What does it take to get into the Hockey Hall of Fame?
Three of the four NHL players inducted in 2017 provide a clear answer. The fourth makes it complicated.
Teemu Selanne was a no-brainer because he is indisputably an all-time great. The Finnish Flash currently sits 15th in career NHL scoring with 1,457 points.
The cases for Dave Andreychuk and Mark Recchi are solid, but not quite as simple. Both players had to wait a while to get into the Hall. A common criticism is that while both of these players had long, successful careers, they weren’t truly dominant, undeniable, team-leading juggernauts and their personal trophy cases, Cups aside, are bare. Nonetheless, Recchi is 12th in all-time scoring with 1,533 points and Andreychuk is tied with Denis Savard for 29th with 1,338.
So the standard seems clear with these three: Selanne and Recchi were the only retired top-15 NHL scorers not in the hall. Andreychuk was the only retired player with over 600 NHL goals (640) who wasn’t in the Hall. If we’re looking for “magic numbers” you need to have to make it in, these three did it.
Then there’s Paul Kariya.
He’s “only” 87th in career NHL scoring (989 points). He’s tied for 91st in career goal-scoring (402) and tied for 90th in assists (587). He never won the Cup. He has two Lady Byng Trophies, though.
Despite all that, nobody in their right mind would dispute that Kariya would be higher in all of those categories if it wasn’t for his injuries.
The Hockey Hall of Fame has inducted several players in recent years who were truly exceptional and would have played for longer if not for serious injuries. Pavel Bure was inducted in 2012, Peter Forsberg in 2014 and Eric Lindros in 2016.
All four of Bure, Forsberg, Lindros and Kariya deserve their spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame due to their incredible NHL careers despite circumstances that kept them from playing longer.
With that said… why isn’t Theoren Fleury in the Hockey Hall of Fame?
Theo Fleury scored over 90 points four times in his career and over 100 points twice. His 1,088 points puts him 61st in career NHL scoring, just 11 points behind Glenn Anderson, a Hockey Hall of Famer who played in 45 more games and in an era with more scoring.
Fleury won a Stanley Cup with Calgary in 1989 and won gold with Canada in 2002. He was top five in Hart voting twice, including once as a 22-year-old.
And how about this: Fleury played in more games and scored more points than all four of Bure, Forsberg, Lindros and Kariya. “Well, they had more points per game than Fleury!” Bure, Forsberg and Lindros did, but Kariya did not.
Let me be perfectly clear: I am not saying these things to downplay Paul Kariya’s accomplishments. He deserves to be in his rightful spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame. That’s also true for Selanne, Recchi and Andreychuk based on other players the Hall has inducted.
What I am saying, however, is that if we look at the careers of previous inductees — if we look at the hardware and if we look at the numbers — Theoren Fleury should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Yet, Fleury’s last regular-season NHL game was in 2003, over 15 years ago, and he’s still not in the Hall.
“Are you sure you aren’t leaving a couple things out?” Oh, I’m getting to that.
Fleury’s departure from the NHL in 2003 was ugly. He was suspended for two months before the 2002–03 season even began, he got into a bloody bar altercation about a month after being reinstated and was put on waivers by the Chicago Blackhawks after just 41 drama-filled games and he was eventually suspended indefinitely. Alcohol abuse had torn apart the career of one of the NHL’s most electrifying players of the 1990s.
Fleury did attempt a comeback in 2009, which didn’t result in an NHL contract but at least resulted in some closure for his career and a few nice moments.
Theoren Fleury’s book Playing with Fire documented his troubled life, delving into how he was the victim of sexual abuse. In his post-playing career, Fleury has been extremely outspoken against sexual abuse, and open about how he reached and maintained sobriety.
Nonetheless, it can be safely assumed that Fleury permanently angered some people in NHL circles for his conduct during his NHL career. Is it possible that’s the reason Fleury isn’t in the Hockey Hall of Fame today?
Well, that question would be much easier to answer if the Hockey Hall of Fame released their votes to the public.
Maybe Fleury was one vote away from making it into the Hall last year. Maybe he received no votes at all. Unless the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee tells us who they voted for, we’ll never know.
Some might say that if Fleury angered people with his behaviour then maybe he doesn’t deserve to be in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Maybe his numbers make him a fringe contender for a spot in the Hall and his past sins push him too far onto the “no” side.
Unfortunately, the Hockey Hall of Fame is not necessarily the Hall of Super Nice Guys. Nobody likes to speak ill of their hockey heroes, especially if you have been cheering for them since you were a child, but not everyone in the Hockey Hall of Fame is squeaky clean. Plenty of inductees have had substance-abuse issues and even had charges against them. If these things weren’t an issue for those players, why would they be an issue for Fleury?
The Hockey Hall of Fame is for the greatest players of all time. That’s why Theoren Fleury should be in it.
This story was originally published on June 28, 2017.