Down Goes Brown: Introducing the all-time NHL snub squad

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With the all-star rosters announced last week, everyone has spent the last few days compiling their lists of snubs. That’s pretty much an annual tradition at this point, and it’s all in good fun, even though a lot of the “snubs” are players who probably didn’t want to go in the first place.

But what if we aimed a little higher? What’s the best all-time roster you could assemble out of players who went their entire career without ever being recognized with a significant NHL honour?

We’re not talking midseason all-star picks here – with the one-player-per-team rule, those don’t really tell us much about who deserved what. Instead, let’s go with the big stuff. We’re looking for players who went their entire NHL career without ever:

1) Being a finalist for one of the major awards: Hart, Norris, Vezina or Calder; or

2) Being voted a first- or second-team all-star at the end of the season

You can call them the all-snub squad if you want to. Personally, I’m going to go with the Flying Federkos, in honour of the player who pretty much epitomizes the concept. Longtime Blues centre Bernie Federko scored 1,130 points over a 14-year career, which was good enough to get him into the Hall of Fame. But he never finished higher than fourth in all-star voting, and a 10th-place finish in 1986 was his best Hart Trophy showing.

So Federko’s our captain. But without getting ahead of ourselves, he’s not our best player, or even our first-line centre. And he’s far from the only Hall of Famer who’s going to make our squad. Let’s start up front, where there’s plenty of firepower to go around.

(All award-voting data comes from the invaluable Hockey Reference site.)

FIRST LINE

Centre: Ron Francis

Yes, despite a 22-season career that left him holding down spots in the all-time top five for points, assists and games played, Francis qualifies for our team. He did win some secondary honours, such as a Selke and three Lady Byngs. But he was never a post-season all-star, and never even finished in the top five in Hart voting.

How is that possible for a guy widely regarded as an all-time legend? For one, Francis was a two-way player, and they often don’t get the respect they deserve. But the bigger problem here can be summed up in two words: Gretzky and Lemieux. The two greatest centres of all time dominated the ’80s and early ’90s, leaving players like Francis and Federko — whose career overlapped theirs — with a tough path to recognition.

Winger: Mike Gartner

Despite finishing as one of only seven members of the 700-goal club, Gartner never earned so much as a single Hart Trophy vote during an 18-season career. And his best finish in all-star voting was fourth, which he managed twice.

Winger: Glenn Anderson

We’ll finish off our first line with another Hall of Fame winger who never received a Hart vote. It’s not hard to see why — during the Oilers glory years, Anderson was typically only the fourth-best forward on his own team. He came close to earning an all-star spot in 1986, but finished just behind Mats Naslund for second-team honours. It was one of five top-five finishes in Anderson’s career.

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SECOND LINE

Centre: Bernie Federko

Hey, when you’re the poster child for getting constantly snubbed, you get relegated to second-line duties on your own team.

Winger: Dave Andreychuk

Like Gartner, Andreychuk put up consistent numbers over a long career without ever earning a Hart vote. He did come close to all-star honours, finishing third in voting twice. That includes a 1993–94 season in which he finished just a few votes behind Brendan Shanahan and Adam Graves.

Winger: Dino Ciccarelli

He scored 608 goals over 19 seasons. But that never translated into a top-10 Hart finish, and he topped out with a pair of third-place finishes in all-star voting.

Also, here’s hoping Federko doesn’t mind chasing down pucks in the offensive zone, since he’ll be centring two wingers who’ll both be planted in front of the opposing goaltender at all times.

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THIRD LINE

Centre: Pierre Turgeon

Turgeon is yet another player who racked up points in a high-scoring era, although he hung around longer than you probably think — the majority of his career was spent during the Dead Puck era, making his 1,327 career points even more impressive. But he was a decidedly one-way player, and a distant fifth-place finish in Hart voting in 1993 was the closest he ever came to a major honour.

Winger: George Armstrong

You’ll note that our roster is made up almost entirely of players from the modern era. That’s not intentional — it’s just a lot tougher to earn award votes in the expansion era than it was in the days of six teams. But Armstrong stands out as a rare exception. The longtime Leaf captain played in seven all-star games and made the Hall of Fame, but never got any post-season award love from voters.

Winger: Peter Bondra

Bondra is one of only two eligible wingers with 500 career goals who isn’t in the Hall of Fame. (Two-time all-star Keith Tkachuk is the other.) He came close to all-star honours, finishing in the top five every year from 1995 through 1998, and was in the top 10 for both RW and LW in 2001. His best Hart Trophy finish was sixth place in 1998, when he tied for the league lead with 52 goals.

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FOURTH LINE

Centre: Patrice Bergeron

It’s no surprise to see a defensive-minded player on this list; it’s only been in recent years that the hockey world has really started getting our heads around the importance of a player who can dominate at both ends. Bergeron’s best season in terms of award votes came in 2013–14, when he finished fourth in the all-star race and fifth for the Hart. Even as his reputation has grown since then, voters seem to have decided that the Selke is enough.

Winger: Bob Gainey

It almost seems like a bit of a cheat to include Gainey. After all, the league may not have given him many all-star or Hart votes, but they did basically invent an award just for him. But we’ll put him on our checking line with Bergeron to represent the noble defensive forward.

Winger: Phil Kessel

I wanted to get Kessel onto the team for three reasons. First, he has a legitimate shot at earning all-star honours this year, so we need to act now while we still can. Second, with four seasons in the top 10 in scoring without an all-star pick plus two straight Conn Smythe snubs and the whole World Cup thing, he certainly fits with the general “no respect” vibe we’re going for. And third, and most importantly, I just love the idea of putting Bergeron and Gainey, who are two of the greatest defensive forwards of all time, on the same line as Phil Kessel, who is decidedly not.

Late cuts: You could make a case for Jacques Lemaire, and maybe Brian Bellows and Bernie Nicholls. Among the defensive forwards, there’s an argument for Anze Kopitar or Guy Carbonneau. And we could squeeze a few more Hall of Famers onto the roster by reaching back for guys like Dick Duff, Clint Smith, Harry Watson and Bob Pulford. And if you wanted to be a wise guy, you could slip in Phantom Joe Malone, whose entire NHL prime pre-dated any of the major awards.

Near-misses: Like Gartner and Andreyhcuk, Mark Recchi is another Hall of Fame winger who racked up big numbers by playing forever, but he had a second-team all-star appearance in 1992. Peter Stastny was another ’80s star who ran into the Gretzky/Lemieux wall when it came to the Hart and all-star appearances, but he won the Calder in 1981. Calder votes also save Daniel Alfredsson, Joe Nieuwendyk, Jeremy Roenick and Rick Nash.

Meanwhile, Adam Oates, Marian Hossa and Mike Modano all get bailed out by a single second-team all-star appearance, and Doug Gilmour had one Hart runner-up season to keep him out of the running. And to give you a sense of how tough it was for a centre in the ’80s and ’90s, even Steve Yzerman almost makes our team — he had just one all-star nod to go with a third-place Hart finish.

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FIRST PAIR

Defenceman: Kevin Lowe

One thing that becomes apparent very quickly: It is way harder to find defencemen that meet our criteria than it was for centres or wingers. We had plenty of Hall of Famers to choose from up front, but things get a lot thinner on the blue line. That makes some sense; after all, there are roughly twice as many forwards in the league as defensemen at any given time, so competing for votes is much tougher.

Still, we get off to a decent start with at least a borderline Hall of Fame candidate in Lowe. He had four top-10 Norris seasons, including a career-best fifth-place finish in 1988, and got all-star votes in 10 different years. He’ll get major ice time on this squad. But, uh, no input into front-office decisions.

Defenceman: Red Horner

We do find one legitimate Hall of Famer for our top pair, although we have to go back a ways to do it. Horner never had a shot at the Norris, retiring 14 years before that award was created. But he was eligible for all-star honours, and never received a single vote; to this day there are plenty who insist he doesn’t belong in the Hall. But he’s there, and given that he led the league in penalty minutes seven times, I’m certainly not going to tell him he can’t be on this team.

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SECOND PAIR

Defenceman: Ian Turnbull

We need a big shot from the point, and Turnbull fits the bill; he had two 20-goal seasons, and is the only defenceman in history to score five goals in one game. He never received a Norris vote, though, and his best all-star finish was seventh place in 1977.

Defenceman: Brian Rafalski

Rafalski didn’t rack up big career numbers, largely because he didn’t make the NHL until he was 26. But he was a dependable offensive force once he arrived, and had three top-10 Norris finishes to go with his three Stanley Cup rings.

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THIRD PAIR

Defenceman: Oliver Ekman-Larsson

I know, I was surprised, too. Despite all the talk of the Coyotes blueliner being one of the league’s elite, he’s actually never finished higher than seventh in the Norris race or eighth in all-star voting. Eastern media bias, to be sure.

Defenceman: Kevin Hatcher

Hatcher will man the point on a power-play unit, since he knew how to put the puck in the net. His 1992–93 season has to rank as one of the best ever to be snubbed by voters; he scored 34 goals, the second-most ever by a defenceman who wasn’t Bobby Orr or Paul Coffey, and still only finished fourth in Norris voting. That season was nuts.

Late cuts: I thought about trying to sneak Slava Fetisov onto the team, but that felt like cheating. There’s a long list of ’80s and ’90s blueliners who put up decent numbers but never came close to an award, including Steve Duchesne, Jeff Brown and even Paul Reinhart (don’t laugh — he ranks sixth all time in points per game). Adam Foote has a good case, and I nearly slotted in Dustin Byfuglien to make an all-active third pair.

Near-misses: It took him until he was 35, but Sergei Zubov was a Norris finalist and second-team all-star in 2006. We almost worked another Hall of Famer onto the roster in Leo Boivin, who never got any real Norris or all-star love, but he was a Calder finalist in 1953. Another HHOFer, Harry Howell, only had one season where voters paid much attention, but he won the Norris in that one, and fellow Hall members Serge Savard and Phil Housley also miss the cut on the strength of a single season. And despite my desire to add him to the roster as a pure Maple Leafs homer pick, the always-entertaining Al Iafrate actually has an all-star appearance to his name.

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GOALTENDERS

Starter: Gerry Cheevers

Goalies are a tricky category, since the Vezina has only been a vote-based award since 1981. But we still have the all-star teams to go by, and that lands us a Hall of Famer in Cheevers. The longtime Bruin won two Cups, but never finished higher than fifth in all-star voting. (He did win top-goalie honours during his stint in the WHA, but we’re not counting that.)

Backup: Marc-Andre Fleury

He has three Cup rings and is closing in on the top 10 of the all-time wins list, but Fleury has never come all that close to winning an individual award, never finishing in the top five for anything.

Late cuts: Cory Schneider has a Jennings, but has only received Vezina votes in one season. J.S. Giguere has a Conn Smythe, but finished one spot shy of Vezina or all-star honours in 2008. Craig Anderson has finished fourth in the Vezina race twice. And despite being a Hall of Famer and one of the most dominant goalies of his era, Georges Vezina himself somehow never won a Vezina.

Near-misses: Chris Osgood misses the cut based on being a Vezina runner-up in his second season as a starter. Mike Richter was a Vezina finalist in 1991, as was Mike Vernon in 1989.

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