Hall selection process needs overhaul

So much to like about the Hockey Hall of Fame's Class of 2011.

So much disappointment that continues to stain the entire selection process.

What a shame.

A year after the most embarrassing class in the history of the Hall of Fame was announced, one might look at the four players that will make up the Class of 2011 as a kind of fence-mending group. And there can be little quibbling over the selection of long-overlooked defenseman Mark Howe; Stanley Cup and two-time Vezina Trophy winner Ed Belfour; playoff warrior and Cup winner Doug Gilmour; and Gilmour's former teammate and multiple Cup winner Joe Nieuwendyk.

Howe should have been inducted long ago.

Nieuwendyk should have been inducted last year.

Gilmour, likewise, has waited for too long.

Belfour is a no-brainer, ranking third all-time in wins.

And yet for all of the goodwill this class will generate, it still boggles the mind that the 18-person committee could not find a way to enshrine one builder. It also did not elect any women this year after the Hall opened its doors to women for the first time in 2010.

It remains a great stain on the selection process that coach Pat Burns was once again denied even though his resume -- one that includes a Stanley Cup win and three Jack Adams Awards as coach of the year with three different teams -- is without peer.

The fact Burns died of cancer a few months after last year's induction ceremony was shameful enough. That he was then shunned again this year reinforces the widely held opinion, within the committee and beyond, the process of selecting honored members needs a complete overhaul.

Beyond the emotional aspect of Burns' continued snubbing, the other ongoing mystery remains how Fred Shero -- one of the great coaching minds of all time and a seminal figure in hockey in America during the years after expansion -- remains on the outside of the Hall of Fame.

But Hall officials aren't in the business of answering questions about who doesn't get into the Hall, even if this is the first class since 1981 without a builder.

"This really is our confidentiality and we are not at liberty to discuss the process or who was or who was not involved," Hockey Hall of Fame CEO and Chairman Bill Hay said when asked about the lack of builders and the criticism that will be leveled at the committee for failing to induct either Burns or Shero.

He explained that the selection debate is emotional when the committee meets, and part of that emotion comes from the understanding that what is said in the committee room stays in the committee room.

Fair enough. Committee members should feel free to speak their minds and their hearts on these matters. We're not asking for cameras in the room (although, come on, that would be pretty great). We're asking for some sort of accountability.

We're asking to not just be fed a bunch of names every year and be expected to genuflect and nod knowingly.

Sorry. Not going to happen. Not when there is no rhyme or reason to how players or builders get into the Hall of Fame.

Because the process remains cloistered, the Hall of Fame will always run the risk of having a worthy class tarnished by the stain of controversy over those who are not admitted or questions about a process that makes ancient Roman politics look like a day care walk around the park.

There has always been an unassailable quality about the Hall of Fame selection process; if the standards were as high as they should be, that haughtiness would be acceptable.

But the standards are everywhere and open to perpetual criticism. Hardly seems to be the way to run an enterprise that should be the envy of the sporting world.

A year ago, the Hall of Fame brought great shame on itself with a class that included one player -- Dino Ciccarelli -- perhaps the most underwhelming selection of the past decade, juxtaposed against the illogical bypassing of the terminally ill Burns and the ever-deserving Shero.

This year the Hall of Fame opened its doors to four terrific players.

Listening to the emotion they felt as they received the call on Tuesday reinforced how important an honor this is. It also reinforced why, when they get it right, we should revere these players and the honor.

"I never expected the call," said a candid Howe, who retired in 1995.

The long-time defenseman tried to call his father, the legendary Gordie Howe, who was at a charity golf event in the Toronto area with his brother, Marty.

"Marty said dad was ecstatic, which I knew he would be," Howe said. "Dad is as proud as any father could ever be, I'm sure."

You already know the moment in November of father and son sharing a place in the Hall of Fame will be electric.

"I'm still shaking," Gilmour added.

One of the great things about this class is the cross-connections the players share.

Belfour and Nieuwendyk won a Cup in Dallas together in 1999 and were also teammates in Toronto. Gilmour and Nieuwendyk won a Cup in Calgary together in 1989.

The three younger players would have grown up admiring Howe and his family.

"It's a special class for me," Nieuwendyk said. "Mark's hockey card was hard to collect when we were kids."

Imagine how it could have been had the selection committee corrected at least one more wrong by admitting Burns.

Gilmour went on to become one of the most popular players in Toronto Maple Leafs history in the early to mid-1990s, when Burns was the coach.

Nieuwendyk won his third Cup in New Jersey in 2003, when Burns was coach.

"We know he'll be in the Hall one day," Gilmour said of Burns.

Nieuwendyk echoed those sentiments.

"He's a Hall of Famer in my mind," the current Dallas Stars GM said.

Such a fine class, this Class of 2011.

Too bad it, like so many classes, is dogged by the shadow of disappointment.

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.