First of all, congratulations to Eric Lindros on being elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame as part of the 2016 class, along with Sergei Makarov and Rogie Vachon in the players' category and the late Pat Quinn in the builders category. It's a great honor. But for all the bleating and moaning on social media leading up to and following Monday afternoon's announcement, you'd think the selection committee had kept out some combination of Howie Morenz, Bobby Hull and Wayne Gretzky in accepting Lindros.
There's a reason it took this long for Lindros, who last played in 2007 and scored just five goals in his final campaign, to earn the votes to get into the Hall. It's because he wasn't a slam-dunk. But there's no shame in that.
Indeed, it doesn't make sense to begrudge any of the four men named Monday as part of the Hall of Fame's November induction class, especially not Quinn, who was a hockey lifer who gave back to the game everything he took out of it and more. Quinn would have been on my list of four as a builder, had I been asked to submit my ballot. (As is the case every year, no one asked my opinion. That's OK. I'm over it.)
I also take zero issue with Sergei Makarov, who was part of the famed K-L-M line for the former Soviet Union with Igor Larionov and Vladimir Krutov, as a Hall of Famer. The committee continues to do a nice job of filling in the gaps in hockey's history with the clearer understanding that it's the Hockey Hall of Fame and not the National Hockey League Hall of Fame, something previous voters seemed to miss.
I am OK, too, with goalie Rogie Vachon, who is a good example of a great who slipped through the cracks over time. The former Los Angeles Kings netminder was a three-time All-Star in the 1970s, still holds many of the club's goaltending records and was passed over for the Hall for decades. He won the Vezina Trophy and was part of two Stanley Cup wins in Montreal.
But if I had a ballot, I would have opened the Hall of Fame to these three players as well.
If you're really, really good for a couple of years, you can get into the Hall of Fame, even if you scored just 45 goals in your last 202 games en route to a career that saw you win zero Stanley Cups. That was the case with Lindros.
But more and more, we believe this line of reasoning to be a little flawed. Why not honor guys who played at a high level, who contributed in significant ways throughout their careers, even at the end, and were catalysts to great team success? It's a team game, no?
How about Mark Recchi? The wing collected 1,533 points in 1,652 games, which ranks him 12th all time. He ranks 20th all time in goals (577), 15th in assists (956) and fourth in games played (1,652). He won Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Carolina Hurricanes and Boston Bruins, providing veteran ballast to a 2011 Boston team that ended a Cup drought dating back to 1972. He had 14 points that spring and rarely spoke to the media, insisting quietly that it wasn't his show. On this day, we lament the absence of Recchi in the Hall of Fame and, if we had one in our backyard, would welcome him to ours.
I've been a little slower to come around to the Andreychuk Hall of Fame camp, but I'm there now. What I love about Andreychuk as a Hall of Famer is that he completely adapted his game at a time when many players (cough, Lindros) were simply fading because of injury or eroding skills.
Was Andreychuk one of the game's great pure goal scorers in his prime? Yes. His 640 goals are 14th all time. Everyone ahead of him on the goal-scoring list is either in the Hall of Fame or will be. If that's all Andreychuk was -- a big-time goal scorer -- you could still make the case for him to be in the Hall. But at the end of his career, instead of sagging to the finish line, Andreychuk remade himself.
Under coach John Tortorella, Andreychuk became the poster boy for responsible hockey with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He won important draws. He backchecked as fast as his, well, ordinary legs would allow him. He became a mentor to a group of young players such as Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and others who would win a Stanley Cup in 2004 and cement Tampa Bay as a true hockey market. What's not Hall of Fame-worthy about that?
How, then, is there not room for Kariya in the Hall of Fame? In his prime, I would argue he was as great a player as Lindros and, given his international contributions, likely more deserving of a spot. Few players were as dominant with the puck as Kariya. He was the kind of player fans paid good money to see. He rarely disappointed them.
Kariya worked tirelessly at his craft. It's not a stretch to suggest that he and longtime pal and teammate Teemu Selanne are every bit as important as Gretzky to the history of the NHL in California. Some 9,000 people attended Kariya's first practice with the Anaheim Ducks. There were 16,000 on hand to watch his first exhibition game.
A finalist for a Hart Trophy, he scored 94 goals during a two-season period in the mid-1990s. He won a silver medal before becoming an NHLer and late in his career played an important role on the seminal 2002 Canadian team that ended a 52 year gold-medal drought in Salt Lake City. He captained the Ducks to their first Stanley Cup finals in 2003 and got back up after being flattened by New Jersey's Scott Stevens -- Lindros remembers Stevens, too, no? -- to score a key goal to force a Game 7 in the 2003 finals.
Like Lindros, Kariya never won a Stanley Cup. I don't care. To me, he's Hall-of-Fame material through and through.