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Chris Chelios’s Hall Of Fame Case

The 2013 Hall of Fame class was announced yesterday.  Inducted were three male players in Chris Chelios, Scott Niedermayer and Brendan Shanahan.  Over the next few days I will make the Hall of Fame cases using the Keltner List, which is originally constructed for baseball but it is easily transferable to hockey.  Today I want to start with Chris Chelios.  Here is what i wrote when he retired from hockey.

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?  No.  I cannot make a serious argument that Chelios was ever considered the best player in hockey in any meaningful way.

2.Was he the best player on his team? In his Chicago days I think he was clearly the best player on his team.  I would not argue that he was better than Patrick Roy in his Montreal days.  I would argue that Steve Yzerman and later Nicklas Lidstrom were the best players on his team in his Detroit days.  This makes Chelios the best player on his team in his upper 20s and the first half of his 30s and this is probably a longer period of time one might expect a normal Hall of Famer to be the best player on his team.

3.Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?  Chelios won the Norris Trophy as top defenceman three times in 1989, 1993 and 1996.  That is strong evidence that he was considered the best defenceman in the league on multiple occasions.  I have always felt that he has limited claim to being the best defenceman in hockey in 1989 - much like I would hesitate to call PK Subban the best defenceman in hockey and he is the reigning Norris Trophy winner - but he grew into that role in the 90s.  From 93 to 96 he was a First Team All Star each year and even when he did not win the Norris Trophy he certainly could have.  Many people considered him the best defenceman in hockey for that entire mid-90s run.

4.Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?  He won the Stanley Cup three times.  He was a key player on his 1986 and 2002 wins.  By 2008, he was hanging on to his career and only played 14 of the games in the playoff run getting scratched in the others.  He had several other very good playoff runs including 1989 where he lost in the finals but scored 19 points in his playoff run and 1992 where he scored 21 points in a finals loss.  All told he has 144 points in 266 playoff games.  This makes him the seventh highest scoring defenceman in the Stanley Cup playoffs.  That number is remarkable because much of Chelios's value was defensive and not offensive.

5.Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?  Definitely yes.  He was the oldest defenceman ever to play in the NHL and the second oldest player of any position.  Chelios was a significant contributor most of that time.  He captained the 2006 US Olympic Team at age 44.

6.Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame?  I would argue that yes he was the best eligible player for the Hall of Fame who was no yet inducted.

7.Are most players who have comparable career statistics in the Hall of Fame? Chelios is the tenth highest scoring defenceman of all time.  The only Hall of Fame eligible player ahead of him who has not been inducted yet is Phil Housley and I argue that Housley should be some day.  Remarkable about Chelios is he was far better than his offensive numbers suggest.

8.Do the player's numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?  Yes definitely.  In fact the defenceman immediately below him in all time scoring is Bobby Orr and nobody would argue his numbers are not Hall of Fame worthy.

9.Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?  Chelios was better than his numbers indicate.  He was a strong defensive defenceman.  He was probably the best defensive defenceman in the NHL in the mid-1990's (the key arguments to that proposition might be Scott Stevens and Ray Bourque but this period largely comes before Stevens hit his peak and after Bourque's).  Defence is hard to quantify, but it is clear Chelios excelled in his own zone.

10.Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in?  Yes definitely.  Rob Blake and Phil Housley are probably the best eligible defencemen who are no in the Hall of Fame with Chelios and Niedermayer inducted and there is little question Chelios is better.

11.How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?  Chelios never really had an MVP-type season.  Perhaps this is because defencemen are often overlooked for the Hart Trophy.  In 1989 and in four or five years in the early to mid-90's he had a year where he appeared on a considerable number of Hart Trophy ballots but not at the top of the ballots.  I think you could use Chelios are a good example of a player who probably deserved more MVP attention but was overlooked since he wasn't a top scorer.  Despite that, he still does OK in terms of MVP-type years.

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 to the Hall of Fame? Chelios made 11 All Star Game appearances.  Anyone with that many All Star Games is a clear Hall of Famer.  Perhaps there are two or three more years that Chelios could have made the All Star Game but was overlooked.  That is to be expected for a player who had as lengthy a Hall of Fame career as he did.

13.If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?  The pennant in baseball is the league championship where the team goes to the World Series.  The equivalent is making the Stanley Cup finals.  This happened with Chelios as the best player on his team in 1992 with Chicago.  Thus it is possible that a team could make the finals with Chelios as its best player.  It is kind of surprising that Chelios never won the Stanley Cup as the best player on his team.  Other weaker players than him have.

14.What impact did the player have on baseball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way? Chelios was arguably the best American hockey player ever in the NHL.  He was one of the key players when USA first became a world power in international hockey.  He played on four US Olympic Teams (despite the NHL not going to the Olympics for well over a decade of his career).  This gives him a huge impact in the history of American hockey.

15.Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?  Chelios had 2891 career penalty minutes.  This is twelfth all time in NHL history.  Hence it is hard to argue that he upheld high standards of sportsmanship.  In terms of character, he was a well-respected captain in his NHL career.  He was probably involved in the rowdy 1998 US Olympic Team that trashed their rooms and did have a DUI arrest in 2009, though the charge was thrown out.  It is hard to give this question a clear yes, but he was considered a valuable character guy and that helped him to stay in the NHL well into his 40's, so the answer is not a clear no either.

Chris Chelios gets a clear yes to almost every question on this list.  That makes him a clear Hall of Famer.

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Nathan's avatar

I also cannot make the argument that Chris Chelios was ever the best player in baseball.

Posted by Nathan from the scoresheet! on 07/11/13 at 08:59 AM ET


@Nathan - He was one of the best at singing “Take me out to the ball game” at Wrigley Field. He at least got the words right.

Posted by mc keeper on 07/11/13 at 09:21 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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