Why Markus Naslund should eventually get into the Hockey Hall of Fame

Dimitri Filipovic
September 12 2014 11:07AM

There have been some rather dry stretches here as the offseason has dragged on and I've found myself eagerly awaiting the return of hockey in certain instances. With that being said when friends, family, and other acquaintances - after they've found out what it is that I do - ask whether I'm bored these days, I'm quick to point out that it's actually to the contrary. 

Once the season gets going, things become hectic and there proves to be very little time to be retrospective, thinking about the big picture. The schedule is a grind; you're usually hopping from watching and recapping one game, to previewing and getting ready for the next. Rinse, repeat.

That's why I've been spending the past few weeks catching up on things that would normally fall by the wayside amidst all of the in-season hoopla. Like, for example, a neat thought-provoking piece by Iain Fyffe in Rob Vollman's latest Hockey Abstract about using past history as a means of predicting who will ultimately get inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

If you haven't had a chance to get your hands on the book itself yet, I can't recommend it highly enough. Here's the preamble by Fyffe, explaining the thought process and introducing the concept of "The Inductinator":

You cannot look at a player's career, add up all his awards and accomplishments, compare the total to a chart, and arrive at a “yes” or “no” answer. It's just not that simple.

However, even though there are no objective standards, we can try to figure out whether the Hall of Fame selection committee has any implicit standards; that is, standards that can be determined based on who has been inducted into the Hall of Fame and, just as importantly, who has not, in a sort of reverse engineering of the selection standards. Such a system could be used to discuss past selections, but perhaps more interestingly, it could also be used to predict future inductees based on the career records of active or recently-retired players. So, can we examine the career statistical records of Hall-of-Famers and non-Hall-of-Famers, and come up with a formula that represents the basis the selection committee apparently used to select the players for the honour?

As it turns out, we can derive these standards and we call the resulting system the Inductinator. The Inductinator calculates a score for every hockey player and any player who achieves a score of 100 or more meets the implicit standards of the Hall of Fame selection committee.

With that in mind, here's a rather illustrious list of forwards that have reached the aforementioned benchmark with their play over the course of their respective careers and in turn, should theoretically have stamped themselves a future ticket into the Hall:

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As someone whose formative hockey years directly coincided with the early-2000s Markus Naslund peak, I'll try not to hurt myself nodding my head. Yet truth be told, as one of Naslund's unabashed and biggest boosters - because of not only what he did in luring me into becoming a hockey fan, but also how he did it - even I can't frankly say that I've given his HHOF candidacy much thought over the past 2 years. 

A lot of that surely has to do with the fact that some true greats have come up on the ballot over that time and blocked the road for some of the other fringe names, but there's probably something to do with perception there, too. The fact that he was a winger plays into it, though it'd be naive to think the name "Dan Cloutier" isn't a confounding factor in some respects. 

Particularly when reminiscing about '02-'03, a year in which apex-Naslund finished the season just 2 goals shy of the Rocket Richard (48) and 2 points from of the Art Ross (104), settling for - you guessed it - a 2nd place finish in Hart voting. After the Canucks came back from a 3-1 deficit to topple the Blues (with Naslund scoring a goal in games 5, 6, and 7), they met a Minnesota Wild team in the 2nd round that was one of the worst possession teams in the league as we now know. The Canucks wound up losing that series, in large part to an absolute implosion by their netminder; Cloutier gave up 15 goals in 8 periods, stopping just 75% of the shots that came his way in those final 3 games (all losses). I don't mean to open up old wounds, but let's just say that 11-year old me will never forgive Cloutier for that experience. I think it's also fair to wonder whether Naslund would generally be thought of in a different light had that Spring played out differently.

Despite having just those two forays into the 2nd round of the playoffs to his name ('03 and '07), a friendly reminder of the video game type of numbers Naslund generated during his heyday bears repeating. From Naslund's first full season in Vancouver ('96-'97) to his final season in the league as a Ranger ('08-'09), there were only 6 players that scored more goals (and just 9 in terms of total points, via Hockey Reference):

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But even that, as impressive as it is, doesn't account for just how productive Naslund was during that aforementioned peak. From 1998 to 2006 - before his production curtailed somewhat during the latter stages of his career - only Jagr and Sakic managed more points:

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By most objective individual measures, Naslund compares quite favourably to some of his generation's heavy hitters during that time. That deadly wrist shot he wielded in his arsenal made him as prolific a goal scorer as there was in that aforementioned stretch. Really, it's a testament to how prolific his 7 year peak was that he ranks in the top-100 of both goals and points all-time despite not fully hitting his stride as an NHLer until he was 25, and refusing to hang around until he approached 40 like some of his peers. Even if it ultimately prevented him from reaching the 400-goal/1,000 point plateaus that tend to be arbitrarily thrown around when discussing Hall of Fame merits.

It's difficult to know how much traction Naslund's candidacy has actually had with the voting committee because of the archaic ways they're still mired in, inexplicably refusing to make balloting available to the public. Still, based on the way things have seemingly gone the first two cracks at it it'll be nothing short of a slog for Naslund to generate the sort of buzz he'd need to ever credibly have a chance of being inducted into the Hall. If he ever does, it'll likely have come after an extended wait; as Fyffe notes, "the Hall of Fame also seems to favour centres over wingers; a centre with a score of 140 will not wait as long as a wing with a score of 140."

Given the names up for discussion here, that can hardly be construed as an indictment against Naslund. But that doesn't mean that it's not a shame, because - by evaluating what he managed to do throughout his career and stacking it up against that of his contemporaries - he probably deserves to be in there one day. For now, the comfort that comes from knowing we weren't subjected to a career of whatever this was will surely suffice as consolation.

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Dimitri Filipovic writes about hockey on the internet. If you'd like to get in touch with him you can do so on Twitter @DimFilipovic or via email at dimitri.filipovic@gmail.com.
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#1 Chris the Curmudgeon
September 12 2014, 03:18PM
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I think Naslund (one of my all time favourites by the way), has several things going against him. He never won a Stanley Cup, and his individual trophy case is pretty bare too, with just his Pearson in 2003. He also played most of his career in Canada and on the West Coast, and never really set the world on fire in the playoffs either. Plus, as much as it's unfortunate, I think European players probably have a harder time making the Hall with similar credentials (I have no facts to back this up, just perception). I love Markus but I don't think it's going to happen.

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#3 Doc Roberts
September 12 2014, 04:19PM
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Wow, the shadow of Paul Kariya was the 7th highest scoring player from 98 to 06... that's amazing. All I remember are his multiple post-concussion struggles. Man, what could've been!?!? I'll always wonder.

I love Nazzy, I'm a big fan and I've long believed he should make the HHOF. I hope he does. I think he's one of the greatest european players of all time, he should be in there.

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#4 Doc Roberts
September 12 2014, 04:22PM
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Another thing in Naslund's favour are his incredible WJC numbers

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#5 Jeremy
September 12 2014, 04:44PM
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Man. Watching that little 'tribute' video at the end reminded me that, for a brief time, we had Mogilny on a line with Naslund. Neither quite at their peak, but neither far from it... that was fun, smooth, hockey to watch. Even with #11 down the middle.

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#6 PB
September 12 2014, 07:09PM
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@Dimitri Filipovic

That's assuming that there are rational reasons behind who makes the HHOF or doesn't.

I absolutely loved Naslund, whose leadership abilities I often thought got really underrated as opposed to his pure talent. I still remember the encouragement that he would give even goalies like Cloutier after a deflating goal.

That said, I find it hard to imagine that he's hall of fame worthy given all the players with arguably bigger impacts who aren't in. Being a European isn't a reason to disqualify him. Not winning team or individual trophies in recognition of his play, however, might be much more legitimate.

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#7 Chris the Curmudgeon
September 13 2014, 10:26AM
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Dimitri Filipovic wrote:

I don't really disagree. But there needs to be a distinction made here; most of what you rattled off sounds like flawed reasons he won't make it as opposed to legitimate reasons he shouldn't make it.

Sure they're flawed reasons. My intent wasn't to point out why Markus shouldn't get in (am sort of on the fence about it), but rather why he won't get in. Hall of Fame voters aren't known for their sensibility.

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#8 spamhuis
September 13 2014, 09:40PM
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ughhhhhhh.

Us canucks fans are terrible bad no good homers sometimes.

This would be like inducting Mike Richards, who accomplished more than Naslund.. No, just no no no.

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#9 Schultz the Glammer
September 14 2014, 09:36PM
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@spamhuis

It's actually nothing like that. Mike Richards has never been nor will he ever be one of the best centres in the national hockey league. Naslund, on the other hand, was the best left wing in hockey for 3-4 years. That is why, in my opinion, he should make the HHOF one day. Will he? Probably not because the Hall is clearly biased against europeans and athletes who never won the holy grail. Honestly, the HHOF is kind of a joke thanks to some of the lesser lights that have been inducted into the hall simply because they played on dominant cup winning teams.

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#10 ubermiguel
September 19 2014, 11:03AM
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It's the "Hockey Hall of Fame" not the "Hockey Hall of almost-won-some-hardware and could-never-get-it-done-in-the-playoffs". That said, there are many people in the HHOF who are as equally undeserving so it could happen I suppose.

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