by PuckStopsHere on 07/03/12 at 03:54 PM ET
I am returning to my Hall of Fame case posts for the 2012 inductees. I have written posts for Pavel Bure and Adam Oates. Today I move onto Joe Sakic. I will give his Hall of Fame case using the Keltner List. This is a series of qualitative questions first publicized by Bill James in baseball that capture a player’s Hall of Fame case.
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?
Yes there was a time when Sakic was seen as the best player in hockey. This happened after Wayne Gretzky had retired and after Mario Lemieux had finished his best seasons and was retired and made his comeback. The clearest time when Sakic was seen as the best player in hockey was 2000/01 when he won the Hart Trophy. Some people viewed him as the best player in hockey before and after this season but it was a less common opinion.
2. Was he the best player on his team?
There was a running debate whether Sakic was the best player on the Stanley Cup winning Colorado Avalanche or if Peter Forsberg was. In some seasons Sakic was the best on the team and in others it was Forsberg. Often this depended upon Forsberg’s health in a given season. Sakic clearly had a longer prime and was the best player on his team before Forsberg was in the league and before Forsberg hit his prime and after Forsberg left Colorado. The period when Sakic was arguably the best player on his team is the vast majority of his career from the late 80’s to the end of the first decade of the 2000’s. That is a long successful run.
3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?
For the first many years of his career Sakic had to contend with Gretzky and Lemieux being the best players a centre. That was tough competition and he was not the best centre in the league. He waited them out and then had his run. Sakic made the First Team All Star at centre three times in 2001, 2002 and 2004. That is a clear sign he was the best centre in hockey for an extended run of a few years.
4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?
Sakic won the Stanley Cup twice. He was the MVP of the 1996 playoffs. Sakic holds the record for the most playoff overtime goals in history. He is seventh all time in playoff points. Nobody who is above him has as few career playoff games. Sakic is an example of a player who is a playoff legend. He definitely had a big impact in several Stanley Cup playoff runs.
5. Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?
Sakic was 39 when he retired and this age is past anyone’s prime. His final season was injury plagued and he only played 15 games - scoring 12 points which makes one think he could still be a good scorer if he was healthy and continued his career. Sakic scored at or near point per game rate his entire career and probably could have continued doing so for a couple years if his career continued. Sakic’s last 100 point season came when he was 37 years old.
6. Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame?
Yes. I think this is a non-controversial statement. Sakic was the 8th highest scorer in NHL history when he retired. I think it is clear that nobody who is Hall of Fame eligible was as good a player as he was.
7. Are most players who have comparable career statistics in the Hall of Fame?
Sakic retired as the 8th highest point scorer of all time. He was 14th in goals and 11th in assists. These numbers are outstanding and anyone who scores at this level is a clear Hall of Famer.
8. Do the player’s numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?
These numbers are clearly Hall of Fame calibre. It would be ridiculous to have a Hall of Fame without Sakic in it.
9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?
The strongest answer to this question is that the first half of Sakic’s career occurred during the highest scoring era in NHL history. Thus his point totals were higher than they would have been in another era. However Sakic kept scoring at a top level as scoring rates declined later in his career. Sabermetrics suggest that his career point total was higher than it would have been because of the era in which he played but not by as large a factor as many contemporary players.
10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in?
Not only is Sakic the best centre who is eligible for the Hall of Fame, he is the best player of any position who is eligible.
11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?
Sakic won the MVP award in 2001. He was playoff MVP in 1996. He wasn’t a serious MVP candidate in other years though he finished with a few votes but well out of a nomination position. Sakic was a top 10 MVP candidate for the better part of a decade but only in top few in 2001 when he won the award.
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?
Sakic made 13 All Star Games. He played in 12 of them. Anyone who plays in that many All Star Games clearly belongs in the Hall of Fame. He had All Star calibre seasons a few more times and could have been chosen to the game four or five more times under different circumstances. That is very impressive for any player.
13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?
Sakic was the best player on his team when it won the Stanley Cup - twice. He couldn’t have done it without a strong supporting cast including Peter Forsberg, Patrick Roy and Ray Bourque and Rob Blake for his second cup. So the answer to this question is yes but Sakic is not on the level of a Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux where his presence immediately makes his team a serious cup contender. He did need a supporting staff.
14. What impact did the player have on baseball history? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?
I think Sakic’s biggest impact on hockey was the establishment of the game in Colorado. When the Avalanche moved from Quebec, he was the star and captain of the team. Their success largely due to Sakic’s influence. Colorado has not remained a top team in the standings or at the gate now that Sakic has retired, so he did not make a lasting change in Colorado. Nevertheless his presence in Colorado helped to convince many people that Denver, Colorado was a large market in the NHL when a simple look at population would clearly show otherwise.
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. Joe Sakic was clearly a classy player who upheld standards of sportsmanship and character. In fact he won the 2001 Lady Byng Trophy for sportsmanship and the 2007 NHL Foundation Award for charity and community work. He is exemplary in this area.
There is no question on this list where Joe Sakic clearly gets a no answer. He is a strong Hall of Famer. It would be ridiculous to keep a player like him out of the Hall of Fame.
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