by PuckStopsHere on 07/05/11 at 03:48 PM ET
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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