Saturday, March 22, 2008

Manon Rheaume For The Hall Of Fame

There are some interesting comments in the I NOW Consider Mark Recchi a Hall of Famer thread when we are discussing whether or not Manon Rheaume belongs in the Hockey Hall of Fame. I believe she should be inducted as a player. Nightfly believes she does not belong in the Hall of Fame.

Manon Rheaume is the first woman to play in many men's leagues. She was the first woman to play major junior hockey in the QMJHL. She was the first woman to play in the NHL (an exhibition game in 1992). She is the first woman to play a professional hockey game. If you look at her stats against the men they are not that good. In any given season she has hardly any games played, a high goals against average and a low saves percentage. It doesn't matter which league you look at or which season.

The problem is that she came onto the woman's hockey scene before there were many opportunities for women to make a career out of hockey. When the opportunities started to develop a few years into her career so got married, retired and had two sons.

Manon Rheaume was a very dominant goalie in international woman's tournaments. In the 1992 World Woman's Championships she played three games with two shutouts. She had a .957 saves percentage and a 0.67 goals against average and winning the gold medal. It was this performance that got her signed by the Tampa Bay Lightning. It was a gimmick by the expansion Lightning. They didn't seriously expect her to make an NHL impact. It would be easier for a female goalie to play in the NHL than a position player since she could avoid physical play and Rheaume was the best female goalie in the world. She returned to the 1994 World Woman's Championships, won a second gold medal and was named the best goaltender in the tournament. In 1996, she played for the gold medal winning Canadian team in the Pacific Rim Woman's Hockey Championships. She put up a .962 saves percentage and a 0.50 goals against average. She played with the 1998 Canadian Olympic Team, the first year that woman's hockey was in the Olympics. She put up a .935 saves percentage and a 0.81 goals against average. These are outstanding results. These are outstanding statistics. Quite clearly, she was a dominant female goalie. If any man was as dominant against other men, he would definitely be a Hall of Famer.

The problem is that it is hard to sabermetrically show how dominant she was. There are not enough results. The quality of opposition is questionable. When they started to set up woman's leagues, she retired from the game. Exactly how good is she relative to other female goalies? Can we definitively show she is the best? The answer is probably no. If we have fifty years of woman's hockey results, it will still be a significant sabermetric problem to determine exactly where Manon Rheaume stands against other female goalies. She has few results and those that exist are largely played against men.

This is a problem with pioneers in men's hockey as well. As an example, we can look at Hobey Baker. Hobey Baker was a great American player who is in the Hockey Hall of Fame. The trophy for the best player in the NCAA is named after him. If we look on hockeydb here is the Hobey Baker page. It has no statistics. If I look a bit harder, I can look in the book Total Hockey, I can find some Hobey Baker stats. Statistics exist for three seasons that he played. In his final year at Princeton in 1913/14, he played 11 games, scored 12 goals and got two penalty minutes (assists were no kept). Playing amateur hockey after he graduated in the American Amateur Hockey League he played two seasons. In 1914/15 playing for St Nicholas, he scored 17 goals in eight games played (no other stats were kept). In 1915/16 he played seven games scoring nine goals. How good was Hobey Baker relative to other forwards in history? Who knows? It's very hard to compare his numbers with anyone who plays in modern times. How can we? He has very little statistics kept in very few games in leagues of questionable quality. He is clearly a dominant player in his time who had little opportunity to play against top quality opponents in his time. However, he is in the Hockey Hall of Fame and belongs there.

There exist women who have had longer careers than Manon Rheaume had and lasted long enough to get some more meaningful games against other women (Danielle Goyette is an example). Both belong in the Hall of Fame.

Manon Rheaume was a dominant goalie in the few games we have of her playing against top level women in international play. She had the reputation as the best female goalie in the world and thus was given the opportunity to be the first woman to play in several different leagues, including an NHL exhibition game. It is hard to judge just how good she was relative to other women - especially as women's hockey gets more and more organized. If a man was as dominant a goalie against other men as Rheaume was relative to other women, he would be a Hall of Famer. Rheaume should be inducted too.

I agree. We neeed to remember it's not the "NHL" Hall of Fame, or even the "men's" hockey hall of fame. It's the "Hockey" Hall of Fame.
The whole idea is not just how good she was but how long she played. Pelle Lindbergh is not in the Hall of Fame, nor should he be. And you omitted one of the more salient statistics I dug up for Rheaume - all those glittering numbers in World Games came while she was facing about 14 shots per game. I just think that it's an honor more deserved by players who were similarly strong for a longer period of time.

To anticipate a question, I don't make any comment one way or the other on Hobey Baker. He's there now, and I know little or nothing about him beyond what you've already written. But in general I would say that notable accomplishments can be honored without necessarily enshrining the person involved: Brian Boucher set a record for longest shutout streak while with Phoenix, and that can be recognized even though Boucher is not going to get inducted.

In any case, I like that this has become its own thread - it's a great conversation to have, especially with the growth of women's hockey. It's also worth noting that it's harder to maintain a long career as a women if you have a family, and that is something that may cause me to reconsider in a case like Rheaume's.
Longevity does matter in a Hall of Fame career and yes I agree that Pelle Lindberg is not a Hall of Famer, however longevity is partly a function of opportunity to make a career of playing hockey. The opportunity to play hockey was starting to develop in the end of Rheaume's career but there still isn't much there now. Its true some people took the opportunity Rheaume did not, but it is hardly comparable to the opportunity of playing in the NHL.

And women have another factor that men don't that will interupt and prematurely end some careers. Women will get pregnant - and cannot be expected to play hockey in that condition. In our society today, a woman is still usually expected to be the primary caregiver when children are born. And that will keep some women away from coming back after pregnancy.

I can overlook that in Rheaume's part because she was a very prominent female star. Maybe if a legitimate pro league existed where players were paid well above the avergae salaries of North American workers and gaves were well covered in major cities it owuld be a different story. It may well be a different story in the future, but Rheaume didn't play then.
Mojo said exactly what is was going, I'll just quote him...."We neeed to remember it's not the "NHL" Hall of Fame, or even the "men's" hockey hall of fame. It's the "Hockey" Hall of Fame."
The only thing i might add is that I don't know how she stacks up against other women goalies of her era but, if shes at the top, then, she deserves to be in the HOF (In a women's hockey section, of course)Mikado
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it is quite a hot topic but I think that she should be there. She had accomplished a lot of things that players dream to do so.
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