As I was fond of saying years ago while supporting Igor Larionov's induction case, it is the Hockey Hall of Fame, not the NHL Hall of Fame. Larionov didn’t need to wait long, inducted in his second year of eligibility, in 2008, and how could he not be after a star-studded career on both sides of the ocean? The question is, why haven’t his two linemates from the famed KLM line -- Vladimir Krutov and Sergei Makarov -- not joined him in the Hall?
We’ll focus on Makarov because he’s got the stronger case of the two Russian wingers, although both are arguably deserving. The right winger with a left-handed shot won two world junior titles, eight men’s world championship gold medals, a Canada Cup and two Olympic gold medals.
The Case For
Larionov is on the Hockey Hall of Fame’s 18-member selection committee, so he has to be careful not to fully endorse any candidate publicly. But he can certainly talk about watching Makarov day in and day out all those years on one of hockey’s most famous lines.
"When you Google Sergei Makarov’s name, you better have lots of paper ready to write down what you find as far as his accomplishments," Larionov said. "You look at his longevity, his consistency, his skill level, he played more than 20 years and was one of the best players in the game."
Makarov was an incredibly dangerous offensive player.
"His speed, his skill and his hockey sense," said Larionov. "His eagerness to be the best every single shift, every single game, every single tournament, his goal was to the best every time he was on the ice.
"It didn’t matter if it was the Soviet league, or world championships, or Canada Cup, or Olympics, he was always the guy that was hungry to score goals and to be successful and at the end of the day, to be the guy at the top spot."
Makarov took the NHL by storm when he finally got the green light to come over, putting up 86 points (24-62) with the Calgary Flames in his rookie season, earning him the Calder Trophy at the age of 31 (which prompted a change for the Calder, making only players under 26 years old eligible for the rookie award).
In all, Makarov put up 384 points (134 goals, 250 assists) in 424 regular-season games, not bad for a player past his prime by the time he got to the NHL. Combine his Soviet league numbers with his NHL numbers, at least to give some idea of his career, and he had 1,094 points (456 goals, 638 assists) in 943 combined regular-season games.
The Case Against
The naysayers will argue Makarov piled up goals and points in his 20s against lesser competition given the Soviet league’s inferior standing to the NHL. No arguing that the Soviet league was inferior than the NHL. The NHL is the best league in the world for the best players and the fact that Makarov only played six seasons at the end of his career in the NHL no doubt works against him, fair or not.
But I guess you just don’t know, do you, how he would have fared in his 20s in the NHL?
Can we guess, however?
For starters, the NHL was a wide-open offensive haven in the 1980s, so one would think Makarov would have thrived in that era. And if he was able to put up three seasons of 70-plus points in his 30s upon arriving the NHL, can’t we imagine him doing even better when younger in a more wide-open NHL?
Heck, yeah, Makarov is worthy of induction. Again, the Hockey Hall of Fame is about all of hockey, not just the NHL. You can’t discount Makarov’s prime role in those dominant Soviet teams, which steamrolled internationally. The KLM line is arguably the most famous in hockey history. All three players on the line should be in, not just one. Let’s start by adding Makarov next.
ESPN panel: 36 percent voted into Hockey Hall of Fame.