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Luc Robitaille’s Hall Of Fame Case

This is the final of the Hall of Fame cases for 2009.  Here is the case for Steve Yzerman, here is the case for Brett Hull and here is the case for Brian Leetch.

I am comparing these players to my Hall of Fame standards by using the questions Bill James asks about potential baseball Hall of Famers.  These are very good questions that clearly get to the heart of the matter of what makes a Hall of Famer.

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 have not seen any serious argument somebody ever advanced where they claimed Robitaille was the best player in hockey.

2. Was he the best player on his team?

He was the best player on the Los Angeles Kings during his first run with the team, until they acquired Wayne Gretzky.  He quickly established himself as the top player on the Kings during his Calder Trophy winning rookie season and remained there for two years until the Gretzky trade.  Being second best on your team through much of your prime when you are behind Wayne Gretzky isn’t too bad even if you are not the best on the team.

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

Without question Robitaille was the best left winger in the league.  He was a five time first team All Star and three time second.  That places him third all time in post-season First All Star selections (behind Bobby Hull and Ted Lindsay) and fourth all time in total selections (Frank Mahovlich also passes him).  That makes Robitaille not only the best player in his position for an extended period, but clearly places him in the debate for the best left winger ever.

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

Robitaille won the 2002 Stanley Cup in Detroit but was not one of their top players.  He contributed nine points in 23 games.  His biggest playoff was 1993 when the LA Kings lost in the finals.  He scored 22 points in 24 games.  Robitaille routinely scored at point per game or better rates in the playoffs in his first run with the Kings, but the team was not good enough for many deep playoff runs.  As he moved on during the rest of his career, he scored at a lesser rate and with the exception of the Red Wings cup never again made it to the finals.  I don’t think I can argue he made an impact in many playoffs, but mostly because his team was not good enough during most of his prime.

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

Yes.  Robitaille was forty when he retired.  It was the season after the lockout and he had clearly slowed a bit during his year off.  At 38, before the lockout he led a weak Kings team in points with 51.

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

This is debatable.  With the inductions of Yzerman, Hull and Leetch ahead of him, he might be the best eligible player, although I would suggest Doug Gilmour is.

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

Yes.  All left wingers with as many post-season All Star selections are clear Hall of Famers.  Robitaille is currently the 20th highest scorer all time.  Players who score that many points make the Hall of Fame (though Doug Gilmour hasn’t - yet?).

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

Yes they do.

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

Robitaille’s prime came in the highest scoring period in NHL history, so that inflates his point totals.  He was never one of the top defensive players in the game, though he was not defensively inept either.  I think his statistics are better than he was, but not by a huge margin.

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

Yes Robitaille is the best left winger not in the Hall of Fame.

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

Robitaille never was a serious MVP candidate, even in his 125 point season (perhaps because he was in Gretzky’s shadow) though he often received a handful of MVP votes during the late 80’s and early 90’s as the best left winger in the game.

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?

Robitaille appeared in eight All Star Games.  There were a couple more years during his first Kings run when he could have made the team but was omitted when other Kings filled the roster.  This would give him ten possible All Star seasons.  Nearly anyone with eight All Star Games and 10 potential All Star seasons makes the Hall of Fame.

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

Perhaps a team could win the Stanley Cup (or at least come close) with Robitaille as their best player.  It never happened.  During his run as the best player on the Kings, they lost in the first round both seasons, but they were a relatively weak team.  Teams have won the Stanley Cup with a best player of Robitaille’s level, but usually they do not.

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

Robitaille probably doesn’t have any huge impact on hockey history - except perhaps that of the Los Angeles Kings.  He was a key player during the Kings highly publicized run with Wayne Gretzky, but he was clearly not the key player.  He was a talented player who is one of the best left wingers in the game, but he was usually just outside the limelight.

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

Robitaille does uphold these standards.  He is highly respected by the LA Kings organization.  He has done significant charity work and been rewarded for it.  He was not so well respected in some of his stops outside Los Angeles.  He never fit in properly in most of those situations.

Luc Robitaille is a solid Hall of Fame selection.  He is one of the best left wingers of all time.  He had a long solid career.  He is not one of the top players in the Hall because he lacks any serious argument to have ever been the best player in the league, lacks any MVP seasons and though he won a Stanley Cup, was not one of the key players on his team.



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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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