk out, especially when they didn't vote in the maximum number of players allowed this year.
All that aside, Nieuwendyk is moving on and hopeful that maybe he'll get that call next year.
"Dino has been waiting a long time and I’m happy for him," Nieuwendyk said. "It would have been neat to get in on your first go-round. But other than that, life moves on. It would have been a thrill and a neat thing, but I fly to LA tomorrow to get ready for the draft."