Thursday, June 09, 2005

Why Cam Neely should not be a Hall of Famer

Cam Neely was among the hall of fame inductees announced yesterday. I think he was a poor choice.

It should be clear that Neely was not inducted due to his career numbers. His 395 career goals, 299 career assists and 694 career points keep him well outside the top 100 players all time, with the exception of his goals number. His goals number is similar to that of other non-hall of fame players such as Richard Martin, John Ogrodnick and Dean Prentice. The only logical argument for a forward with Neely's career totals (attained during one of the most high scoring periods in NHL history) would be that he was such an elite player (for a short period of time) that he should be in the hall of fame or that his acheievements were extraordinary, but somehow not reflected in his career totals.

Was Neely such an elite player that he belongs in the hall of fame? He was never a serious candidate for the Hart or Conn Smythe trophies. He was never even named to the first team all star. He was, however, a four time second team all star right winger. Is being the second best player in your position four times in a short career good enough for the hall of fame? Under some circumstances, it might be. For example if the player who was the best in that position was one of the all time greatest players ever ... but this was not the case for Neely.

Neely was a very good winger. He dominated his position for about as long as (for example) Kevin Stevens dominated his (I hope you don't think Stevens is a hall of famer). Neely would have needed a longer career for that level of dominance to make the hall. He would need more significant career numbers.

It is often said that Neely defined the position of power forward. Although this is widely believed, I do not think it is true. The "power forward" position developed slowly over time. I think Dino Ciccarelli and Tim Kerr were essentially power forwards. And Phil Esposito before that. And the first half of Stan Mikita's career, had Mikita playing as a dominant forward. And people like Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, Maurice Richard all were early versions of a power forward. And all of those guys had longer dominant careers then Neely. And not all of those guys are in the Hall of Fame. Ciccarelli (for example) scored nearly twice as many points and has not (yet?) been inducted into the hall.

Just how important is being a power forward anyway? Is a power forward more valuable that an equivalent offensive player who does not play a power style? I cannot imagine there is much difference in the prevention of goals. Do they produce more goals? I can imagine the physical play of a power forward possibly causing extra turnovers on the forecheck that lead to goals. Should this be the case, Cam Neely would likely have scored a lot of assists. He didn't. His top offensive numbers are primarily goals. I don't see how being a power forward adds anything that being an equivalent ability non-power forward. If being a top power forward is grounds for hall of fame inducrtion, then a lot of questionable candidates like Keith Tkachuk, John LeClair or Todd Bertuzzi should all wind up there.

Cam Neely supporters often point out his 1993/94 season where he scored 50 goals in 49 games played. That one achievement is remarkable. Its on the level of Bernie Nicholls 150 point season or Dennis Maruk getting 136 points on the last place Washington Capitals. One top season does not make a hall of famer. If Neely had strung another season or tow like that together, he would be one.

Cam Neely probably could have been a hall of famer if he stayed healthy. Injuries took a lot away from him. He only managed to play 60 or more games in a season 7 times. He just didn't manage to play long enough. You make the hall of fame for being a great player for a sufficiently long time. Neely didn't manage to play long enough at a top level. If Neely makes the hall because he could have been one if not for injury, why not other players who suffered injury that could have been great? Why not John Cullen who retired prematurely due to cancer? Why not Pelle Lindbergh who died young in a car accident? Its a slippery slope. The hall of fame should not have gone there. Other players with a roughly equivalent number of good seasons as Neely had like John LeClair or Kevin Stevens or Owen Nolan should get there? Or people with similar career numbers as Neely such as Richard Martin. It was a mistake made by the hall of fame.

Here is a more quantitative argument that Cam Neely does not belong in the hall of fame (although I am not 100% sold on this argument).

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