Saturday, January 28, 2006

The Lockout Cost His Hall Of Fame Slot

One of the more interesting things that Bill James shows in the Historical Baseball Abstract is that around a dozen players less than the "normal" amount were enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame from those players who would have played their careers during World War II. He does this by comparing hall of fame players by year of birth. Those who would have been in mid-career during the war (born between about 1910 and 1925) are clearly under-represented. He goes further to speculate as to who those players may have been - he mostly selects players who had close to hall of fame career numbers but lost a few years while they were at war and players who were never able to play at previously established high levels after they returned from war. Of course there may have been players who never played a major league baseball game who went to war and died or were wounded who might have been hall of famers - but are almost impossible to identify.

Hockey had an interruption recently. A year was lost to the lockout. Thats one year out of the prime of some careers. That's one year that may have caused some players who were aging but still valuable NHL players to either retire or never return to their previous levels. Likely, that will show up in the Hockey Hall of Fame as a decrease in the number of inductees from the current generation. Will it be a significant decrease? The perspective to answer that question is not available yet. It is clear that no NHL hockey was played in 2004/05. In the average season, about three players earn their induction into the hall of fame. The lack of NHL hockey slowed the player's ability to reach hall of fame credentials. Some players in mid-career lost a year at their highest levels of productivity. Other players further along in their career not only lost a season but may not have been at the same level they would have been when they returned to play.

This loss of future hall of famers is not playing out right now. Many future hall of famers who established their credentials well before the lockout are now retiring. Over the last little while, the NHL has seen the retirements of Brett Hull, Ron Francis, Mark Messier and Scott Stevens. The NHL has also lost current hall of famer Mario Lemieux in recent days. Some of these players would likely have retired lockout or no lockout, but most likely some (for example Scott Stevens and Brett Hull) had their retirements sped up.

I keep a list of players who are currently active in the NHL who belong in the hall of fame when they retire regardless of what happens for the rest of their careers. Here is the list:

Dave Andreychuk
Ed Belfour
Martin Brodeur
Chris Chelios
Peter Forsberg
Dominik Hasek
Jaromir Jagr
Brian Leetch
Nicklas Lidstrom
Luc Robitaille
Joe Sakic
Brendan Shanahan
Steve Yzerman

Some of these players are clearly nearing retirement. Steve Yzerman and Dave Andreychuk are the two most obvious examples of that group (although one could argue that Andreychuk's retirement would be sped up by the lockout).

The loss of hall of famers due to the lockout will not be seen immediately. In fact it increases the number of viable hall of fame in the short term, but in a few years after this glut passes, there will be less qualified candidates than normal because of the time lost in the lockout. How many less candidates will be around is unclear. Given that there are about 3 viable candidates to induct per years (on average), its likely that there will be two or three less from the 2004/05 season. Hockey was still played (just not in the NHL) in the season and this affects their hall of fame chances. There may also be players who lost time in their primes of their careers who are not the same after the lockout and will not gain induction (Martin St. Louis might be one such candidate). It may turn out that the loss of one season reduces the number of hall of famers by as many as five or six players.

I am willing to speculate that one player who likely lost out on his spot in the hall of fame is Jeremy Roenick. Roenick has 1133 career points which is a respectable total for a hall of famer, but may not measure up because he played in an extremely high scoring era. In 2003/04, Roenick was one of the better players on the Philadelphia Flyers, but he lost a year due to the lockout. When he came back, he seems to have lost a step. He seems to have lost his desire to work hard enough to succeed in the NHL. This is shown by his pre-season concussion where he criticized the man who hit him Denis Gauthier of Phoenix for hitting hard in a hockey game. It showed he wasn't in the right mindset to play if he was not expecting the possibility of being hit. Roenick's 2005/06 season has been largely a write-off. He has not played well enough to earn a spot on the US Olympic team. The lockout cost Roenick a season where he would likely have been a good player and when he came back he no longer appears to have the desire to play at a high enough level to be a star.

The lockout will reduce the number of hall of famers in the current group of NHL players. The most likely candidate who lost his hall of fame spot due to the lockout is Jeremy Roenick. Likely there will be more, although identifying them all is not an easy task.

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