Another year has gone by and a new Hockey Hall of Fame class has been announced yet once again Alexander Mogilny’s name was not called.
Mogilny has been eligible since 2009 and at this point it’s becoming downright laughable that he keeps getting snubbed.
The 51-year-old Russian was among the most talented, accomplished and influential wingers of his era. Simply from a pure skills and statistics perspective Mogilny did more than enough to warrant induction.
The Khabarovsk native, who wore No. 89 throughout his career because he was selected 89th overall and made his NHL debut in 1989, scored 473 goals and 1,032 points in 990 games split between the Buffalo Sabres, Vancouver Canucks, New Jersey Devils and Toronto Maple Leafs.
He was an eight-time 30-goal scorer who led the league in his fourth season when he and Teemu Selanne each notched a whopping 76 in 1992-93. Selanne’s 76 are talked about far more frequently than Mogilny’s – in fairness, Selanne did it as a rookie – but it took The Finnish Flash 84 games whereas Mogilny only played 77 that year. It’s the best single season from a goal scorer not named Wayne Gretzky, Brett Hull or Mario Lemieux.
The only reason Mogilny doesn’t have a “Rocket” Richard Trophy is because the award didn’t officially exist at the time.
Although he fell just short of reaching 500 goals, Mogilny ranks 19th all-time in goals per game.
He also happens to share the NHL record for fastest goal to start a game when he scored five seconds into the first period against the Maple Leafs in 1991.
“Alex, for me, was the best player I played with and best player I saw,” former Sabres teammate and 2003 HHOF inductee Pat LaFontaine said earlier this week. “As far as highlight goals and as far as speed and doing things at a high level, high speed, we’d shake our heads on the bench most nights. Actually, I had a front-row seat. It was some of the most fun I’ve ever had playing.”
Team success is often factored into Hall of Fame consideration and any argument you might hear from a keyboard warrior that suggests Mogilny never really won anything doesn’t hold up.
He won a world juniors silver medal in 1988 while leading the tournament in scoring and being named top forward. That same year he helped the Soviet Union win gold at the Olympics. In 1989 he earned gold medals at both the world juniors and world championship. Years later he became one of 29 players in hockey history to join the Triple Gold Club when he hoisted the Stanley Cup with the Devils in 2000.
His on-ice accomplishments notwithstanding, his biggest impact on the game was the way in which he entered the league.
Mogilny defected from the Soviet Union in 1989 at a time in history prior to the Berlin Wall coming down. He put his safety in legitimate jeopardy when he joined the Sabres, however without Mogilny taking that risk the history of Russian players in the NHL might look completely different than it does today.
He paved the way for his contemporaries like future Hall of Famers Sergei Fedorov and Pavel Bure, although his defection didn’t merely impact those around his age or younger. Veterans of the Red Army program such as Viacheslav Fetisov, Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov also left the USSR to join NHL teams for the 1989-90 season but they only did so after Mogilny’s leap of faith.
When you consider that contributions to the game of hockey is a specific criterion for Hall of Fame voters, it becomes that much more puzzling why he hasn’t already been enshrined.
Mogilny also became the first European captain in the NHL’s modern era when he briefly wore the ‘C’ with the Sabres in 1993-94. He ranks third all-time in goals and fourth all-time in points among Russian players.
“He deserves that honour (of being in the HHOF),” Fedorov said when he was inducted in 2015. “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.”
For more context on Mogilny’s incredible story of leaving for North America, check out the Sportsnet documentary Defector: The Alex Mogilny Story below. It’s well worth your time and you’ll gain a new appreciation for the kind of trailblazer Mogilny was.
In addition to all the different ways you can quantify Mogilny’s Hall of Fame-calibre numbers and his impact on the game, you’ll often hear former teammates talk about him being underrated and undervalued as a star.
Mats Sundin thought his former Maple Leafs teammate was the most talented player he ever played with – and that’s coming from a first-ballot Hall of Famer who frequently captained star-studded Team Sweden rosters in international play.
“I would say Mogilny, early in his career, got the credit for being the player he was and scoring [76 goals in the 1992-93 season] but at the end of his career I think he was underrated when he came to us,” Sundin told Sportsnet a couple years ago. “Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to play with him early in his career. We played together late [in our careers]. He already had problems with his hip. He was 36 years old, but I didn’t realize how good he was until I actually skated with him in practice.
“Playing games with him, he was fantastic. He’s probably the most talented player I played with, I think. You look at him on the big spectrum of the National Hockey League, people probably don’t think of him as maybe one of the best that ever played but he’s right up there for me.”
Paul Kariya is perhaps the best NHL comparison to Mogilny. After all, they had similar playing styles – remarkably fast skaters with elite skill who stayed out of the penalty box and made their linemates better. Kariya played 989 games compared to Mogilny’s 990 and they accomplished many of the same feats including making multiple All-Star teams and winning the Lady Byng Trophy. Kariya was rightfully inducted in 2017. Still, Mogilny’s numbers were better across the board plus he has a Stanley Cup ring, which Kariya doesn’t.
Notable first-year eligible players for the 2021 Hall of Fame class include Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Henrik Zetterberg and Rick Nash, while Daniel Alfredsson, Theo Fleury, Rod Brind’Amour, Sergei Gonchar, Keith Tkachuk, Patrik Elias, Jere Lehtinen and Curtis Joseph are among the former NHLers bound to get consideration.
It doesn’t seem plausible Mogilny would get in ahead of the Sedins, who undoubtedly are a package deal whenever they’re inducted. Would he get in ahead of Alfredsson and others? At this point, it’s a complete mystery.
While there’s no need to throw shade at any individuals, suffice it to say there have been a handful of players inducted ahead of Mogilny in the past few years alone who simply weren’t as talented and whose impact on the game was not as big.
It’s a shame Mogilny hasn’t gotten his due. Hopefully he won’t be waiting too much longer because he was a remarkable player and had a career worth celebrating.