You could argue that three and a half defensemen got the call from the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday.
Blueliners Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Pronger and Phil Housley were joined by forward Sergei Fedorov in the men’s player category getting the Hockey Hall of Fame nod, the latter taking a whirl on defense for Scotty Bowman years ago when injuries hit the Red Wings.
"One year we had injuries on the blue line for about six weeks, so we decided to put [Fedorov] back there. He didn’t miss a beat," Bowman, the legendary former coach of the Red Wings, told ESPN.com on Monday.
"He could play as well as any of them. He was a good skater backwards and forwards. Wayne Gretzky told me a long time ago, 'I couldn’t play defense, I don’t think Mario [Lemieux] could, I don’t think [Jaromir] Jagr could, but this guy can.' So that tells you what kind of player Fedorov was."
Lidstrom was there when Fedorov took a turn on defense for a few weeks.
"It shows first of all [how] great of a skater he was," Lidstrom said on Monday’s media call when asked about it. "It’s not easy for a forward going back playing defense, but Sergei did it in an excellent way. It showed just how talented he was, moving from one position to another."
The first Russian-born skater to register 1,000 points in the NHL, Fedorov was certainly deserving of the selection committee’s nod as a first-ballot entry, although you wondered going in whether he would be made to wait a year or two.
There would be no waiting for Lidstrom, that’s for sure: The former Wings captain and seven-time Norris Trophy winner -- SEVEN! -- the man his teammates dubbed "The Perfect Human" was a sure thing in his first year of eligibility.
"I mean, he didn’t miss hardly any games, he had different partners over the years, his point totals were phenomenal in the fact that he was so good defensively," said Bowman, a member of the Hall’s selection committee who also coached Lidstrom in Detroit. "He never got caught. He was one-of-a-kind, no question about that.
"I mean, he just never got caught. For all his point totals, which were terrific, he didn’t get them by staying up the ice. His passing was pinpoint. The thing about Nick and it’s why his record is so genuine, he played against the best forwards for most of his career. He played against the best and still put up those terrific numbers."
Pronger fueled debate on social media again all day Monday because his player contract remains active in the NHL, but I’m glad saner heads prevailed on the selection committee. Pronger stopped playing four years ago because of concussion symptoms, and just because the NHL system is messed up in how it treats certain contracts, it doesn’t mean he should pay the price by waiting for induction.
Pronger was one of the true greats to patrol the blue line, a beast who could dominate a game physically and with his immense skating and offensive ability. He was one of the most well-rounded star defensemen in the history of the game, his efforts especially in the 2006 playoffs for Edmonton one of the more unbelievable one-man shows in recent history.
Bowman, by then having joined the Blackhawks organization, remembers Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville having to readjust his line combinations during the 2010 Cup finals against Philadelphia when Pronger carried the Flyers into the finals.
"The first four games were split 2-2 and Pronger was handling a line of [Jonathan] Toews, [Dustin] Byfuglien and [Patrick] Kane," Bowman said. "I’m telling you, they were not getting much done against Pronger. So Joel decided for Game 5 to split up the three of them, put them each on one line, so that Pronger wouldn’t be able to get all three at once. That made a difference in that series. We won the next two games."
Added Bowman on Pronger: "Look it up: Every time he left a team, they missed the playoffs."
And proving that Bowman seems tied to nearly every great player that’s ever played, the legendary coach also drafted and coached Housley in Buffalo, the fourth inductee announced Monday in the men’s player category.
Housley had been passed over for many years but finally got the call.
"When he played in Winnipeg, the year that Teemu Selanne scored 76 goals [in 1992-93], Housley was in on probably 60 percent of them, maybe more," Bowman said. "He could pass the puck well, and he could really skate. Right out of high school and into the NHL."
No arguing this class.