Friday, June 25, 2010

The problem with Hockey Hall of Fame elections

There certainly are problems with the way that people are elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame (HHOF).  But the process is very poorly understood.  So here is the process in a nutshell.

The HHOF board of directors appoints 18 individuals to a selection committee.  According the HHOF by-laws, those individuals must be knowledgeable of the game of hockey and its past and present players, builders, referees and linesmen.  So you have to be familiar with the different eras of hockey as well as international and amateur hockey.  Not too many fans meet this qualification.

There are 4 categories of a maximum number that can be elected each year from each category:  male players (4), female players (2), builders (1), referee or linesman (1). Builders include coaches, managers and executives. Players and officials must be retired for 3 years to be eligible (exceptions can be made for health reasons).  In the builders category they may be active or inactive.  You can have 2 builders elected if there is no referee/linesman elected and you can have 2 referees/linesmen elected if there is no builder elected.

The attributes to be considered are playing (or coaching, officiating, etc) ability, sportsmanship, character and their contribution to the team or teams (or organizations) and to the game of hockey in general.  Very general criteria and open to individual interpretation. There is no minimum standard for edibility so just about anyone involved in hockey is eligible.  The only limitation is the number of individuals that can be elected into the HHOF in a given year.

Each member of the selection committee can nominate 1 player, 1 builder and 1 referee/linesman. So, for example, the committee can only choose from a maximum of 18 players (assuming no 2 members nominate the same player). They each get to vote for 4 male players, 2 female players and 2 builders/referees/linesmen.   A candidate needs 14 votes to get elected into the Hall. There can be more than one round of balloting but those who do not receive at least  9 votes cannot stay on the ballot. It is a secret ballot so even the committee members don't know who voted for whom although there is supposedly considerable discussion to members could likely guess where votes were going. The section committee is required to keep the proceedings confidential.

So when fans complain how Daryl Seaman could have been picked over Doug Gilmour - well he wasn't.  Seaman is under the builder category and does not compete for votes with the players.  For me the problem is that over the years the bar has been set too low by the selection committee. Dino Ciccarelli was a very good hockey player who scored 608 goals which is good for 16th place on the list of career goal scorers.  But he was not an impact player. He scored over 50 goals twice in his career but in 1981-82 not only did he score 50 but so did 9 other players.  In comparison, in the 5 years since the lockout during a period when scoring was on an upswing, there have only been 14 50-goal scorers. Ciccarelli's numbers are inflated.  He was a good scorer but not a great player.  He never won an NHL trophy or the Stanley Cup.  When you consider his era, I can't understand how he got through.  But you could say that for many of the past selections.  There was 2008 when Mark Messier, Scott Stevens, Al MacInnis and Ron Francis were inducted. But Mike Gartner (2001) and Joe Mullen (2000) were just good players with great stats.

The other issue for me is the selection process.  Although the selection committee is a great group of hockey people, I don't believe that a committee of 18 provides enough diversity.  As well, there is such a terrible lack of transparency.  Obviously the hockey hasn't got the emotional intelligence of sports like baseball to withstand public scrutiny. Yet it is just an allusion because each year the list of inductees are critiqued up to the yingyang despite not know who voted for whom.  In baseball, the voters proudly declare who they voted for and defend their votes.  In hockey you run and hide.

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