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Ed Belfour’s Hall Of Fame Case

The Hall of Fame inductions for 2011 were announced yesterday.  Inducted were Ed Belfour, Doug Gilmour, Mark Howe and Joe Nieuwendyk.  Over the next few days I want to lay out their Hall of Fame cases.  Today I will start with Belfour.

Here was the career perspective that I wrote when Belfour retired.

I think the best way to lay out a Hall of Fame case is using the Keltner List.  This is a series of questions popularized by Bill James to make Hall of Fame cases in baseball.  Here is where I write about this list of questions and more about my Hall of fame standards.

Here is Ed Belfour’s case according to the Keltner List:

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 don’t think anyone seriously argued Belfour was the best player in hockey.  The best case one could make was in 1991 when Belfour was a Hart Trophy nominee.  He finished a distant third in the balloting behind Brett Hull and Wayne Gretzky.  I don’t think anyone seriously ranked him above either of those players.

2. Was he the best player on his team?

Some might argue that the answer to this question is yes and he was the best player on several teams.  Others might argue that he never was the best player on his team.  Several positions in between those two extremes can also be offered.  Belfour was a top player in Chicago, Dallas and Toronto (at least until injuries slowed him).  There were always other talented players who some might have considered better than Belfour.  At the very least a strong debate would have existed because it is hard to compare goalies with position players.  In Chicago, Belfour may have been the best player, but it also may have been Chris Chelios or Jeremy Roenick.  I would argue Belfour may have been the best player on the team at some point in his Chicago tenure.  In Dallas, Mike Modano and Brett Hull were teammates.  I am not sure that he was ever the best player on the team, but an argument can be made that he was.  In Toronto most likely Mats Sundin was the best player on the team, though some would have argued for Belfour in the earlier part of his time there.

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

Belfour was the best goalie in hockey for a while.  He won the Vezina trophy as such in 1991 and 1993.  Given that his prime coincided with Patrick Roy, Dominik Hasek and Martin Brodeur’s runs in the NHL, there was strong competition for the position of best goalie in the NHL.  Had Belfour played in another era, he would likely have been the NHL’s top goalie for longer.

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

Yes.  Belfour was a key part of the Dallas Stars 1999 Stanley Cup run.  He was a key part of deep playoff runs in 1992, 1995, 1998 and 2000.  All told he played 161 playoff games putting up a very good 2.17 GAA and .920 saves percentage.  These numbers compare well to the best players in the league at that time (his GAA and saves percentage are better than for example Patrick Roy).

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

Belfour turned 42 during his last NHL season.  He was a starting goalie for the Florida Panthers that year.  The following year he played in Sweden.  It is believed that without a salary cap he would have remained an NHL goalie, as nobody had salary cap room to pay his price if he might become a backup goalie.  Anyone playing into their forties plays well beyond their prime.

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

This is debateable, but the answer may be yes.  The debate is because it is hard to compare goalies with position players.  Who is the best eligible player for the Hall of Fame who is not there after this year’s inductions?  Adam Oates?  Sergei Makarov?  I would argue Ed Belfour was better.

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

Yes, but with the caveat that goaltender’s stats are strongly team dependent.  Belfour is the third winningest goalie in NHL history and tenth all time in shutouts.  No eligible goalie is ahead of him in either number who is not in the Hall,

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

Yes.  His numbers are definitely Hall of Fame calibre.

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

I don’t think there is strong evidence in either direction.  Again, I must warn that goaltending statistics are strongly team dependent.  Belfour started his career in a high scoring era, but within a few years the “dead puck era” began.  Thus there is no clear bias to make his numbers higher or lower due to era.  He has high counting numbers due to a long career.  Perhaps if he played in the 1980’s he wouldn’t have been given enough games player per season to reach those levels as he was given in the 1990s, but through most of hockey history number one goalies played most of the games (if not all) in the season.

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

Yes definitely.  The best other eligible goalies are debatably Roagie Vachon, Tom Barrasso and Mike Richter and Belfour has a far stronger case than any of them.

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

Belfour was nominated for the Hart Trophy in 1991.  I don’t think it was quite an MVP calibre season, but it was close.  For most of the 1990’s, Belfour was a good enough player to get notice on an MVP ballot or two, particularly in 1993, when he won his second Vezina.  He was never a worth MVP, but a few times a solid candidate for some votes.

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?

Belfour played in five NHL All Star Games.  He was injured and failed to play in a sixth he was selected to.  From 1991 to 2004, it would not have been unreasonable for Belfour to have been selected to the All Star Team in any given season.  The majority of players with five or six All Star Games are Hall of Famers and Belfour could have played in more.  He missed out on a few games because of the need to have one player from all teams in the game and Belfour was on a team that had multiple All Star candidates.

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

One might argue that the Dallas Stars won the Stanley Cup in 1999 as his team’s best player.  I would argue that Mike Modano and Brett Hull were better, but it is a reasonable position.  A team with Belfour as its best player could possibly have won the Stanley Cup, even if you do not accept that he was the best played on the Stars.  I argue he was for a time the best player on the Chicago Blackhawks and they made the 1992 Stanley Cup finals.

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

Belfour was part of an influx of strong goaltending that hit the NHL in the 1990’s. However, he was overshadowed by Patrick Roy, Dominik Hasek and Martin Brodeur for various reasons, thus his impact on hockey history is somewhat understated.  I don’t see any significant way he changed the game other than being a key part of the 1990s trend of strong goaltending that helped to usher in the “dead puck era”.

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

Belfour struggles here.  It was thought this would prevent his induction in his first year of eligibility.  In 2000, he was arrested by Dallas police in a drunk and disorderly scenario.  He is said to have offered a billion dollar bribe to police to let him go.  He was fined for resisting arrest.  In 2007, he had another similar arrest in Florida and was charged with disorderly intoxication and resisting arrest without violence.  Though a lot has been made of these arrests, it shows a pattern of getting drunk and engaging in mildly illegal activities.  This is less serious than some arrests players have had, but still not particularly positive.  Belfour also had a history of not getting along with backup goalies and coaching staffs (particularly Mike Keenan in Chicago) and that was one reason nobody signed him in 2007 when he went to play in Sweden.  However, he was a backup goalie in the 1991 Canada Cup and 2002 Olympics and performed admirably.  Belfour has had his off-ice scandals, but for the most part it seems to be limited to getting drunk and rowdy.

All told, Ed Belfour is a good Hall of Fame inductee.  He is the best goalie available for induction and arguably the best player.  He has very good career numbers and was a two time Vezina Trophy winner.  His legacy is somewhat lost due to three of the greatest goalies of all time playing at the same time he did, but he was a strong number four and it is impressive that with that competition he managed to win as many awards as he did.

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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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