Last weekend was Induction Weekend at the Hockey Hall of Fame, and five players were honoured — Tom Barrasso, Henrik Lundqvist, Caroline Ouellette, Pierre Turgeon, and Mike Vernon. This year’s crop is not bad, but not great. I mean, it’s no 2009 (Leetch, Hull, Robitaille, Yzerman).
The Hockey Hall of Fame selection process allows for a maximum of four male players and two female players to be inducted each year. But, this year, it kind of feels like they’re just trying to fill their ballot for the sake of it.
Of the five players that were inducted, only three are deserving in my book. Here’s my breakdown of the Hall of Fame class of 2023.
5. Tom Barrasso
The teenage phenom hoists the Stanley Cup with his Pittsburgh Penguins.
He’s the youngest goaltender ever to win the Vezina trophy — oh, and he did it in his rookie season straight out of high school! He also won the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year that same season, 1983-84.
After five seasons with the Sabres, Barrasso was traded to Pittsburgh where backstopped the Penguins to two consecutive Stanley Cup championships.
Does he deserve to be in the Hall? I’m alright with this selection. I’ve seen better individual stats, but Tomcat was a great playoff performer, and one of the core players on an unforgettable Penguins team.
4. Henrik Lundqvist
King Henrik holds the record for most wins by a European-born goaltender, and reached the 400 win mark faster than any other goalie in league history. He’s also the Rangers’ record-holder for career shut-outs and wins, and he’s the only netminder to post 30+ wins in each of his first seven NHL campaigns.
Does he deserve to be in the Hall? I don’t think so. He holds the records for most shutouts and wins by a Ranger. All that really tells me is that he played for the Rangers for a long time.
First ballot Rangers Hall of Fame inductee all day! Swedish hockey Hall of Fame, hela dagen! Also, he only missed the playoffs three times in his career, but couldn’t win at the same pace when it counted most? Sorry, Hank.
Rangers great Henrik Lundqvist takes his mask of after a play.
Canadian hockey superstar, Caroline Ouellette, shows of her super impressive collection of Olympic hardware.
3. Caroline Ouellette
There’s only five athletes in the world who have won a gold medal in four straight Olympic games and Caroline Ouellette is one of them.
She’s a member of the even more exclusive Triple Gold Club (Clarkson Cup, Olympic gold, World Championship), to which only three women are members. Internationally, Caro posted 98 points in 79 games, and in league play, she put up 498 points in 269 games.
Does she deserve to be in the Hall? Hell, yeah! Caroline Ouellette played at the highest possible level in the women’s game, and she was dominant.
She spent all of her playing time in best-on-best tournaments and small leagues, which means she was always in direct competition with the best talent women’s hockey had to offer.
Her 596 points in 348 games is bonkers!
2. Pierre Turgeon
He was the first overall pick in the 1987 NHL Entry Draft. He’s got over 500 goals and more than 1,300 points over the span of a 19 season career. He also pocketed a Lady Byng trophy and played in four All-Star Games. Pierre Turgeon was a pretty good player, but…
Should he be in the Hall? I wouldn’t say so. I love Turgeon, and if I needed to customize my own 91-92 Islanders jersey, he’s my go-to. However, he was only able to crack the 100 point mark twice in his long career, which, given that he was playing in a high-scoring era, isn’t very impressive for a Hall of Famer. He also never made it to the Stanley Cup Finals, which to me is what separates the good from the great.
To be clear, I’m not bitter that he was the only player to not leave the bench during Canada’s 1987 World Junior brawl against the Soviets. I was in a bench clearing brawl in AA hockey, the coach held 5 guys back from leaving the bench so he’d have some players for the next game. I was one of them. Pierre and I have that in common. That and the fact that we both shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame.
The great Islander celebrates after scoring a goal.
Mike Vernon (left) and Patrick Roy (right) exchange pleasantries during the first period of a March, 1997 Avalanche/Red Wings game.
1. Mike Vernon
When Mike Vernon broke into the NHL to stay in 1986, the Calgary Flames were in the midst of a team record losing streak.
He turned everything around, winning his first start, and eventually leading the Flames to the Stanley Cup Finals against Montreal, losing in five games to another stand-out rookie goalie by the name of Patrick Roy.
Three years later, the tables would turn in Vernon’s favour when the Flames defeated Roy and the Habs, capturing Lord Stanley’s mug.
After 11 seasons with the Flames (an entire career for some tenders), Vernon was traded to the Detroit Red Wings to help mentor Chris Osgood who emerged as the new number one in Hockey Town, USA. But, as the Wings entered the 1997 playoffs, Vernon got the nod to start, and he made good on his opportunity, backstopping the Wings to their first Stanley Cup Championship in 42 years, and collecting Playoff MVP honours for himself.
Should he be in the Hall? You bet your sweet can, he should be. Marching back to the Stanley Cup finals nearly a decade after your first Cup and capturing the Conn Smythe Trophy is legendary. Perseverance, thy name is Vernon.
So, that’s my take on this year’s crop of Hall of Fame inductees. I think the Hall of Fame should have a high bar to clear for inductees, and that unfortunately means having to say no to some seriously good players, like Pierre Turgeon and myself.
The Hall of fame Verdict
That said, you can still recognize a player’s contributions to the game without making them honoured members by displaying equipment, jerseys, and other memorabilia in the Hall of Fame. Paul Henderson is a great example. And, besides, isn’t that why teams have their own halls of fame and rings of honour? To honour players who contribute greatly to team history, like Lundqvist?
Anyhow, I’m not on the HHOF Board of Directors, and I really do wish this year’s inductees nothing but the best. It’s always fun to watch old beaten up guys in tuxedos reminisce about getting knocked around for 15 to 20 years.
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The 2009 Hall of Fame class. In order of appearance from left to right; Brett Hull, Lou Lamoriello, Brian Leetch, Luc Robitaille, and Steve Yzerman.