by PuckStopsHere on 06/25/09 at 06:30 AM ET
With the recent Hall of Fame inductions, I want to lay out what I think is the case for each of the four players inducted. I will start with Steve Yzerman as he is the most worthy of the bunch for his induction. Here is a write up about what I think the standards for the Hall of Fame are/should be. I think one of the best methods to look at a potential Hall of Famer is by looking at the questions Bill James asks of Baseball Hall of Famers.
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
For the most part, the answer to this question is no. Yzerman played alongside Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux and that made it hard for him to be seen as the best player in the game. Nevertheless at times people did try to advance those arguments. He won the Lester Pearson Award in 1989 as the MVP of the league as chosen by the players. It seems clear that he won as an alternative to Gretzky and Lemieux - who outscored him that season - but it is an argument that some thought he was the best player in the game. At a few points in the early to mid-90’s when Wayne Gretzky started to decline and during Mario Lemieux injuries a few people suggested he was the best player in the game at that point, though it was not a common argument. He was certainly no the only other candidate at those points as Ray Bourque, Mark Messier, Jaromir Jagr, Eric Lindros and Sergei Fedorov were all among the candidates that might be put forth in these debates.
2. Was he the best player on his team?
For a period including a large stretch of the 1980’s and into the early 1990’s he was clearly the best player on a very good Detroit Red Wings team. He had some prominent teammates in Sergei Fedorov, Brendan Shanahan and Nicklas Lidstrom, so this was no easy feat. Throughout much of the rest of the 1990’s it was a more debatable case, but still a plausible one.
3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?
The fact he shared much of his prime with Gretzky and Lemieux makes it harder to answer yes to this question than it probably should be. He did make first team all star in 2000, which is certainly supports the idea that he was seen as the best centre at some point, though it was a weak year for centreman and Yzerman was a point per game player at that point.
4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?
Yzerman was a valuable player in the playoffs. He won the Stanley Cup three times. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 1998. He had 20 or more playoff points in all three of his cup runs. It is strange to say that in as recent as 1995 people were calling him a player who couldn’t win the big one in the playoffs.
5. Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?
Definitely. He was a top player who was a regular on Team Canada for the Olympics and the World Cup even as he approached 40. He retired at age 41 and that was probably earlier than it should have been due to injury.
6. Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame?
Yes. He is the best eligible player for the Hall of Fame who is not there.
7. Are most players who have comparable career statistics in the Hall of Fame?
Definitely. Yzerman is sixth all time in career points. People who rank that highly in their career numbers make the Hall of Fame easily.
8. Do the player’s numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?
Yes. Few people achieve the kind of offensive numbers Yzerman did and all easily make the Hall of Fame.
9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?
Yzerman was a better player than his offensive numbers show. He was also a very good defensive forward. In fact he won the Selke Trophy as best defensive forward in 2000.
10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in?
Yes. Without question.
11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?
He never won an MVP award (Hart Trophy), though he won a Pearson Award in 1989 and the playoff MVP (Conn Smythe) in 1998. If he played in a time without Gretzky and Lemieux he would have won a Hart Trophy in 1989. His 155 point season is one of the best seasons ever to not win a Hart Trophy. His 1990 season where he scored 127 points and his 1993 season where he scored 137 points received some MVP consideration. Even his 2000 season where he was limited to 79 points, but won the Selke Trophy got him mentioned on more than a few Hart Trophy ballots.
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?
Yzerman played in nine All Star Games. I cannot think of any player with that many All Star appearances who is not a Hall of Famer (though I don’t have data to conclusively check). Even with nine All Star appearances, he has other seasons where he had All Star calibre numbers and missed the game. In 1987 he scored 90 points and was not an All Star. He only played in two All Star Games after 1993, despite several more point per game or better years. He was often overlooked when making the rosters since Detroit had so many All Star calibre players and roster spots were tight in the expanding NHL. Nine career All Star Games seems quite low given the quality of his career. He could easily have 13 or 14 All Star seasons.
13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?
He was the best player on the Red Wings when they won the Stanley Cup, so this question must be a yes. It should be noted that the years he was most clearly the best player on his team were not cup winning years and it was only after the arrival of other players who were approximately on his level (such as Sergei Fedorov in the mid 90’s) did Detroit actually win a 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?
I think the best answer to this is that Yzerman helped to save the Detroit Red Wing franchise. They were in very bad shape in the early 1980’s until he was drafted and they became a team that has won multiple Stanley Cups since. The credit for that probably is better given to a change of ownership, with Mike Ilitch buying the team and assembling a good management staff. In that explanation, Yzerman is more a symptom of the franchise’s turnaround than the reason for it.
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. Yzerman was a very respected teammate and has strong character. This can be shown by his successful transition into management and by his 2007 Lester Patrick Trophy - for contributions to hockey in the US as well as his many years as the captain of the Detroit Red Wings.
Steve Yzerman is a clear Hall of Famer who is the kind of player who should be inducted with little question.
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