Does the Hockey Hall of Fame have any standards for the players it inducts? It has some standards of qualification, of course; a player must have been retired for three seasons before he can be considered, and must of course receive enough votes to earn induction. But that's not what I'm talking about. The interesting question is whether the voters have any implicit standards on who deserves to be enshrined and who does not. That is, can we determine why Glenn Anderson and Clark Gillies and been given the honor, while Dino Ciccarelli and Dale Hunter have not?
Clearly, there is no true checklist that the voters use to determine enshrinement. Any standards that might exist are unwritten and informal, and likely not universally applied. But still, it should be interesting and worthwhile to develop a system, based on the implicit standards of recent inductees, that can be used to predict whether a particular player will be inducted into the Hall of Fame, and determine which other players meet the standards but have not been honored for whatever reason.
It is to this end that I will develop the Inductinator, which will be designed to predict the likelihood that a given player will be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Note that this does not necessarily mean we will be looking for the players most deserving of the honor; it is not intended that the Inductinator be a player valuation system. If the Hall of Fame voters have noticeable biases, there biases will be built into the system. No judgment will be made as to whether the implicit standards are fair or appropriate. We're looking at who will be inducted, not necessarily who should be inducted. This will involve examining a variety of factors to determine whether they seem to have an effect on the Hall of Fame voting. Examples of these factors include the players's statistical records, postseason awards, and Stanley Cup championships.
To begin with, we can look at recent inductees to see if we can find any patterns, or anything to watch out for while developing the Inductinator. Only modern players need be considered, not because 'old-timer' players are less deserving of consideration, but because their statistical records and the circumstances in which they played are so different as to make comparisons difficult. Also, the most interesting use of this system will be predicting Hall of Fame induction for current players, who are obviously all modern players themselves. As such, we'll only be looking at players whose careers are substantially all in the 'modern era', meaning 1967-68 and later.
When looking for implicit standards, the true superstar players are of relatively little use. Wayen Gretzky and Ray Bourque, for instance, would be so far beyond the minimum standards that they cannot be used to determine where these minimums are. We can't completely ignore them, of course, but generally more instructive are the players at the lower end of the spectrum; those that just meet the minimum standards, allowing us to see where the lines might be drawn. With that in mind, let's begin examining recent inductees to see what we can see.
In 2009, the inductees were Brett Hull, Brian Leetch, Luc Robitaille and Steve Yzerman. These players don't tell us much at first glance, since they were all superstars regarded as being amongst the best of their time. They are all obvious Hall of Famers, and as such don't help us see where the minimum lies.
Part of 2008's Hall of Fame class, Glenn Anderson, is much more interesting. The other half of this class, Igor Larionov, is of limited use since he was among the last of his kind- European superstars who played the primes of their careers in Europe. The best modern European players play their best years in the NHL, which makes Larionov and others like him (2001 inductee Viacheslav Fetisov) poor comparisons. But in Glenn Anderson we have an interesting case.
Before his induction, it was far from clear that Anderson would be enshrined. He was never truly the best at his position, even in his greatest years. He did put up some big numbers though, at least by today's standards. This indicates the possibility that the Hall of Fame voters are impressed by big scoring numbers, but might not consider the context in which these numbers were compiled. On the other hand, Anderson was an important player for six teams that won Stanley Cup championships. Perhaps that instead is the reason for his induction; by himself he is not enough to determine which of these reasons is more important, or indeed the determining factor.
There are other examples that might support either factor as being important. Bernie Federko, inducted in 2002, has some impressive scoring figures, but was never the best at his position. Clark Gillies, also inducted in 2002, could be an example of Cup wins being a determining factor. He was an important player for the Islanders dynasty, but certainly not the most important. On the other hand, Gillies did make the First All-Star team twice, so it's not clear that the Cups are his primary claim to Fame. Perhaps Bob Gainey would be a closer comparison; but then he has four Selke awards on his resume, once again clouding the issue. This does illustrate that no two players are really the same, and so we must deal with aggregates and averages.
Cam Neely (inducted in 2005) and Mike Gartner (2001) provide another interesting contrast. Neely's career was relatively short, only 726 NHL games due to injuries, but for a short time he was among the absolute elite of goal-scorers in the league. He's an example of a very high, but short, peak. Gartner, on the other hand, was never the greatest goal-scoring threat in the NHL; in his best season he was fifth in goals, and had several other seasons where he barely made the top ten. He wasn't in the very top class of players, but he was just below that, and remained there for a significant number of years. His peak was not nearly as high as Neely's, but it lasted far longer. It seems that both types of players can be deemed worthy for the Hall; it will be interesting to see if one type or the other has an advantage. High-peak players probably receive more attention, for instance Pat LaFontaine (inducted in 2003). And then we have Dino Ciccarelli, the NHL's only 600-goal non-Hall-of-Famer*, as a very good comparison to Gartner. We'll probably come back to Ciccarelli quite a bit while developing the Inductinator, likely as one of the most-qualified players who has never been honored.
(Note: There are other players with 600 goals who are not in the Hall of Fame, of course. Brendan Shanahan, Jaromir Jagr, Joe Sakic and Teemu Selanne are not yet eligible, and are very likely to be inducted when their time comes. Dave Andreychuk is also on the list, but was only first eligible last year. If he's not inducted in the next few years, he'll join Ciccarelli in a very exclusive category.)
The next step in the development will be to begin examining specific factors to isolate which ones are important in the Hall of Fame voting. From there, we put them together into a predictor. Hopefully the journey will be as enjoyable as it will be instructive.
For completeness, here is the list of Hall of Famers which I consider 'modern' for these purposes. Note that the players do not have to have played their entire careers after 1967. However, if they did play before that year, their pre-1967 career must be unimportant to the overall evaluation of their career.
Player Year Player Year Player Year
Brett Hull 2009 Viacheslav Fetisov 2001 Denis Potvin 1991
Brian Leetch 2009 Mike Gartner 2001 Bill Barber 1990
Luc Robitaille 2009 Dale Hawerchuk 2001 Gil Perreault 1990
Steve Yzerman 2009 Jari Kurri 2001 Darryl Sittler 1989
Glenn Anderson 2008 Joe Mullen 2000 Tony Esposito 1988
Igor Larionov 2008 Denis Savard 2000 Guy Lafleur 1988
Ron Francis 2007 Wayne Gretzky 1999 Brad Park 1988
Al MacInnis 2007 Michel Goulet 1998 Bobby Clarke 1987
Mark Messier 2007 Peter Stastny 1998 Ed Giacomin 1987
Scott Stevens 2007 Mario Lemieux 1997 Serge Savard 1986
Patrick Roy 2006 Bryan Trottier 1997 Gerry Cheevers 1985
Cam Neely 2005 Borje Salming 1996 Jean Ratells 1985
Ray Bourque 2004 Larry Robinson 1995 Phil Esposito 1984
Paul Coffey 2004 Guy Lapointe 1993 Jacques Lemaire 1984
Larry Murphy 2004 Steve Shutt 1993 Bernie Parent 1984
Grant Fuhr 2003 Billy Smith 1993 Ken Dryden 1983
Pat LaFontaine 2003 Marcel Dionne 1992 Yvan Cournoyer 1982
Bernie Federko 2002 Bob Gainey 1992 Bobby Orr 1979
Clark Gillies 2002 Lanny McDonald 1992
Rod Langway 2002 Mike Bossy 1991