Hall of a decision for hockey

The 18-man Hockey Hall of Fame Selection Committee submits official nominations of candidates for election on June 8. Those nominations have already been made in writing and were filed earlier this year and are supposed to have supporting data. At the June 8 meeting, the committee will vote on the nominations by secret ballot. Any candidate receiving 75 percent or greater approval of the members of the Selection Committee present and voting is declared elected.

If the maximum number of candidates is not elected on the first ballot, a series of run-off ballots is conducted. On the run-off ballots, any candidate receiving at least 75 percent of the votes of the total number of members of the Selection Committee present and voting is declared elected.

What about the criteria? Well, for the players the Hall of Fame by-laws say: Playing ability, sportsmanship, character and their contribution to the team or teams and to the game of hockey in general. Also, a player has to be retired for three seasons and a maximum of four players can be elected each year.

So, what players will get the call on June 8?

Well, when I look at the list of first-year eligible guys, the ones who jump out at me right away are: Kevin Stevens, Rich Tocchet, Mike Vernon, Pat Verbeek and John Vanbiesbrouck. Of those four, Vanbiesbrouck and Stevens distinguish themselves by having an NHL first-team selection on their resume. This means, at least for a season, they were the best player at their position. Stevens also has two second-team All-Star selections and Vanbiesbrouck has one.

These awards are very important in considering who is a Hall of Famer. How a player ranks among his peers and how he relates to players in the past via statistical adjustments like a player's goals and/or points per game and the league per game averages is how you measure a player.

Character is also supposed to be considered according to the selection committee's by-laws, but judging character, I believe, should be left to a higher power. Does Kevin Stevens lack character because he battled drug dependency? Does John Vanbiesbrouck lack character because he used a racial slur? Some would say yes and yes. Some would say no and no. Has someone on the Hall of Fame selection committee done something in his life that, if covered in the media, would be considered unfit for the selection committee? I'll consider character for a Hall of Fame selection primarily in a positive way.

That being said, I would say Kevin Stevens and John Vanbiesbrouck are not Hall of Famers, especially when one looks at the list of eligible players not yet in. Tocchet has no postseason awards and played in just four All-Star Games in his 18 seasons. Pat Verbeek is a 500-goal scorer, but has no postseason honors and played in just two All-Star Games. Mike Vernon was an NHL second-team selection once and won a Conn Smythe. He also played in five All-Star Games which is a solid number for a goalie and two more than Vanbiesbrouck.

The problem with Vernon and Vanbiesbrouck is that they seem comparable to Andy Moog, Rogie Vachon, Ron Hextall (a Vezina and Conn Smythe), Dan Bouchard and Lorne Chabot. And I suppose you can't let them all in. If you asked 10 goaltending folk like John Davidson, Darren Pang and other lovers/historians of the game, who is the best of that lot, who would they pick? I suppose if seven of 10 picked the same guy, he would be in. My guess because of his personality, Vernon would get the nod. But, it won't be on the first ballot.

As far as the skaters, over time, I would have no problem with Tocchet and Verbeek's getting in. These guys were warriors, who loved the game and committed themselves by playing every shift with all their might and staying in phenomenal shape by eating well and hitting the gym. They had Hall of Fame heart, played a long time, won championships, and had impressive career numbers. Those kinds of players are the foundation of the game and should have representatives. I don't think players should be penalized for playing a relative short career or a long one. But, there are better players not yet in and those players, especially their contemporaries, deserve induction first.

Before we get to eligible players who have yet to get voted in, the international player is an area I can't comment on. There is too little in terms of numbers to really go on when those numbers were not accumulated in the NHL, the greatest hockey league in history. Obviously, there are some Russian players like Boris Mikhailov, Valeri Kharlamov, Alexander Maltsev and others who are clearly special talents who deserve induction. The Hall of Fame should probably have a special Russian class of Hall of Famers instead of dragging it out over a decade or so. I don't believe the current selection committee is equipped to deal with the Russian player. A handful probably are, but not the entire group. A European committee is probably in order.

Now, to the skaters who have been eligible for more than one year. This is where this year's class of Hall of Famers should come from.

Cam Neely – Neely is clearly the biggest impact player not in the Hall of Fame. Four second-team All-Star selections that certainly could have and should have been a first-team selection or two. Five All-Star selections that should have been seven. A MAMMOTH playoff performer. One questionable leg-on-leg hit easily cost him a 600-goal career and I believe a 700-goal career playing on very good teams, but not star-studded, statistic-padding teams. Seven hundred twenty-six games are enough of a sample to determine a player's rank and are more than some current Hall of Famers. He is a Masterson winner who continues to work at raising money by using his name and time to make cancer victims and their families as comfortable as possible. He scored goals, forechecked, fought, hit and inspired. You could see Neely was special. There is more empirical research in my interview with Neely below. Neely as a Hall of Famer is an absolute no-brainer. He is the best forward of all of the players eligible for the Hall of Fame. Any era, any team, he would have been a player.

Dino Ciccarelli – He once pleaded guilty to indecent exposure for an incident outside his home and once spent a night in a Toronto jail after delivering a slash to the head of Luke Richardson. In June 2003, he was arrested after a domestic dispute at his home. This has to be why he is not in the Hall of Fame. I mean, 608 goals? Forty-goal seasons with three different teams and two different conferences? He also is one of those players with my favorite stat: His numbers went UP in the playoffs. Only 12 men in NHL history have scored more goals than Ciccarelli.

Glenn Anderson – Failed to pay child support and has been labeled a "deadbeat dad" by a British Columbia agency that tracks these matter for Canadian courts. I don't know the intimate details of the matter and all that is involved, so all I have are the numbers. There are too many goals, too much playoff success and too many Cups not to be in the Hall. But again, if you're penalizing off ice "character" issues one deems negative, you have to augment careers that are shining stars off the ice.

Steve Larmer
– 1,000 points. More career goals than Rod Gilbert, Bill Barber, Dave Keon, Bernie Federko and Bobby Clarke and a good playoff performer in a gritty division. Once played 884 consecutive games. It's important for the Hall to recognize two-way players, leaders, and men who played with pride and purpose. He's one of those players who could have played in any era. His name sounds like a hockey player.

So, what will the Hall of Fame Selection Committee do? We don't know what they are thinking unless we get them over a beer at the right time. I sign affidavits to keep things pretty much top secret. They may make Ciccarelli and Anderson wait even longer and I don't have a major problem with that, although again, "judge not, lest ye be judged, what a beautiful refrain." They may put Kevin Lowe in, who won Cups and continues to show his hockey acumen as an administrator for the Oilers and the Canadian Olympic and World Cup teams. He's bright, smart, competitive and driven. They may start the Russian induction process this year. A lot could happen. One thing is for sure. Whatever NHL player gets announced as a Hall of Famer on June 8, no GM would trade Cam Neely at his best for that player at his best. And that continues to be Neely's best Hall of Fame argument.

The Great 8 debuts in The Great 8

The goal of The Great 8 is to provide an inside look at the people in our cherished world of hockey. Its mission is to be informative, revealing, funny, and introspective. It is also, by name, a quiet ode to Cam Neely because of the way he played the game: Courageously, intensely, and relentlessly.

Neely (Whenever I see Neely I think Nelly and whenever I see Nelly, I think Neely. Help me.) had a game that was intoxicating to those who watched it. He won his fights, scored more goals per game than almost every player who ever played, and got the girls. He also had one of the strongest list of Hollywood friends in NHL history: Michael J. Fox, Glenn Close, Denis Leary and the Farrelly Brothers are just some who were and are fans of No. 8, and they have embellished Neely's legend with characters like Seabass. Neely even has one of the all time best ESPN ad lines of all time: "Why don't you kick my dog while you're here?"

Can you think of any current NHL player who has that same kind of vast and pop culture appeal and pull who isn't loud and attention seeking? An NHL player who appeals to an auto mechanic in Malden, Mass., a prep school winger in Minnesota, and a Hollywood actor on America's hottest sitcom? Just think about the state of the game right now, and the perception of the general sporting public, fueled by an ignorant and apathetic media, and imagine a player being held in such esteem at this moment in CBA time.

Cam Neely was bad to the bone, soft spoken, and not sanctimonious. That's why no nonsense mechanics, sons of rich kids, Hollywood back waxers, and big-haired girls from Southie all loved No. 8. He was the people's champ. And for the first time No. 8 is the star of The Great 8.

1. The Hall of Fame Selection Committee is convening in the next few days to nominate, vote on, and announce the 2005 Hockey Hall of Fame Class. On the day of the announcement, describe what your emotions will be like.

Neely: To be honest, just like other day the past six years, I've been eligible. I learned a long time ago, if I can't control something, there is no use worrying or thinking about it. I don't put much thought into it, but if I do get the call, it will be a different story! Quite honestly, I'm happy for anyone who gets inducted. I'm not even sure how the process works or even what the criteria are for making a decision one way or the other.

Neely scored 50 goals in just 49 games, on one leg, during the 1993-94 season. A 1.02 goals per game average. That year, the average NHL team scored 3.20 goals a game. So, if one analyzes the players goal per game average in relationship with the leagues average goal per game average (this is the best way to compare players from different eras, whether you are talking baseball or hockey), one realizes Neely's '93-'94 season was BETTER in terms of goal scoring than Rocket Richard's 50 goals in 50 games in 1944-45, Alexander Mogilny's 76-goal season in 1992-93, Wayne Gretzky's 92-goal season in 1981-82 and his 87 goal season in 1983-84, Mario Lemieux's 85-goal season in 1988-89, and Phil Esposito's 76-goal season in 1970-71. Better than all of them.

2. How much would a Hall of Fame induction take away the sting from not
winning a Stanley Cup? Of not having that oversized photo of you hoisting the Cup on your basement wall?

Neely: When you play a team sport, you want to win the team championship. And getting to the Final twice, as I did, is a lot harder than losing in the first round. That's the ultimate cherished memory. If you do get into the Hall of Fame it's a nice individual honor that also is cherished forever.

Charlie Conacher was 6-foot-1, 195 and starred for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1930s. Like Neely, he was 6-1, roughly the same size. Both played right wing and were ferociously tough power forwards who were the prototypical player for five seasons, and both saw their careers curtailed at age 26 by injuries and eventually cut short because of their passionate style of play. Conacher was inducted into the Hall of Fame at age 50 and probably should have been earlier. Neely is eerily close to Conacher and is just about his Hall of Fame equal.

3. If your 5-year-old son Jack said to you, "Daddy, will you take a picture of the Stanley Cup with me?," what would you say to him?

Neely: Ummm, that's a good question. When Ray Bourque won the Cup in Colorado, he had a party back at his house when he had his day with the Cup. It was very difficult for me. At one point, he wanted to take a picture with the Cup and a bunch of the guys that he played with on the Bruins. I hid in the deepest, darkest corner of the picture behind a potted plant.
It's just one of those hockey "traditions" that players have so much respect for the price one pays to win a Stanley Cup, that we don't touch it or take a picture of it, unless we've won one.

Cam Neely was a PHENOMENAL playoff performer. Take away his Canuck years when he was a kid who didn't play much, and Neely played in 86 playoff games for the Bruins and scored 55 goals. Fifty-five goals in 86 playoff games! Overall he had 57 playoff goals, in 93 playoff games. Bobby Hull had 62 goals in 119 playoff games. Esposito had 61 playoff goals in 130 games. Clark Gillies had 47 playoff goals in 164 playoff games. Mike Gartner had 43 goals in 122 playoff games. Neely outscored all of them.

4. How would you characterize how you have handled retirement?

Neely: It was difficult. The first three years were extremely difficult. Extremely frustrating when you play your last NHL game at age 30. It hasn't been since the last few years as I reached my late 30's that I thought had I still been healthy I couldn't play at the level I wanted to and may have been retired anyway. That makes it easier. You can prepare all you want for life after hockey, but to have it taken away, and not have that day-to-day kind of physical element to your life can be maddening. It just takes time. There were lots of people offering advice, but it just takes time.

Neely plays golf out of Charles River Country club where PGA Tour player James Driscoll grew up playing. Neely carries a six handicap.

5. If you had to do it all over again, would you still have appeared in an EXTREME video?

Neely: I regret wearing the shirt I did.

Neely had to retire in 1996 after Ulf Samuelsson's knee to Neely's thigh resulted in a really bad charley horse in Neely's left thigh that led to a situation in which the muscle starts to turn to bone. Subsequently, he had two really bad knee injuries on the joint surface cartilage ,which got torn away and part of the bone on the joint surface was exposed. Ultimately, he had to retire because of a really bad right hip. He had bone spurs in his hip socket. Neely believes the initial thigh injury on the left side of his body caused him to compensate, and his right side was affected. It was a domino effect. Neely has a wife, Paulina, a son, Jack, and a daughter, Ava.

6. How close are you to getting hip replacement surgery?

Neely: Funny you should ask, I've actually begun to do some research on hip replacement surgery and I'm going to see a hip specialist shortly. I feeling more and more pain and I want to see what they can do today, that nine years ago wasn't an option. It hurts every day.

Neely has spent much of his retirement at The Neely House. Recently, he became part owner of a credit card processing company and built a program called "Processing with a Purpose." Neely gets merchants to sign up and make a donation to Neely's Foundation on behalf of all the merchants based on the volume driven through the program. It's been very successful. Neely
says merchants save money on the processing and his foundation gets a donation.

7. How do you explain your movie/television career with the Farrelly Brothers and Denis Leary?

Neely: It's been fun. It's not like I go pounding down doors. There are enough out-of-work actors, there doesn't need to be another one. It's just for fun. Denis was telling me recently I might be back for an episode where there is a rematch in the firefighter/police officer hockey game. I'd have to say Seabass gets the most comments. I didn't know what the heck I was
doing and it was the Farrellys' first movie.

Neely says he has an idea to reprise his "Why don't you kick my dog while you are here" ESPNEWS promo role. That promo came out as ESPNEWS hit the air in 1996. Next year ESPNEWS celebrates its 10th anniversary and Neely wants to bring back the role. This time, Neely is just sitting in his easy chair watching ESPNEWS 24 hours a day, while his dog has a sling and an
assortment of bandages.

8. How often do you skate?

Neely: You know, a couple three times a year. A couple of winters ago, I went skating on a backyard rink a friend of mine has and that's the most fun I've had on a pair of skates in a long time. It really got me into getting back on the ice in that regard. As far as the regular sheet ice and the full equipment, I really don't want to do many of those games. My hip just really bothers me for three or four days afterwards and I just don't want to go through that aggravation, but being in the backyard just brings back your childhood days. That I like doing.


I have always wondered why a team that goes down a man due to a penalty gets the luxury of icing the puck. It seems to me that all rules should be the same except that you have to play a man short. Was there a reason for letting the team ice the puck? Thanks for your time.

It does seems incoherent, Andrew, to allow a team who was just penalized for breaking the rule, to break another rule! The obvious answer as to why icing isn't called during power plays is that teams would ice the puck anyway to get out of trouble causing multiple stoppages in play. The way to combat that would be to penalize a team for multiple icings. You could add 30 seconds of penalty time for an icing during a power play. You could assess a two-minute minor for every three icings a team commits. As I've said before, icing the puck is akin to intentional grounding and it should have a stiffer penalty.

Hey John,

First off, do you like the new Ben Folds album? It is my favorite of the year by far. Secondly, my brother and his wife are having a kid soon. I hope you're doing well and I really hope hockey comes back soon so I can see my Coyotes tear it up!
Austtin A. Montoya
Scottsdale, Arizona

I do like the new Ben Folds CD, "Songs for Silverman." The songs getting the most play in the car on the way to work are, in order, 1) Jesusland, 2) Gracie, 3) Trusted, 4) Landed. I also bought my tickets to see Ben in concert in August. Can't wait. Tell your brother to name his son, Maximilian (wife's maiden name) Montoya. If it's a girl, Carlotta Catherine Montoya. (CCM)

During my usual drive past Newark Airport to work, I always enjoy when the timing is right and there's a jet landing … always cool. So today, I see a jet out of the corner of my eye and, as always, I do the head-swivel and watch it … then I do a double-take because I realize it's the Vertigo Tour jet with the red and black "bull's-eye" circles painted on the tail … taunting me because I don't have tickets for the spring leg of the tour. That was so unfair. How the "H" does Steve Nash tear down 13 rebounds?

Chris Creighton

I don't have my U2 tickets yet, Chris, like I know the Atlanta Thrashers will win the 2008 Stanley Cup, I know I will hear Bono sing "Bad" in late 2005 while enjoying a cold beverage. Steve Nash's success? He has a hockey and soccer soul. He knows that the best player is the one with quick feet and a quick brain. See Gretzky, Yzerman and Seabiscuit.

The New York Rangers will end up with Sidney Crosby. Here are my reasons. New York is the biggest market in the world. With an offseason that just followed a non-season, people have forgotten about hockey. Not the die-hards like you and I, but the casual fan that the NHL is counting on to generate revenues. This would create an immediate marketing frenzy. Do you remember 1994? Do you remember how huge hockey was? Wouldn't you agree that this had everything to do with the Rangers being good? A leader in Mark Messier whose name, face, and prediction was everywhere. What has happened since then? There has been a resounding parallel in our sport. That is, Rangers haven't made the playoffs in ages and the sport has had its viewership decline steadily. But this too works into my conspiracy theory. How? Because now any lottery system created to enhance the Rangers' chances could be easily justified if it's a system based on recent performances. John, I don't know how they're going to do it... maybe a lighter lottery ball so the ball with the Rangers logo on it flies to the top and gets sucked up by that insane lottery machine, maybe a sealed envelope (does that ring a bell). Yep, you knew I was going to mention the sealed envelope move made famous by the NBA in 1985. Mark my words: Sidney Crosby is not the next Wayne Gretzky, he's the next Patrick Ewing.
Jim Nelson

I remember watching the 1985 NBA Draft Lottery and seeing the little bend in the corner of the envelope that held the Knicks logo in it and am convinced it was fixed. The NHL needs Crosby in New York, no doubt. They need his 50-foot head in Times Square on a Reebok billboard, need him to appear on TRL and Conan O'Brien, and Last Call with Carson Daly and Letterman, and the million fan viewer guarantee New York playoff games bring a national TV rating. Why are baseball ratings up? Because the New York teams are good, the Chicago teams are good, and the Los Angeles teams are good. All of those teams are also interesting. The Kings are a good team in need of a marquee name, the Blackhawks have a decent young corps in need of a star, the Rangers have Jagr and a seemingly new direction led by the philosophy the Jim Schoenfeld/Ryan McGill at the AHL level. The Wolfpack were a gritty, hard team to play with solid goaltending. Their lack of scoring caught up with them, but with Crosby and Jagr, that would be a different story in New York. It's such an interesting situation. I think everybody realizes, players, owners, and NHL, that Crosby in New York is the best thing from a marketing standpoint. The Lightning and Thrashers still would have better talent and would win a Stanley Cup before the Rangers roster would, so why can't we just award the most marketable young player in the world to the No. 1 media market in the world. It would be a great kick start for the game. I say the best move for the NHL to make is NOT TO HAVE A DRAFT this year. I would make every draft eligible player a free agent for this year. That way, the NHL and NHLPA could steer the best talent to New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Crosby would end in New York and away we go.

Dear John,
Buccigross is kissing Bettman's (butt) because his employer (ESPN) has a television contract with the NHL. (Editor's note: ESPN will not pick up a $60 million option to retain NHL broadcasting rights for next season). Essentially, he is an employee of the NHL. The ESPN writer also downplays the catastrophic role of expansion from 21 to 30 NHL teams by using a pathetic analogy with the Boston Red Sox. Hockey is not baseball; therefore, such a comparison is absurd.

Bettman's motives were to Americanize the game (at Canada's expense) and he failed miserably because he does not, and never will, understand hockey. The NHL Board of Governors got exactly what they deserved when they appointed this shyster commissioner. Buccigross is an NHL public relations patsy, although he goes to lengths to say he is just an impartial observer. What a bunch of corporate hogwash.

Only an incompetent fool like Bettman can make one miss the likes of former NHL commish John Ziegler.


My response:

It benefits me not to kiss Gary Bettman anywhere.

My expansion analogy was based on the simple, but forgotten premise, of patience. Nature teaches us patience every year, yet we continue to ignore its simple and beautiful dance. Things take time. The Flyers were once an expansion team. The Canucks were once an expansion team. The Sharks were an expansion team. These are all now vibrant fans bases with loud, sold-out rinks.

Gary Bettman is intelligent and emotional. That is indisputable. It doesn't matter much how much he understands hockey. Pete Rozelle never game planned but he convinced the NFL owners, after much effort, on how the game should be run and marketed. That's the commissioner's job. Bettman has finally got the owners hearts and ears. That is his job. The on-ice game should be enforced and policed by a competition committee of coaches, GM's players and Colin Campbell. Campbell would then brief Bettman. Bettman is an owner policeman, negotiator, and marketer. That's his job.

I'm always pro-labor. The players getting more than 50 percent of revenues is a more than fair scenario that any American or Canadian worker would love to have. If ESPN employees received 50 percent of ESPN revenue every year, every NHL team would be owned by an ESPN employee.

John Ziegler couldn't carry Gary Bettman's Blackberry.

Hey Bucci,

First and foremost, I am in need of some team name help and who better to turn to than you? We've got a 4-on-4 Memorial Day tournament coming up and the team is made up entirely of guys who take pride in playing everyday (sometimes we even get up to the 3 or 4 games a day plateau). I know you must have the perfect name for our quirky bunch, right?

Ryan Yamada
San Diego, California

Ryan, if I've said it once, I've said it 12 times: Hakan and the Loobs.

Congratulations to Chris Drury and his wife Rory on the arrival of their son Luke James Drury. He was born Tuesday, May 24. Luke Drury shares a birthday with Bob Dylan, Heavy D, Hector "Macho" Camacho, Bartolo Colon and Kris Draper. If Luke Drury is as good a skater and as good a guy as Kris Draper is, he'll have a good life.

John Buccigross' e-mail address – for questions, comments or cross-checks – is john.buccigross@espn.com.