When inductees Jarome Iginla and Marian Hossa were named to the 2020 Hall of Fame class this past week, neither name came as much of a surprise. Both had excellent careers, were beloved by fans, and brought most the teams the played for to the playoffs during their tenure in the NHL.
The other NHL players named to this year’s class were defencemen Kevin Lowe and Doug Wilson. While Lowe obviously had tremendous success in the NHL, winning 6 cups, and Wilson was a solid d-man throughout his 16 years with the Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks, their inductions surely made many Bruins fans wonder what about some of Boston’s best players that still stand outside the door of the HHoF waiting for someone to let them in.
Previous years are no different as well. When Guy Carbonneau and Sergei Zubov were selected last year to be inducted into the hall of fame, Bruins’ fans were left wondering what about guys like Rick Middleton, Wayne Cashman, Terry O’Reilly, or more recently Tim Thomas. Will any of these four deserving players ever get the honor that they so warrant?
Let’s take a look at the arguments for each and some comparable NHLers who have been inducted into the hall of fame.
Rick Middleton - F
When Rick Middleton was traded from the Rangers, for long time Bruin Ken Hodge, after two decent, but not great seasons in New York, many thought the Bruins lost this deal big time; however the outcome of this trade couldn’t have been more lopsided for the B’s. Under the tutelage of Don Cherry, ‘Nifty’ Rick Middleton became one of the NHL’s best wingers from the late 70’s to mid 80’s, while Hodge would only play one more year in the league.
How good was Middleton? He led the Bruins 4 times in scoring, had 8 seasons with at least 30 goals, including 5 seasons in a row with 40+ and 51 in 1981-82. He also topped the 100 point mark twice and finished his hockey career with 448 goals, 540 assists for 998 points in 1005 games.
If it wasn’t for a freak injury that plagued Middleton for the remaining two years of his career, being hit in the head with a puck in practice, it could be argued that he could have scored 500 goals and easily surpassed 1000 points before retiring.
Not only was Middleton gifted in the offensive zone, he was also a great defensive forward who was a +220 in a Bruins Jersey and only recently was passed by Brad Marchand for most shorthanded markers in Bruins’ history.
If you’re looking for comparable players to Rick Middleton, from a similar generation that are in the hall of fame, perhaps Lanny McDonald and Rod Gilbert might be two of the best examples. While McDonald scored at a slightly higher rate (.45 goals per game) than Middleton (.445 goals per game), Middleton had a higher PPG rate, more game-winners, a better +/-, and more shorthanded goals. Perhaps what separates the two (besides Lanny’s legendary ‘stache) is that McDonald won a Stanley Cup, and Middleton did not.
As far as Gilbert goes, Middleton’s numbers are better all across the board, with the exception of total points, however Gilbert played in 60 more games than Middleton in his career.
Wayne Cashman - F
During his 18 year career with the Boston Bruins, Wayne Cashman helped to mold the definition of what a prototypical power-forward is. Never afraid to go into the corners or shy a way from a scrap, Cashman played a pivotal role in the Bruins’ two cup victories in 1970 and 1972 and was a member of Team Canada in the legendary Summit Series against the Soviet Union in ‘72 as well.
While Cashman’s offensive stats might not be as great as many who have been inducted in the hall of fame, he did score at least 20 goals 8 times whilst racking up a ton of PIM’s protecting star teammates like Phil Esposito and Bobby Orr. In total Cashman would score 277 times, with 516 assists for a total of 793 points over 1027 games.
There are several players in the hall of fame that played a similar role in the NHL that had comparable stats to Wayne Cashman, but one that jumps out right away might be Clark Gillies. Gillies, like Cashman, was an intimidating force on the ice, that used his physical presence to create space for his teammates and offer protection to the Islanders’ stars when needed. In his 958 NHL games, Gillies recorded 318 goals and 378 assists, to go along with 1023 PIMs.
Perhaps what give Clark Gillies the advantage over Cashman though, was that he was apart of the Islanders dynasty that won 4 cups in a row, while Cashman just won the two in Boston.
Terry O’Reilly - F
Although the man called “Taz” has had his number retired by the Boston Bruins, it’s looking unlikely that the NHL is going to honor O’Reilly with a HHoF induction; which is a real shame. If you look at statistics alone, than the NHL has gotten it right by not selecting O’Reilly to be a hall of famer. However, O’Reilly’s heart and fearlessness is what separated him from his peers and made him so popular in Boston, and well-respected around the league.
The argument here is not that he was one of the game’s greatest players, but instead one of the most popular figures to lace up the skates; and perhaps the HHOF should recognize not just stats, but also players that made a forever impact in the minds of hockey fans. The same argument could be made for Dave ‘Tiger’ Williams (the NHL’s career PIM leader and one of the leagues quirkiest players) as well.
It seems Major League Baseball, who lists character, as one of the criteria measured for induction into their hall of fame, has been more open to honoring not just the best, but also the most popular by selecting players like Gaylord Perry and Rollie Fingers, while the NHL has not.
Tim Thomas - G
We wrote an article about Tim Thomas a few months ago arguing that the Bruins should retire Thomas’ #30, and many of the arguments in that article hold true on why the league should induct Thomas into the hall of fame.
Besides being at or near the top of many goaltending stats in Bruins’ history, Thomas numbers also make him one of the best goalies in NHL history. Thomas’ career .9199 SV% is good enough for 6th best ever, his GAA of 2.52 is 41st. In the playoffs, Thomas’ numbers are even better, as he has the best SV% (.932) ever and the 15th lowest GAA (2.08) in NHL playoff history.
Combine these numbers with two Vezina trophies, a Conn Smythe Trophy and the fact that he was inducted into the US Hockey Hall of Fame, and it’s easy to argue that Thomas should be an NHL hall of famer.
It’s also easy to argue that Thomas’ numbers are far better than many goalies who have had their numbers retired, however the game of hockey, especially for goalies, has changed so dramatically in the past 30 years, that a comparison would not be fair. For example Grant Fuhr, one of the best goalies of the “Run n’ Gun 1980’s” and a hall of famer, had a lifetime GAA of 3.38 and a SV% of 887. Terrible numbers by today’s standards, but you’d be hard pressed to find many fans who think he doesn’t belong in the hall of fame.
So, now that another year’s inductees have been chosen, will any of these 4 join the NHL Hockey Hall of Fame next year? Probably not. Sadly, with the exception of maybe Tim Thomas, the time to induct these players into the HHoF has probably passed.
If it’s any consolation for Bruins’ fans though, there are at least 2 locks for the hall of fame currently on the B’s after they retire: Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron. In addition, Tuukka Rask and Brad Marchand are making their own cases for induction with every stellar year that passes. And let’s not forget this year’s Co-Rocket Richard Trophy winner David Pastrnak. At the pace he’s currently going at, you may see him giving his induction speech many years from now.