First of all, congratulations to the deserving inductees. The problem is, as always, that the Hall of Fame inducted players who both deserve to be in it, and players who do not (or, in this case, not yet).
So congratulations to Nicklas Lidstrom, a player who, I have argued elsewhere, might be the 2nd best defenseman in NHL history. So this was inevitable and it is well deserved.
And congratulations to Sergei Fedorov, who deserves to be inducted, even if he might have deserved to be inducted, you know, in a few years, behind some other people. More about Sergei Fedorov.
But it’s the other two players that cause an issue:
The first is a procedural error: Chris Pronger undoubtedly deserves to be in the Hockey Hall of Fame, he was among the 3 best defensemen of his era, with Lidstrom and Niedermayer. However, he is still under contract and getting paid and, hilariously, was traded shortly after he was inducted. This is embarrassing for all involved. I know the business reasons why he is still in the league but the Hall really didn’t need to induct him now. It’s stupid. More about Chris Pronger.
The second issue is Phil Housley. Let’s breakdown his career.
- 21 seasons, 20 quality by PPG, 19 quality by DPS
- 338G (4th D, 13th American), 894A (5th D, 1st American) for 1232P (4th D, 2nd American), -53 in 1495 games (6th D, 3rd American), 20:52 ATOI*
- 82-game average: 19G, 49A for 67P, -3, 9 PS
- 3-year peak (‘89-’92): 82-game average of 24G, 62A for 85P, -2, 11.4 PS
- Playoffs: 13G, 43A for 56P, -19* in 85 games, 16:17 ATOI*
- Adjusted: 308G, 840A for 1148P
- Adjusted 82-game average: 17G, 46A for 63P
- Traded four times in his prime and once at the very end of his career, waived twice near the end of his career
- Top 5 in Norris voting (‘84, ‘90, ‘92, ‘93)
- Top 10 Player by PS (‘84, ‘90, ‘92)
- Top 10 D by DPS (‘85, ‘90)
- Scored 30 goals once (1 of only 8 D), 25 goals thrice (tied for 5th most by D), 20 goals seven times (tied for 4th most by D), 15 goals thirteen times (2nd most by D)
- Top 5 in On-Ice Goals For once, Top 10 thrice
- Top 10 in assists thrice
- Top 10 in APG twice
- 7 All Star Games
- All Rookie, one 2nd Team
- Top 4? D on one Runner Up (‘98 Capitals)
- 7th D? on one World Cup Champion (‘96 USA)
Housley’s career poses two crucial questions for Hall of Fame admittance:
- How (much) do we value offensive defensemen, especially knowing what we know now about possession and its relation to success?
- How much do we weigh organizations dislike of a player, especially knowing what we know about the dysfunctional nature of so many organizations?
Housley was undoubtedly one of the greatest offensive defensemen of all time. He was so skilled offensively that he occasionally played centre and he is on all the leaderboards in terms of offense by D. Even when adjusting for the super high scoring era he played over half his career in, he still scored a lot. If the game was just scoring, he would deserve to go in.
But, though we might get into a philosophical argument about whether it is better to outscore your opponent or whether it is better to prevent your opponent from scoring, I think we can agree that half the game is making sure your opponent doesn’t outscore you. And, without knowing ice-time for much of his career (and only the last two seasons of his playoff career), and without knowing possession stats, it’s hard to know what Housley did beyond scoring and helping others score.
And we know that because of his plus minus. Now, I know what you’re saying: plus minus isn’t a very good stat. But, as Down Goes Brown pointed out, here we are working with a massive sample, i.e. nearly 1500 games. And over those games, Housley was on the ice for more goals than his team scored, and it was far worse in the playoffs – where he also scored significantly less frequently. Housley has the third worst Plus Minus of any D to play at least 1400 games. Worse, he has the third worst Plus minus of any skater to play at least 1400 games since the stat was tracked. Remember, he played defense. (It should be noted that Point Shares are not a great metric here as they absolutely over-value offense.)
Now, we get our chicken or egg question: was Housley bad enough defensively that he made his teams significantly worse in their own end when he was on the ice or was he just spectacularly unlikely and kept getting traded to (and picked up by) bad teams? (This question can likely be answered in part by looking at approximate WOWYs by looking at his teams before he showed up and after he left but, frankly, that is a lot of work, and very, very bad methodologically.)
We know what the GMs thought about him and this is especially alarming given that he was traded multiple times at or around his peak (by PS). So either GMs were biased against his type of play (definitely true) or he was not reliable enough in his own end (likely true).
And all of this is to say that, with so many questions as to how good he really was, how is it that he has been inducted over someone like Eric Lindros? (I know the answer, this is rhetorical.)
There should be some standard of proof here – the Hall’s voters should have to justify their choices on some level and I frankly have no idea what they are thinking with Housley beyond ‘he scored a lot both for a D and an American, therefore he qualifies’ and that is kind of ridiculous given his position.