Photo credit:GERRY KAHRMANN / THE PROVINCE
The Stanchion: Alexander Mogilny’s Hockey Hall of Fame absence is downright unacceptable
8 months ago
As the world around us continues to feel more and more uncertain, we can at least rest assured knowing that there is one constant in our lives: Alex Mogilny being denied entry to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
In fact, it was back in 2019 that I first wrote about Mogilny’s exclusion from the hallowed halls of hockey history. I wrote an impassioned article explaining why Alex deserved to be in that year’s list of players, certain that this must have been a clerical oversight. Surely Brian Burke must have meant to vote for Alex were it not for his thumb slipping and registering a vote for Paul Ysebaert by accident.
That surely the committee would correct this as soon as possible, if not in 2019, then in the year 2020. Who am I to deny the scoring prowess and all-around top-end elite talent of Guy Carbonneau?
Yet here we stand in the year 2023, and once again we are left wondering just what Mogilny has to do to get his ring.
Now, one of the most obvious ways to voice your displeasure is to tear down the nominees who did get into the Hall of Fame, to showcase how ludicrous it is that they got in instead. Nothing makes one feel better than listing the reasons why Pierre Turgeon is an insult to the game of hockey, a verifiable bag of human trash in comparison to Alex. In fact I once heard he only tipped someone 14% because they didn’t call him “Your Lordship” at an Arby’s, all of which is 100% made up, but helps me feel better about Mogilny not getting in.
I could also play a video of Mike Vernon getting beaten by Geoff Courtnall in overtime of game 5 of the 1994 playoffs as clear proof he doesn’t deserve these accolades, but that would be petty.
Instead, I chose a gif, because I’m a gentleman.
But today we will keep it clean. We will let those that got in have their moment without denigrating their resume and yelling loudly online about it. Instead of showing why others didn’t deserve to get in, we will merely focus on why Mogilny clearly should be in the Hall. Because it really is quite an open and shut case.
You want to start with his resume? OK, let’s do that.
- 990 NHL games played
- 1032 points
- 1.04 points per game
- 473 goals
- World Junior Gold
- World Championship Goal
- Olympic Gold
- Stanley Cup Gold
In fact, his numbers are slightly ahead of Hall of Famer Paul Kariya, with the added bonus of a Stanley Cup victory, which whether you agree with it or not, is often used as a big factor when building a Hall of Fame case.
If the Rocket Richard trophy had been handed out back in the ’92-93 season, he would have shared it with Teemu Selanne. He was also a Second-Team All-Star twice (meaning he was one of the best players at his position for the season), and was the first Russian player to be named captain of an NHL club (during an extended Lafontaine injury with the Sabres). Most importantly, he was the greatest five-hole breakaway goal scorer of all time (I ran the numbers. Source: trust me bro).
So based on numbers alone, he clearly makes it in compared to players already in the Hall of Fame.
Putting numbers aside, one of my favourite components for deciding who should make the Hall is the general consensus of a player’s contemporaries. Did they view the player in question as Hall of Fame worthy? Did they think they were overrated? Well, with Mogilny, it’s hard to find a teammate who doesn’t talk glowingly of how elite his skill set was.
Back in 2019, I talked to Bret Hedican who claimed Mogilny was “one of the top skilled guys [he] ever played with.” He mentioned his deadly shot and agreed that he was a Hall of Famer, “the whole package.”
Cliff Ronning echoed similar sentiments claiming Alex was “the most talented player he ever played with, period!” in which yes, Cliff spelled out the word ‘period’ to hammer home his point. Ditto Corey Hirsch, who ranked Alex above even Pavel Bure.
“Pav was electric, he’d bring you out of your seat whenever he had the puck. But a player with the best all-around game that could play defence, offence, protect the puck, one-timers, wrist shots, everything. He could do everything at an extremely high level. Alex was probably the best all-around player that I’ve ever seen, that I’ve ever played with. Pav just wanted to score goals.”
Mats Sundin, Pat Quinn, Sergei Fedorov, Pat Lafontaine, Lou Lamoriello, the list goes on of hockey players and executives who have extolled the high end, elite skill of one Alexander Mogilny. In fact, my favorite quote is from Fedorov, who claimed Alex was quicker than him or Pavel Bure.
“Alex was faster than all of us and Alex was a machine. He was built like a machine. Plus on top of all the crazy skill he had, he’s better than all of us. He’s amazing…If you went back and forth five times, (Mogilny) will be first, I will be third.”
Failed to load video.
Finally, let’s add in the trailblazing aspect of his career, which should absolutely have an impact on someone’s Hall of Fame resume. Being a trailblazer matters, and no one can deny Alex this label. Sportsnet’s mini documentary The Defector goes over the harrowing tale of how Mogilny snuck into North America during a Russian team stopover in Sweden at the age of 20. It’s easy to get caught up in viewing it as a harrowing spy movie, without realizing the heavy implications it had on his life. Alex was but a young man at the time, and the threat to his life and the lives of his family were very real. One did not simply walk away from the Soviet Union back in the 80’s, to the point that even when he was settled into North American life, there were still fears that the KGB was keeping tabs on him. His parents were ordered to Moscow to testify about their son’s defection and even had his family home searched, confiscating medals Mogilny had won.
Which again, reading that, you almost just nod your head saying “yep, that sounds tough” without realizing just how much of an impact it had on him. As Iain MacIntyre wrote back in a 1995 Vancouver Sun article detailing Mogilny’s journey to the NHL and to Vancouver, friend and compatriot Slava Fetisov remarked “He wanted freedom and he got freedom, but he lost his homeland.” As Iain later noted, “the harder Mogilny chased the American dream, the more keenly aware he became that he was not American.”
All of which is to say Mogilny had to overcome quite a lot in his journey as the first Soviet Union hockey player defector, making his 76 goal season with the Sabres all the more remarkable. He paved the way for the Russian invasion, giving the NHL the likes of Pavel Bure, Sergei Fedorov, Igor Larionov and countless others. He opened up a tunnel from behind the Iron Curtain to truly make the NHL a global organization.
So the question remains, why hasn’t he been voted in yet? And sadly, we might never know. The current Hockey Hall of Fame committee is made up of 18 people, and they do not have to explain their vote, nor share it. They can simply select whomever they want, and we are left with no transparency on the matter. Instead all we can do is try and hazard a guess as to why Alex remains on the outside looking in.
And with a resume like Mogilny’s? Honestly, it’s hard to see a valid reason for it. Is it because he’s too recluse? Is the fear of him not showing up for the Hall of Fame ceremony keeping him out? One would think that would be a silly reason to deny him the honours he deserves, but hockey can get its feelings hurt with the best of them, so if they feel Alex “isn’t taking things seriously” or whatever, maybe that’s why they’re hesitating. Mogilny has skipped post-career ceremonies in Buffalo and infamously skipped out on receiving the Lady Byng award at the NHL award ceremony as well, so their fears are well founded. But at the end of the day, he has still earned the right to be given these honours.
Is he not playing the political game and becoming buddies with enough of the committee? Long known for his dry and sardonic wit, Alex has never been one to politic and try and make friends with the media, much less a committee of 18 people deciding if he should get an award or not. As noted in that 1995 Vancouver Sun article from Iain, Alex clearly has his reasons for holding back on opening up.
“I don’t like talking about my past. People are always looking for something to get their hands on. It’s a cruel world out there, and you have to be careful what you say. I don’t like talking about my personal life. Everyone thinks we make good money and live a good life, but they’ve never been in my shoes day in and day out.”
And it’s true, we haven’t travelled down his path. Many of us will never know what it’s like to leave a country at age 20, to leave everything behind, not knowing if we are putting our own life or our families in jeopardy. It’s simply easier to clumsily label Alex “an enigmatic Russian!” then try and understand that he comes from a different walk of life then most North Americans, one that caused him to be more reserved and guarded. Not giving interviews or becoming friends with committee members should in no way hold back his candidacy for the Hall of Fame.
The end result of all this is we simply don’t know why he hasn’t gotten in yet, because they refuse to explain why. All we are left with is conjecture, muddying up what is already a difficult process to try and understand. All we can do is hope the selection committee opens up more on its decision making process in the future, so we can better understand their reasoning. Even taking Mogilny out of the equation, it feels like asking the Hall of Fame committee members to explain their process feels like a reasonable ask. They show who votes for which players for seasonal awards, so why not do the same for the Hall of Fame?
Until then, we can do nothing but wait for next years annual “Did Alex get in??” moment to see if the right call is eventually made. But for many, Alexander Mogilny has already left his mark on the hockey world, even without the ultimate honor being bestowed upon him.
Recent articles from The Stanchion