by PuckStopsHere on 07/12/13 at 11:09 PM ET
I am writing about the Hall of Fame cases for the three male players inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in the 2013 class. I have already written about Chris Chelios. Today is Scott Niedermayer's turn and Brendan Shanahan is still to come. Here is the post I wrote when Niedermayer retired and here is my post when I first considered him a Hall of Famer. In order to make my case I will use the Keltner List, which was developed for baseball but is easily transferable to 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. There is no clear argument that Scott Niedermayer was the best player in hockey at any point.
2.Was he the best player on his team? I would argue that he was but not for a long period of time. In New Jersey both Martin Brodeur and Scott Stevens were better players. In Anaheim I would argue that Chris Pronger was a better player when he was on the team, but in the years Pronger was in Edmonton before coming to Anaheim and Philadelphia after leaving Anaheim, I think Niedermayer was their best player.
3.Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position? In my opinion Niedermayer was never the best defenceman in hockey but he came very close. I would argue that Chris Pronger and Nicklas Lidstrom were better defencemen during Niedermayer's prime. However a strong argument can be made that Niedermayer was hockey's best defenceman. In 2004 he won the Norris Trophy - which means he was considered the best defenceman that year - however much like I would argue PK Subban is not currently the best defenceman in hockey despite his being the reigning Norris winner. Niedermayer was very close to being the best defenceman in the league regardless of whether or not he truly was the best defenceman at any point. He made First Team All Star on defence in 2004, 2006 and 2007 (due to lockout there was no 2005) and he won the 2007 Conn Smythe Trophy. I certainly would argue that it is reasonable to argue that Niedermayer was the best defenceman in hockey during that time period but I would argue against it.
4.Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races? Niedermayer won four Stanley Cups and was a core player for his team on each of them. His best playoff performance may have been 2003, where he scored 18 points. It was 2007 when he won the Conn Smythe Trophy - but this was largely due to Chris Pronger who was more valuable in the playoff run having served a suspension in the finals. All told, Niedermayer scored 98 points in 202 playoff games. However his value is far beyond that point total due to his strong defensive play.
5.Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime? I think the answer is yes. Niedermayer played in NHL All Star Games at age 34 and 35 and this is beyond the prime of most NHL players. At age 36, Niedermayer's final NHL season he was a key player on Canada's gold medal winning team at the Vancouver Olympics. Niedermayer was likely good enough to continue playing for several more seasons at that point, but he chose not to.
6.Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame? Yes. Niedermayer is the best Hall of Fame eligible player who is not inducted. Other top contenders include Eric Lindros, Phil Housley and Rob Blake and Niedermayer was a better player.
7.Are most players who have comparable career statistics in the Hall of Fame? It depends which statistics you select. The most logical number to select is his point total. Niedermayer scored 740 points from defence in his career. That puts him 23rd all time among defencemen. At this point in the race about half of the players make the Hall of Fame and half do not. If we interpret his three First All Star Team selections - or some other award win - as a statistic then yes people who are three-time First Team All Stars are surefire Hall of Famers.
8.Do the player's numbers meet Hall of Fame standards? It is hard to argue that his career point totals are clear Hall of Fame numbers. They are on the cusp at best. The problem is Niedermayer's defensive prowess is not easily measured statistically.
9.Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics? Niedermayer was a top defensive player. He was arguably the best defensive player in the game during the mid 2000's - though I would argue he slightly fell short. That is hard to measure statistically. He was clearly a much better player than his statistics show.
10.Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in? Yes. The best Hall of Fame eligible defencemen who are not in the Hall are Phil Housley and Rob Blake and Niedermayer is clearly a better player.
11.How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close? Niedermayer was never a serious MVP contender in any regular season, though he was named the 2007 playoff MVP. As a top defenceman he was named on several ballots at spots lower down the ballot in the mid 2000's. His strongest case was 2004 when he won the Norris Trophy. Defencemen are often overlooked in MVP voting and Niedermayer is a player who could be used as an example to help make that argument,
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? Niedermayer played in five NHL All Star Games. I could find another five or so years where he would have been a plausible addition to an All Star Team. In fact he made First Team All Star twice in years when he was omitted from the All Star Game. Five All Star Games is on the cusp where some players make the hall of fame and some do not, but there are enough other good years where he should have made the All Star Game to push him to the level where the answer to this question becomes a clear yes.
13.If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant? I argue that he never was the best player on his team when his team won a Stanley Cup. Many people would argue that he was the best in the 2007 Anaheim Ducks Cup win - but I argue for Chris Pronger. While it is debatable as to whether he ever was the best player on a Stanley Cup winning team, he came close enough to it that it is clear that a team could have won the cup with him as its best player.
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? I am hard-pressed to think of any way to answer this question with a yes. He was the first player to win the Memorial Cup, World Junior championship, Stanley Cup, World Championship, World Cup and Olympic gold medal in his career, which is an interesting claim to fame but is more of a trivial point. It shows that Niedermayer won at every level, which is a good argument that he is a Hall of Famer, but doesn't really answer this question.
15.Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider? Yes. Niedermayer was a respected captain and often received a few votes for the Lady Byng Trophy as the most sportsmanlike player in the game - though he was never a serious contender for the award. Niedermayer is quite active in charity work and political causes including the World Wildlife Fund. Any attempt create a negative answer to this question would be to magnify his 2007/08 season, where he took the first half off after winning the Stanley Cup and attempt to claim this shows a lack of character. The fact he quickly became the Anaheim Duck captain after he returned shows how poor that argument is.
Scott Niedermayer was a very good defenceman. It is debatable as to whether or not he was ever the best defenceman in the NHL at any point. Even if we accept that he wasn't there are enough positive answers to questions on this list to make him a Hall of Famer. If we argue that he was the best defenceman in the league for a while - and his 2004 Norris Trophy is a strong argument that he was - then any debate should be over.
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