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Mark Howe`s Hall Of Fame Case

I am writing up the Hall of Fame cases for all of the 2011 Hockey Hall of Fame inductees.  So far I have written about Ed Belfour and Doug Gilmour.  Today I move on to Mark Howe.

In order to make the case I am using the Keltner List, which is a series of qualitative questions popularized by Bill James in baseball to make the case for potential Hall of Famers.

Here is the Keltner List for Mark Howe:

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?

Nobody seriously called Mark Howe the best player in hockey.  His prime corresponded with Wayne Gretzky`s prime and nobody would have called him a better player than Gretzky.

2. Was he the best player on his team?

Yes. Howe was the best player on the Philadelphia Flyers for a good portion of the 1980`s.  This was a team that included Tim Kerr, Bill Barber and Bobby Clarke.  He was the best player on the Hartford Whalers before that but as the Whalers were a weaker team he had less competition for this position.  In his later WHA days with the New England Whalers he supplanted his own father Gordie Howe to be the best player on that team.  For an approximately ten year period from about 1978 to about 1988, he was 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?

Howe was converted to left wing to play on a line with his father Gordie Howe and his brother Marty Howe, but he was a natural defenceman.  Through much of his WHA days he jumped back and forth between forward and defence.  By about 1980 he permanently moved to defence.  There is no serious argument that he was ever the best left winger in hockey, but an argument can be made that he was the best defenceman.  This argument cannot be made until Howe moved full-time to defence.  Though Howe never won the Norris Trophy as best defenceman, he was runner up in 1983, 1986 and 1987.  During this time Rod Langway, Paul Coffey and Ray Bourque won the Norris Trophies.  It was not an uncommon argument that Howe was the best two-way defenceman in the game as he was better offensively than Langway and better defensively than Coffey.  It was only in the later part of this run that Bourque`s game improved enough that he was seriously considered at their level.  During the mid-1980`s it was not an uncommon opinion, though it wasn`t a majority one, that Howe was the best defenceman in hockey.

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

Howe was the top defenceman on his team in the Flyers 1985 and 1987 trips to the Stanley Cup finals as well as their 1989 semifinal appearance.  He never won a Stanley Cup but he did have some significant roles in some deep playoff runs.  In his WHA days he was a significant playoff contributor.  He was a key member of the 1974 and 1975 Avco World Trophy winner Houston Aeros and was a finalist in 1976 and in 1978 with the New England Whalers.  There was lesser competition in the WHA than in the NHL, so this cannot be seen as an NHL equivalent.  In 77 WHA playoff games, he scored 95 points playing both as a forward and a defenceman.  In 101 Stanley Cup playoff games played as a defenceman he scored 61 points.  His points per game dropped in the 1990s as he began to age.  His best offensive playoff was 15 points in 19 games in 1989.  Howe put up significant numbers in his NHL playoff career and it would have been better if he played in NHL at the beginning of his career.

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

Howe was 39 when he announced retirement from the NHL.  This is well past his prime.  He had been slowed by injuries since the late 1980s.  1987/88 was his last essentially full season.  For his last six seasons he missed significant time due to various injuries.  He was a strong defenceman while healthy until his final season in 1994/95.  His defence slipped a bit and he was a healthy scratch during the playoffs.  This prompted his retirement.

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

It is a reasonable argument that Howe would be the best player who is Hall of Fame eligible but not inducted after the 2011 inductions, had he not been inducted.  Other candidates are Adam Oates and Sergei Makarov.  While I think they might have slightly stronger claims, I can see why one might argue for Howe.

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

It is hard to discuss Howe`s career statistics as he only played 929 NHL games.  He played 426 WHA games as well.  His numbers are hard to compare across the two leagues.  This is made harder by the fact that Howe played both forward and defence in his earlier days.  Thus Howe`s career numbers are a bit underwhelming if we include on his NHL time and uncertain if we try to include his WHA years.  He was a three time first team All Star on defence.  Nobody who is Hall of Fame eligible has done that and not been inducted into the Hall of Fame.  I would argue that Howe`s career numbers are hard to define properly, but nevertheless he has some career stats that make him a Hall of Famer.

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

With the caveat that his overall numbers are hard to define because Howe spent significant time in the WHA and played as a forward, Howe`s numbers do appear to be of Hall of Fame standards.  He scored 742 points in 929 NHL games.  This is a short NHL modern day NHL career, as he spent six years in the WHA first.  For a defenceman, those numbers along with a solid defensive game could be Hall of Fame numbers.  Howe`s defensive game is shown in part by his career +408 +/- rating.  This is likely Hall of Fame calibre.  His NHL numbers alone are at least borderline Hall of Fame numbers.  Given his three first team All Star berths, that alone should be enough.  Six years of all star play in the WHA clearly push him over the top.

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

Howe is better than his NHL numbers alone as he spent six years in the WHA, which as usually excluded from his totals.  He also was a very strong defensive player, arguably the best in the league at one time and this is very hard to capture statistically.  Howe is significantly better than his NHL statistics would show.

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

I think Mark Howe is the best defenceman who is eligible and not in the Hall of Fame.  His top competition includes players like Phil Housley, Doug Wilson and JC Tremblay and they fall short when compared to Howe.  As a left winger, there are many players with better Hall of Fame credentials than Howe, but this is largely because he spent only 6 or 7 partial seasons at that position and most of it was before his NHL days.

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

His closest season to the Hart Trophy was in 1986.  He was a nominee for the award, but finished a distant third in the voting behind Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux.  He finished fifth in the voting in 1983.  Thus he was never seriously considered the NHL`s MVP but he was a solid contender twice.

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 and four more in the WHA.  Obviously a WHA All Star Game is easier to get into than an NHL one, so it is not reasonable to claim eight career All Star Games.  Four career All Star Games is a bit on the low side for a Hall of Famer, though it is low partly because it ignores his WHA time.  Perhaps Howe should have played in a couple more All Star Games in his NHL time before injury slowed him down, but missed out due to the depth of his Flyer team and the need to have one player from each NHL club in the game.  This gives two reasons that his total of four All Star Games is lower than it perhaps should be, but his career total is a bit on the low side.

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

Howe was the best player on the Philadelphia Flyers when they twice made the Stanley Cup finals.  As there are two leagues in baseball, making the finals is equivalent to winning a pennant.  Though Howe never won a Stanley Cup, it is hard to argue that a team that made multiple finals could not have won with a little more luck on their side.  I think a team with Howe as its best player could have won the Stanley Cup.

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

Howe did introduce new equipment.  He was seriously injured by a goal net in 1980.  He lost his balance and crashed into a net.  The elevated point on the centre back of the net pierced his buttock and nearly missed his spine.  This led the NHL to redesign the goal nets.  They no longer had a sharp point in the centre back and were attached with magnetic fasteners to make them easier to dislodge.  This is a freak play and not really a significant reason to induct Mark Howe to the Hall of Fame.  He is one of the players who helped to establish the WHA.  The forward line of Gordie Howe and his sons was one of the key marketing points of the league.  This would not have been possible had Mark Howe not been an All Star calibre player.  It is entirely possible that Howe`s play and the marketing around him allowed the WHA to live longer than it otherwise would have without him.  He was a key player on the New England/Hartford Whalers and his play helped to establish them as an NHL team.  Howe does have a few significant impacts in the game, although a part of these impacts come from being Gordie Howe`s son and are as a result not entirely due to his talents.  Though he succeeded in those roles due to his talents.

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

Howe stands up very well to standards of sportsmanship and character.  He is however not treated this way by much of the Hall of Fame committee because he played in the rival WHA and is one of the key reasons the league was kept alive.  As many Hall of Fame committee members were hurt in the NHL/WHA wars, they hold ill-will toward anyone who was on the WHA side of the battle.  This is an entirely unfair criticism of Mark Howe who was a very good example of sportsmanship and character in his career and beyond it, but he was nevertheless denied a spot in the Hall of Fame for several years because of it.

Mark Howe had a relatively short NHL career for modern times.  This is because he spent six years in the WHA.  His career totals are thus hard to define.  Nevertheless, his NHL numbers alone are likely enough for Hall of fame induction.  His WHA numbers should improve his case, but for years they were held against him by the Hall of Fame committee.  Mark Howe was Hall of Fame eligible since 1998 and finally inducted in 2011.  It is a shame that it took 14 years of eligibility before he was finally enshrined.

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Comments

shanetx's avatar

I agree with your assessment; Howe should’ve been in the HoF earlier.  The only argument I would have against your case is that the questions you use don’t translate as well as they might should due to the differences in the hall of fame in question.  One is a league’s hall of fame, one belongs to a sport.

That’s what makes Howe, and Makarov, such strange omissions for so long.  The Hockey Hall of Fame is supposed to look at hockey career as a whole, not just NHL career. 

I think you would be better served coming up with your own questions adapted from, rather than directly borrowed from, the keltner list.

Posted by shanetx from Floydada, Texas on 07/05/11 at 03:10 PM ET

Teebz's avatar

Bill Dineen moved Howe to defence in Houston during his second professional season while the three Howes played with the Aeros. Mark rarely played left wing after that. He was drafted and signed as a left winger by the Aeros in the WHA draft, but Bill Dineen recognized that Howe was much better in distributing the puck than he was grinding the puck out of the corner. As a result, Dineen convinced Mark to move to the blueline where he could skate and pass rather than work the boards.

Posted by Teebz on 07/05/11 at 03:36 PM ET

Teebz's avatar

Another point which is wrong: the spike was the mooring used to hold the net in place on the ice. Howe, in breaking up a 3-on-2, was bumped by former teammate John Tonelli, and Howe skidded into the net on his back. As Howe slid into the net, his skates lifted the net off its moorings, and the spike used to hold the net in place impaled him. It had nothing to do with how the nets were designed whatsoever.

Hockey as a whole began changing the moorings that secured the net after that in order to prevent another “Howe-like” injury.

Source: Lone Star Skate by Glenn Hart and Rusty Burson.

Posted by Teebz on 07/05/11 at 03:53 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

Teebz

I think you may have explained the Howe injury better than I did, but you are totally wrong about when Howe last played left wing.  One merely needs to look at his stats to see that they were clearly not defensive numbers in many of his years pre-1980 or so.  For example 1978/79 where he scored 42 goals and 107 points.  He was named to the WHA first team all star that season on left wing.  It was about a year oir two later when he made his final permanent move to defence.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 07/05/11 at 04:15 PM ET

Teebz's avatar

TPSH, are you really going to tell Bill Dineen that he is wrong?

The same published source has Dineen talking about how he indeed moved Howe from left wing to defence in his second pro season because of his playmaking skills. In 1978-79, he was considered the best defenceman in the WHA by a large margin. He was one of the best, if not THE best, first-pass defencemen in the WHA when leading the charge out of his zone.

In contrast, back in 1985-86, a young man named Paul Coffey scored 48 goals and added 90 assists for 138 points. Was he a winger?

The connection is that Mark played with a pretty superior offensive player in Gordie Howe while Paul played alongside some guy named Gretzky who was pretty good at scoring as well.

If you’d like to argue that Bill Dineen is a liar, I’ll allow you to make your argument.

Posted by Teebz on 07/05/11 at 04:26 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

Teebz

I am saying nothing about Bill Dineen.  I am calling you wrong.  Mark Howe made WHA first team all star at left wing in 1978/79.  If you need a source to verify this, try this one

For the record Rick Ley won the Dennis A Murphy Trophy that year as best defenceman in the WHA.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 07/05/11 at 04:30 PM ET

Teebz's avatar

Ok, so he was a winger for one good season in Hartford according to Wikipedia. Yay.

Dineen also used him on the wing during powerplays in Houston as a playmaker. But he was still primarily a defenceman during the majority of his six years in the WHA. Midway through the 1974-1975 season, Dineen convinced him to become a defenceman exclusively. In 1974, he was named to the WHA All-Star team as a defenceman.

In fact, all of his all-star selections in the NHL were as a defenceman. Hartford had tested him out as both a forward and a defenceman - I can admit that. He was used up front to check the opposition’s top line, but head coach Don Blackburn moved him back to defence after his 106-point season to help with the breakout which is exactly the same reason that Bill Dineen moved him.

If parts of two season in Hartford give Mark Howe a nod as a left winger, that’s fine. But he’s still a defenceman. Otherwise, Wendel Clark should get a HoF nod as a defenceman as well when his time comes (if it comes).

How long did his career last? And how many of those seasons were played as a winger? Not six. And definitely not six in the WHA.

Posted by Teebz on 07/05/11 at 04:44 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

Teebz

You still don`t have your facts right.  Mark Howe made four WHA All Star Teams and he is listed on every one of them as a forward.  Check out this site so you can verify that and learn about the WHA.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 07/05/11 at 04:58 PM ET

Teebz's avatar

So then you are calling Bill Dineen a liar? Is that the point you’re making?

In 1975, he had just finished playing left wing and defence in the season before, so that one makes sense. After all, he didn’t even make the All-Star roster in 1974 at midseason, so it makes sense that he was named to the following year’s All-Star team at the position for which he was honoured as ROY.

I’m assuming you can read since we made it this far. Did you notice that the 1976 and 1977 WHA All-Star rosters had Marty Howe as a defenceman when he was a winger all his career? Yeah, someone made a mistake in assigning the two M. Howes on that website. You’d notice that, though, right? I mean, Marty Howe was a winger all his career, and Mark was playing defence. Marty was nowhere near the defensive presence his brother was, so you should maybe do your research a little better when quoting your sources. Or at least stick with credible sources.

In 1978, the WHA All-Stars played the Quebec Nordiques in the All-Star Game (which is why there were two MVPs). In order for all of the best players to play, Howe was taken as a winger so that the All-Stars could stack their team.

But I know little about the WHA, right? Stop being an arrogant ass, and accept the fact that he played defence for the majority of his WHA career.

Posted by Teebz on 07/05/11 at 05:25 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

Mark Howe made four WHA All Star Teams.  In 1975, 1976, 1978 and 1979 (in the final year the All Star Game was WHA All Stars against a Russian team).  He was listed as a forward in each one. 

Here are references for 1975 1976 and 1979.  For some reason there are no rosters available on that site for the 1978 game in which a left wing Mark Howe was named co-MVP.

I am not sure why you are so angry about being corrected here.

It is true Mark Howe played some defence in his WHA years but he played far more left wing.  He won his awards as a left winger.  It was about 1980 when he made his final move to defence.  That does not mean that Bill Dineen and Don Blackburn did not use him as a defenceman at times before that point.

You claim Marty Howe played forward all of his career.  Perhaps you should tell hockeydb.  They list him as a defenceman.  Marty was turned into a fulltime defenceman earlier than Mark was, thouigh their transitions both began at about the same time.

You do not get your own set of facts.  You have to accept the ones the rest of the world uses.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 07/05/11 at 05:49 PM ET

Teebz's avatar

Ahem… speaking of “credible sources”, check out this.

“The 1976-77 season marked two important turning points in Mark Howe’s young career. Starting out the season in his accustomed left wing position, he made the All-Star team. Later, injuries on the Aeros blueline forced Dineen to move Howe, his most mobile and intelligent forward, to the backline. He ended up making the postseason all-star team at defense, making him the only player in WHA history to be named an all-star at two different positions in the same seasons.”

So while Dineen’s timing was off in terms of him moving Howe to the blueline, so is your information. I’ll accept that Dineen’s memories might be a little faded over the years, but he was NAMED AS A DEFENCEMAN in 1976. Game, set, match.

In both Houston and Hartford, he was used as both a forward and a defenceman, but all of his NHL All-Star appearances were as a defenceman. I have admitted this. I can accept this because it is true. But he spent much less than six years of his WHA time as a forward. In fact, only one of his WHA appearances was as a winger, making you vastly incorrect as I stated in my original comment about this.

When are you going to learn your hockey history?

Posted by Teebz on 07/05/11 at 06:05 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

Teebz

In the 1976/77 season, Mark Howe made the mid-season All Star Game as a left winger.  He made the post-season second team all star on defence.  I am not denying that.  In fact i gave you a link to a page that says that.  Once again here it is

Bill Dineen isn’t wrong about turning Mark Howe into a defenceman in 1975.  He was the first professional coach to try that.  It didn’t stick then.  It didn’t stick in 1977 either.  It was 1980 before it stuck permanently.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 07/05/11 at 06:12 PM ET

Avatar

The impact on the game needs a little expanding:
He was the youngest hockey player to ever win an Olympic medal (silver at age 16).

Also the section about playing past his prime:
He was the last active member of Canada’s 1974 Summit Series.

Posted by dca from Alexandria VA on 07/05/11 at 09:23 PM ET

Avatar

FWIW, I came across a few articles from that period.

An April 1975 AP article starts off with “Houston Aeros winger Mark Howe shelled Cleveland…” 

In November 1975, John Tonelli is quoted as saying “...all of a sudden, I was told to center the line with Gordie Howe and Mark Howe.” 

The Bruins held Mark Howe’s rights at one point.  Harry Sinden, in 1976, is quoted as saying “I’d rank him up there with the top five or six forwards in the game.  Yup, right up there with people like Guy Lafleur, Richard Martin and Gilbert Perreault.  He’s a dyamite prospect.”  Source: UPI, October, 1976.

A Canadian Press/AP article in September 1979 says that “the Whalers have moved Howe’s son (article about Gordie, referring to Mark), back to defence at the Bolton, Conn. camp.  He spent most of his six years in the World Hockey Association at left wing.”  The article also says “Mark has played defence at least three other times in his career and has been considered one of the finest defensive forwards in the game.  Howe is quoted as saying “I get more ice time.  There’s not that much difference than playing wing.”

In October 1979, a UPI article says “‘The Mark Howe experiment is over,’ said Hartford coach Don Blackburn who shifted Mark Howe from defence to left wing.  We can always use him on defence when we have to.”

A Canadian Press article in December 1979 says of Howe “a former defenceman converted to left wing.”

December 2, 1980 (Meridian, CT Record-Journal)  “With Mark Howe willing and able to play at either left wing or defense, Blackburn believes he has a more versatile lineup.”

February 8, 1981 AP article “...Larry Robinson and Mark Howe will start on defense for the Wales.”

Posted by Bourbon from USA on 07/05/11 at 11:14 PM ET

Teebz's avatar

I just returned from hockey, and a few of the old-timers I play with confirmed what we have been discussing, TPSH: Mark Howe was both a winger and a defenceman during the WHA days. However, his work on the wing was what was regularly recognized, so I’ll give you credit where credit is due. You’re right in that he he spent time as a winger throughout his six years in the WHA, but the old-timers I play with also said he played a significant amount of time on the blueline in Houston, especially when injuries would force Dineen to change his lineup.

In short, you’re right. And, to a lesser degree, I was right, but wrong as well. My apologies for the confusion as I’ve only read accounts where he was moved permanently to the blueline.

Posted by Teebz on 07/06/11 at 02:36 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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