|Monday, November 4
Updated: July 29, 5:09 PM ET
Why Cam Neely should be in the Hall of Fame
By John Buccigross
Special to ESPN.com
The omission of Cameron Michael Neely from the Hockey Hall of Fame.
This is hardly a new or original plea. Neely fans are numerous and passionate and have made arguments similar in tone and evidence for years.
It should be understood that I have no personal or professional relationship with Cam Neely. I have never met him or invested in Ray Bourque hair care products with him. This is purely a hockey argument. A Hall of Fame argument that, I feel, could be made for a Tim Kerr or a Brian Sutter. A pure goal scorer and a play-to-the-death leader. Hockey's two essentials … outside of goaltending. You HAVE to have goal scorers like Kerr, and you HAVE to have tough, blood-and-guts guys like Sutter. Last year, the Red Wings had Brett Hull, Sergei Fedorov and Brendan Shanahan, but they also had Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby and Darren McCarty. High-level hockey is skill and toughness, and it is my belief that Cam Neely's level of skill and toughness, combined, was Hall of Fame stuff despite a career cut short due to injury.
Neely's career lasted 726 games, more than enough to define a player. It's more games played than Sid Abel (612) and just a few less than former Bruin Bill Quackenbush (744). In those 726 games Neely had the numbers in relation to his games played -- 395 goals, 299 assists and 694 points. As a Bruin alone, his numbers are staggering -- 524 games, 344 goals, 246 assists, 590 points and a +140. The Bruins had a couple of very good teams in that time, but certainly never a GREAT one. During the 1993-94 season, he scored his 50th goal in his 44th game that season. Only Wayne Gretzky reached 50 goals in a season quicker. From the start of the 1989-90 season through the 1993-94 season, Neely scored 176 goals in 216 games.
But, as we know, there was more. He was a relentless forechecker, and insane body checker, and one of his era's better fighters. He set tone with his physical play. He made buildings rock. He lifted teammates with his checks and won games with his goals. A former NHL player told me over the summer that Neely was "the only player I was EVER actually AFRAID of as the game was going on."
As I look at the fine players who have been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame the past few years, I see players who couldn't match his physical game, and others who couldn't match his goal-scoring prowess. NEELY DID BOTH. And he did it in the clutch, when it mattered most - 57 goals and 89 points in 93 playoff games.
And he did it with class. Class in terms of fighting guys his own size, not resorting to cheap hits, and hitting with purpose. He showed courage and love of the game as he battled his serious injuries. He showed perseverance in dealing with the death of both his parents. He didn't dive, take cheap shots or flop. He was the kind of player who could have played in any era. Mothers and fathers named sons after him and he was a new generation of Bruins fans' Terry O'Reilly. He gave his heart, soul, hip, quad and knee to the Bruins, until every bit of hockey life was sucked out of him.
This is how we want our sons and daughters to play. With fire and within the rules. To be a beast on the ice and likable off it. To pummel Scot Kleinendorst on the ice, and open the Cam Neely House for families of cancer patients off the ice. In so many ways, Neely is the model. So much time is spent on how can we improve the NHL. HOW CAN WE IMPROVE THE NHL? Have everyone play with heart, fire and passion. That would improve the game REAL fast.
Norman Augustine said: "Motivation will almost always beat mere talent." Cam Neely and his teams won most nights he played in the NHL. His motivation and talent was a big reason why. Some players were great and not really remembered. And some players are remembered, but not really great. For a generation of hockey fan and player, whether NHL or squirt, Neely was the blueprint -- tough, courageous, persistent, talented and popular. A blue-collar star. The people's champ.
In closing, I ask the esteemed Hall of Fame Selection Committee to reconsider the career and case of Cam Neely. Look at the latest wave of inductees and say to yourself, "Would an NHL GM trade Neely in his prime for him in his prime?" A room in a house is better with classic, timeless pieces of furniture. The inclusion of Neely into the home of the brave and gifted would make the Hall of Fame a model home. A house that never turns its back on a family member who always did what the great game asked.
He was born in the poorest of ghettos in Chicago in 1965. He moved to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, when he was 5 and grew up in Canada. As a youth, McBride was a member of an accomplished choir that toured Canada. He attended West Point for a year and a half and was elected the first black class president in the military academy's history before deciding against being an officer and transferring to Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. At Trinity, McBride was a Division II All-American in hockey and was that school's first black class president his senior year. He got his Masters at Harvard.
In 1993 he was hired by the NHL and named director of New Business Development. Last weekend in New York City, he ran his 14th marathon. Whether a road race or a free agent signing, some things take time.
No. 1: How did you become an NHL player-agent?
No. 2: What is the plan for the company?
No. 3: Lower fees and better service, you sound like the bad guy among other agents.
No. 4: What was unique about your first few months as a player-agent and the negotiating game?
No. 5: The primary motivation in negotiation is money. Is there ever more?
No. 6: Allison is out until January with a knee injury. How disappointing is that for him?
No. 7: What is going on with Byron Dafoe?
No. 8: You've worked for the NHL and now you work for NHL players. What is your take on the labor war that is slowly creeping its heinous head?
Melrose was, for once, speechless. I filled the silent air with my explanation.
Ron Wilson is gifted and natural as a TV analyst and a golfer. He would actually make me look worse at both, so Melrose not getting the Capitals job was probably a better result for me.
Wilson is living a dream year. Live and golf in Hilton Head, S.C., visit your grown family, watch High Definition TV, and drink cappuccino, all while being paid by the Washington Capitals. The Capitals fired Wilson on May 10. And if you are a coach in professional sports and get fired, you still get paid the rest of your contract unless you take another job.
Getting paid while recharging the coaching batteries. Not bad.
Ron Wilson has hockey in every cell of his body. His dad and uncle both won Stanley Cups as members of the Detroit Red Wings organization. As much as surfing the web, golfing, and watching HDTV sounds a lot more fun than trying to figure out why Jaromir Jagr won't try hard every night, the paid, fired coach wants to coach again and it won't be long until he does.
How he spends his days: "I get up around 6:30 a.m. and make myself a cup of cappuccino. I've gotten good at making cappuccino. Then I go on-line and read up on hockey news around the league. I keep up on everything. Then around 8:30-9:00 a.m., I head over to the driving range and practice, and then play a round with a group of guys around 9:30. I collect my winnings and go home. I do some stuff around the house in the afternoon and then read my e-mails. At night I watch hockey on my home theatre until I fall asleep on the couch. I'm like YOU. I'm a geek who has nothing better to do than to maintain my golf handicap and look up goals-per-game averages. RIGHT?"
Ron has High Definition TV and loves it: "It's incredible. Once it's available to everybody, it will revolutionize how people watch the game. You feel like you are right there. I was watching a football game this past weekend and when they took a shot from high up, I thought I was falling out of the sky. For a hockey game, you can read the names on the back of all the players, unlike on a normally televised hockey game."
Watching his old team, the Capitals: "I've watched about five games. If I'm home and not doing anything, it's the first game I'll watch. Nothing much has changed. The one difference I see this year has been the play of Olaf Kolzig, but then he got hurt. And that team is really dependent on solid goaltending and Olie. For some reason, I always felt the team played better in front of Kolzig then Craig Billington. It's hard to explain. They are probably on a learning curve. The players are saying the same things as last year. They have to find a way to get their act together. They made a bunch of changes and are going to have to get better. That model of the one big superstar, you wonder if it really works."
The hurry up line change? "I think that's excellent. It requires you to think quicker on your feet. I would say most of the teams are more concerned about their best defensive pair getting on the ice. I think it's just a matter of being quicker."
Does he miss coaching? "I certainly miss it. It's what I do. I was a head coach for nine straight years. I'm enjoying the break immensely. I'm able to do things I've never been able to do. And I'm still getting paid. If I wasn't getting paid then I'd be working at a Starbucks making cappuccinos for other people and not for myself. I can do that, I've got a skill now."
If someone called you tomorrow with an NHL coaching opportunity, would you take the job? "If it's the right situation, of course I would take it. Providing the situation was right, I would seriously consider anything. But you have to feel right about the situation. I want to win the Stanley Cup and considering the shelf life of a coach is about 4-5 years, taking a job with a very young team might make that difficult."
Analyze that: "I did some TV work in Canada for TSN. And I'm going back again on November 19th for three more days."
The state of the golf game: "Very good. If you put quality time in your game can improve. I'm hovering between plus-2 and plus-3 handicap. (That's two BETTER than scratch) I've never had a hole-in-one. I shot a 70 at a U.S. Mid-Amateur qualifier and missed by a shot."
What's your take on the Spezza situation? Stay or go? It's been on the radio and TV here like it's the most important thing in the world. Sens fans love their team just like the Habs and Leafs. Love the column, keep up the great work.
The Bruins would want more than that from St. Louis for McLaren. McLaren and something for Mike Van Ryn and Jamal Mayers? Mayers would be a good Bruin. I don't see the Bruins and Canadiens pulling off a significant deal now that both are playoff candidates. I don't think the Bruins goalie rotation is a enough to make the playoffs, although the East looks worse than it did a year ago and the Bruins are on pace to score almost 300 goals this season. If they keep scoring like that, they will probably make it. But, I imagine their goal scoring will slow down a little and they will be battling for a playoff spot at the end.
Amit, my brutha. It seems as if the only "people" who bemoan the decreased percentage of Canadian born players in the NHL are ... CANADIANS!! I assure you that we here in the U.S. DON"T EVEN DISCUSS IT. We're too busy ogling hot women in beer commercials. And I'm sure in Europe they are still too excited that they can play hockey in the U.S. for millions of dollars a year and then tool around in the summer in their "Benzos" dating hot, European women. You see, Amit, here in the U.S...
WE... LOVE... JOE THORNTON IN CCM'S!!!!!!!
WE...LOVE... HOCKEY ON CBC!!!
AND, AMIT, I LOVE YOU, TOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Always go with the white. Get it matted on a dark background and have Fischer sign it in a slightly used Sharpie pen. If the pen is too new the ink won't spread enough to give it that bold look. Have him sign it between his name and his number. And ask him politely to SIGN IT NEATLY. I am appalled at the sloppiness most hockey players exhibit when signing stuff. I understand it can get difficult when there are a lot of people. But for a sweater like yours, demand a little care.
I got a catalog recently from a well-known company that sells autographed stuff and I couldn't believe how sloppy the signatures were! You couldn't even read Pavel Bure's and Mark Messier's name. It's a HUGE PET PEEVE of mine. Take a little time and make it nice. I wrote a little about signatures in a column on the Travis Roy benefit golf tournament I attended last summer that is hosted by Chris and Ted Drury.
I always consider geography when choosing my CDs on road trips. U2's "Joshua Tree" made its indelible mark on me while I attended college in Ohio. So, if ever I am driving through Ohio, it is one of my selections. Considering you will be mainly driving on 95 North, you will need five CDs. I suggest a CD to get you from Raleigh to Richmond, to the New Jersey border, one for the southern coast of New England, and one as you are entering Boston.
1. Raleigh-Richmond -- Fewer, if any, part of the United States is more beautiful than this stretch of land. I can still remember driving home after a week in Myrtle Beach for a post-high school graduation Meister Brau fest with Mike Pizzoferrato, Petey Potenzini, John Mascio, Gene DiMario and Co. (Soprano youth do Myrtle), and thinking, "Wow, I'd like to live here some day." I'd pick something smooth and timeless, like a Steely Dan compilation that has to include the "Gaucho" CD.
2. Richmond to Deepwater, N.J. -- Still on a good ride. Homey. I want songs from the heart from a band with an edge. I would go with songs from Everclear in this stretch. "Songs From an American Movie" is a good pick. "Wonderful" is one of my all time favorite songs. Burned compilation CDs from all of these picks is the best move.
3. Deepwater, N.J. to the George Washington Bridge/New York City -- This part of the ride starts scenic and ends a bit grungy. Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" and "The Rising" burned on one CD is your guide through Jersey.
4. New York City-Braintree, Mass. -- There is a grunge factor to this stretch of road as well. Potholes, some traffic and some tough towns. "Throwing Copper" from Live. I feel Ed Kowalczyk is about a good frontman in rock and roll as there is. He is a force live in concert.
5. Braintree-Boston -- You are almost there after a long drive of tolls, trees, and "ahh, why not, go ahead and super size that, 64 grams of saturated fat is just not enough!!" Just about a half hour left to Boston, one of the world's best cities. You can go many directions. Aerosmith, J. Geils Band, Jackdaw, Sinatra, Dire Straits, Godsmack or The Samples. But for me, approaching the Boston skyline on a cold, starry, autumn night means one thing: U2's "Achtung Baby" as loud as you can stand it.
Not only is it a real otter. It plays the pan flute.
I have enjoyed few things in my life more than history. Hockey, music, mozzarella sticks, otters. The list is short. When I was in high school, I memorized Kennedy's inaugural address. Just for fun. I got a D in Biology, but I could recite JFK's speech WITH the accent. This is why I never got good grades. I studied things I liked instead of what I was supposed to. Lack of focus. SHOCKING ISN'T IT? ME WITH A LACK OF FOCUS and direction and flow and organization and when did I start growing hair in my ears?
Tear it down or build a new one. A hockey only. The building is lifeless, not because of the fans, but because it is too big. I've been saying this since my column first appeared last year, and in the previous sentence, but I'll say it again. The new NHL arenas are too big. Intelligent architects understood that Three Rivers Stadium, Veterans Stadium and the rest of those mammoth parks were bad for baseball. Improper for baseball. I feel almost all of the new NHL arenas are equivalent to those 1970s concrete mountains that took away from the baseball's pulse.
The next wave of NHL arenas should be built like Chicago Stadium or Boston Garden. They can have their luxury boxes strategically placed to horde revenue, have fewer seats, a higher ticket demand and most importantly, a better hockey experience. Maybe after the labor agreement gets a control on salaries, this can be realistic. Intimate arenas also televise better. The cameras are closer to the ice. The Penguins want to build a new rink. I hope they take the lead and build a hockey rink like the Pirates built their baseball park. Simple, intimate, perfect. I hope Mario Lemieux demands that his new rink makes his fans feel as if they are holding it in their hands, and not that the arena is holding them. It would be his greatest assist.
Hi Mr. Buccigross,
The only advice I can give you Tim is my path. My parents gave me a tape recorder when I was 12 and from that day on I knew I either wanted to be a professional athlete or broadcast games of those who were. This was pre-ESPN, so my dream was play-by-play. I played with my tape recorder as play-by-play man and a disc jockey. I chose a college, Heidelberg College in Ohio, that was small enough to compete in NCAA sports and equipped with a campus radio station to deejay on, a school newspaper to write for, and television station to broadcast on. I did that for four years. Then, I was willing to work for free, five days a week for five months at a small television station while working part time at CHESS KING. Thereby, proving my passion for television and lack of long-term fashion trends, simultaneously. Then, I was willing to go to even a smaller cable station and work there for over five years and making about $17,000 a year. Then, I went to work at a larger station in Providence, R.I., for two years before somehow winding up working thirty feet from Chris Berman's desk.
Besides that quick rundown, how did I get here? Again, I'm not sure. Tim, all I can give you in terms of advice is MY approach. Not the best for everyone, I suppose. In over 12 years in the business, I've never called in sick. (Watch. Tomorrow: BUBONIC PLAGUE!) I've tried to write each word and/or read each word with all I've got, knowing effortless talent has never been my companion in anything. So, I better write from the heart and I better have good hair. I don't listen to anyone else because they are wrong and I let chance furnish me what I need. And when someone asks me how I got such a cool job and how I've had the opportunity and honor to write a hockey column for the past year, I tell them PURE UNADULTERATED LUCK. I got lucky, babe. I hope you do, too. Out.
John Buccigross is the host of NHL 2Night, which airs Wednesday-Sunday on ESPN2. His e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is email@example.com.