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Joe Nieuwendyk`s Hall Of Fame Case

Today is the final of my four looks at the 2011 Hall of Fame inductees.  I have posted the Hall of Fame cases for Ed Belfour, Doug Gilmour and Mark Howe.  Today I look at Joe Nieuwendyk.

Nieuwendyk is a recent enough addition to my Hall of Fame lists that I have a blogpost from when I first considered him a Hall of famer and a career retrospective from when he retired.

In order to make Hall of Fame cases I am using the Keltner List, which was made popular by Bill James in baseball.  It is a list of qualitative questions that get to the heart of any player`s Hall of Fame candidacy.

Here is the Keltner List for Joe Nieuwendyk:

1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?

I don`t think anyone seriously considered Joe Nieuwendyk the best player in hockey.  Of course his career corresponded with such greats as Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman, Mark Messier and others so he faced tough competition.

2. Was he the best player on his team?

I think some people considered Nieuwendyk the best member of the Calgary Flames at one time.  He had tough competition from players like Al MacInnis, Joe Mullen, Gary Suter and Theo Fleury, so it was never particularly clear.  When he moved onto Dallas, I don`t think people ranked him ahead of Mike Modano or Brett Hull and in New Jersey Martin Brodeur and Scott Stevens were ranked ahead of him.  Nieuwendyk probably was the best player on his team at one point in the 1990`s with Calgary, but not for any long period of time.

3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?

Nieuwendyk was definitely not the best centreman at any point.  People like Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic were always ranked well ahead of him.

4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?

Yes definitely.  Nieuwendyk won three Stanley Cups with three different teams.  He was name playoff MVP in 1999 when he won the cup with Dallas.  He also won the cup in Calgary in 1989 and in New Jersey in 2003.  He also went to the finals and lost in 2000.  Nieuwendyk is 18th all time in playoff goals with 66.  Most players ahead of him have more playoff games played.

5. Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?

Yes.  Nieuwendyk remained active in the NHL until age 40 when a back injury led to his retirement.  In his last full NHL season 2005/06, he was one of the top offensive players on the Florida Panthers scoring 56 points in 65 games.

6. Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame?

I would argue no.  I would argue that Adam Oates and Sergei Makarov rank ahead of him, but this is debatable.  I could imagine somebody answering yes to this question and having a strong logical argument.

7. Are most players who have comparable career statistics in the Hall of Fame?

Yes.  Nieuwendyk is the 21st highest goal scorer all time with 573 career goals.  Nobody Hall of Fame eligible has more career goals and is not in the Hall except for Dave Andreychuk.  Nieuwendyk ranks further back in points as he was never as good an assist man as a goal scorer.  He ranks 51st all time with 1126 career points.  This is a total where most players make the Hall of Fame, though a few exceptions do exist.

8. Do the player’s numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?

Yes they do.  He does quite well in the all time scoring lists.

9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?

Nieuwendyk`s biggest scoring years came in the highest scoring era in NHL history, though the “dead puck era” soon followed.  Hence i don`t know that his career totals are significantly affected by the era in which he played.  Defensively, he always had value due to his faceoff skills, but he was never one of the best defensive forwards in the game.  I would say that Nieuwendyk is approximately as good a player as his statistics suggest.

10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in?

I would argue Adam Oates is the best eligible centreman.  I might argue for Eric Lindros as being a better centre as well, as Lindros had a much higher peak, though less longevity.  Some might argue the answer is yes Nieuwendyk is the best centre not in the Hall of fame and make a solid argument, though I wouldn`t.

11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?

I wouldn`t suggest that Nieuwendyk ever had an MVP type season.  He never made a First or Second All Star Team, so he was never considered first or second best in his position in any NHL season.

12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the other players who played in this many go into the Hall of Fame?

He played in four NHL All Star Games.  This number is low for a Hall of Famer, but certainly not unprecedented.  There are four or five more years he could have been in the All Star Game as some all stars who did play in the game were having worse seasons than he was. His best bet would have been the 1994/95 season, which was lockout shortened and no All Star Game existed.  Nieuwendyk had 50 points in 46 games that year.

13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?

In the 1999 playoff run, Nieuwendyk was named the best player on his team.  I think Mike Modano and Brett Hull were better players, but perhaps not during that short run.  This shows that a team where Nieuwendyk was the best player could have done quite well, but I think it would require there were other players who were not significantly worse than Nieuwendyk.  I do not think he was the best player in the 1989 cup run with Calgary (Al MacInnis was) and there is not much argument that he was in 2003 (Brodeur, Stevens).  The answer here is yes, but it is a qualified yes, Nieuwendyk could be the best player on his team that won the Cup, but not without a very significant supporting cast.

14. What impact did the player have on baseball history? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?

It is hard to find a lasting impact for Nieuwendyk. He was a good player for a long time in several markets.  He was never the clear standout player in any market.  He was a solid player on two Canadian Olympic teams, but hardly the star.  I think the answer to this question is no.

15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?

Yes.  Nieuwendyk was a very good character player with all of his teams and has no off-ice issues.  This is why he was quickly rushed into a general management position with the Dallas Stars after he retired.

Nieuwendyk put up very good career numbers.  He had a long career where he was a very good player.  He was never the best player in the game and he was never an MVP candidate.  He belongs in the Hall of Fame, but given the backlog of players available this year it isn`t clear he was the best possible choice this year.  I think it is a testament to how well respected he is that he was inducted before Adam Oates or Dave Andreychuk or Sergei Makarov or Eric Lindros, but he does deserve his induction.

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Comments

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PSH, after reading your entry for Question 9, I wondered if you had a take on the “Adjusted Points” statistic used by Hockey-Reference.com.

It attempts to try to compensate for the effect of different scoring eras by assuming a “standard” year will feature 18-skater teams, 6 goals and 10 assists per game, and an 82-game schedule. Then, adjustments are made to estimate how a particular player from a particular era might have performed under these conditions.

While I think any exercise of this sort should be taken with rather large grain of salt, I do think it’s an interesting and useful tool that can give us at least some insight on how a particular player’s performance might have been affected by different circumstances.

Incidentally, your guess that Nieuwendyk is “approximately” as good as his statistics show is accurate, if adjusted statistics are considered useful in this context. He loses only 4 goals and 2 points in the conversion, drops from 21st to 24th on the all-time goals list, and from T51st to 52nd on the all-time points list.

However, it’s interesting to me that Keith Tkachuk passes Nieuwendyk on both adjusted lists. I do not consider Keith Tkachuk a hall of famer, but he did manage to score 1000+ points while playing his best seasons (roughly the mid-90s to early 2000s) in the deadest of the dead puck era. Something to think about.

Posted by Sven22 from Grand Rapids on 07/06/11 at 05:50 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

Several years ago, i wrote about adjusted points.  There are a few ways to do it and I am not 100% sure what the article discusses is exactly the same as hockey reference does, but it gives the same idea.

I have played with doing the numbers a few different ways and although I haven’t really looked at it recently, it is in the back of my mind somewhere.  So I had a pretty good idea that any era adjustment to Nieuwendyk didn’t change much.

As for Tkachuk, I don’t see him as the same level of Hall of Fame candidate because it took him 140 more games to get fewer actual goals/points - even if it is slightly more by at least some adjustnment schemes.  Tkachuk also lacks the playoff success Nieuwendyk has.

I think it should be clear that Nieuwendyk is a solid Hall of Famer, but he is not the strongest candidate available.  As such, matching one of his numbers does not make a player a Hall of Famer if he cannot match him in other areas.  Tkachuk is slightly below hall of fame calibre in my mind.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 07/06/11 at 06:03 PM ET

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Thanks for the response. I agree with your assessment.

Posted by Sven22 from Grand Rapids on 07/06/11 at 06:08 PM ET

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doesn’t a calder trophy count as a MVP-ish, or best-in-class-ish? (51 goals as a rook and sophmore)

Posted by tuxedoTshirt on 07/07/11 at 05:34 AM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

No.  Rookie of the Year is not MVP.  Jeff Skinner did not win the MVP this year.  He didn’t even come close.  Nieuwendyk too (though I suppose he came a bit closer and still wasn’t close).

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 07/07/11 at 01:13 PM ET

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Have you done a similar analysis for Bure?

Posted by Dean on 07/11/11 at 12:56 AM ET

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imageThe Puck Stops Here was founded during the 2004/05 lockout as a place to rant about hockey. The original site contains over 1000 posts, some of which were also published on FoxSports.com.

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