A few weeks ago the hockey hall of fame inducted a new class of enshrinees: Guy Carbonneau, Haley Wickenheiser, Vaclav Nedomansky, and Segei Zubov. Meanwhile, the baseball hall of fame released its official 2020 ballot. A ballot that causes some of the most heated hall of fame debates in all of sports.
This got me to thinking, why don’t hockey fans get as worked up as baseball fans seem to about hall of fame snubs? Surely the mainstream media types who vote for it have made some outrageous errors of omission in the past, and surely those errors are worthy of our scorn. Why aren’t there any #LarryWalkerHOF-type hashtags for hockey players? And who would those players be?
I blame the lack of a historical Wins Above Replacement-esque stats in hockey. Sure, Hockey Reference has point shares, but in my humble opinion, I find them to be a less-than-than-ideal measure for something like Hall of Fame consideration for two basic reasons. The first of which, is that the defensive component of win shares is essentially based on plus-minus, which has a myriad drawbacks even when using larger sample sizes. The second of which is that it’s purely cumulative, rather than cumulative against a threshold. More on that later.
When I hear about someone’s Hall of Fame candidacy in baseball, I usually look at their wins above average, rather than their wins above replacement to determine what my opinion on their possible enshrinement should be.
I find that looking at stats against an average-level threshold is a better indication of the combined levels of stardom and longevity that are required to be a Hall of Famer, while comparing players’ stats versus replacement-level puts too much emphasis on longevity.
I won’t go into too much detail, as this isn’t a baseball article, but an example I like to use for baseball is Nick Markakis against Christian Yelich. Both players have nearly identical career WAR totals, but Yelich has nearly 20 more wins above average. Markakis isn’t a star and never has been, while Yelich has a first and second place finish in the last two National League MVP races. The same could be said of Harold Baines and Nolan Arenado, or, for pitchers, Tim Wakefield and Jacob deGrom. Even if I wanted to exclude active players, this comparison would still be true of David Wells and Sandy Koufax (though Wells is still well above average), or Wakefield and Carlos Zambrano. That’s not to say that Zambrano is a hall of famer, or that Yelich, Arenado, or deGrom would be if they shockingly announced their retirement tomorrow. But they have been legitimate star players, among the best in the game, while guys like Markakis and Wakefield were just average players who played forever. The Hall of Fame is, at least in my opinion, supposed to be achieved through stardom, not just sticking around.
With this in mind, I created a stat that I feel can be used to create a solid baseline for hall of fame consideration in hockey: Points Above Threshold.
This metric uses hockey reference’s adjusted points, so that we can compare players from across different eras, their adjusted points are roughly equivalent to the current scoring environment. Then we can create a break-even threshold level at half an adjusted point per game.
This gives us a formula of Points Above Threshold = Adjusted Points - (Games Played*0.5).
Here is a leaderboard of all players with at least 500 career adjusted points, who have played at least one NHL season since 1970.
Above we have the top 30, which already shows us two of the most deserving players who have already become eligible, but are not already in the Hall of fame: Pierre Turgeon and Daniel Alfredsson.
The next 30 players feature four more Hall of Fame snubs, Theo Fleury, Alex Mogilny, Keith Tkachuk, and Jeremy Roenick.
In the next 30 players, we see a lot more snubs, which is probably an indication that we’re getting to the point where the snubs aren’t as egregious anymore. Still, Patrick Elias, Ray Whitney, Bernie Nicholls, Vinny Damphousse, Doug Weight, Brad Richards, Rod Brind’Amour, Alex Kovalev, Vinny Lecavalier, and Ziggy Palffy, are still in the same statistical realm of many other hall of famers.
Above I’ve included players 91 through 122. At this point he still see plenty of hall of famers, as well as a bunch of guys who are eligible, but haven’t been inducted. Bernie Federko, hall of famer, is number 100 on the list, with just over 400 PAT. All in all, there are 98 forwards and seven defensemen with at least 400 PAT.
I’ve denoted where each HOF-eligible player who hasn’t been inducted ranks, until number 25, Marcus Naslund. I’ve also made note of where every forward, with fewer than 400 PAT who is already in the Hall of Fame ranks, among the 466 players who meet the adjusted points minimum.
Given that this list contains every player with at least 500 adjusted points, who played at all in the past 50 years (some of whom began their career over 70 years ago), but also active players who aren’t yet eligible, players with at least 400 PAT are, on average a top-two forward from their HOF-eligibility class.
As many as five players can be inducted to the HOF each year. Obviously not all inductees are former NHLers. Women and foreign players from the cold war era occupy some spots, as do NHL goaltenders and defensemen. But, in the interest of putting the best scorers in NHL history in the Hall of Fame, the PHWA could do worse than inducting at least two eligible players with at least 400 PAT in the Hall.
This stat really only makes sense for forwards. Only seven defensemen have at least 400 career PAT. Paul Coffey, Ray Bourque, Bobby Orr, Al MacInnis, Brian Leetch, Nicklas Lidstrom, and Phil Housley.
Also, there’s obviously much more to the game than point scoring. That’s why I referred to the 400 PAT mark as a baseline for consideration. Players who are just below, but with a lot going for them outside of scoring could still be worthy, while others who slightly surpass 400, but with one-dimensional games could still be deemed unworthy for induction. Things like playoff brilliance could be considered as well (see: Glenn Anderson).
Finally, there is one math caveat that should be recognized. The Adjusted Points stat used prorates all seasons to 82 games. This means that all active players are slightly inflated, because their point total for this season is their 82 game pace, while their games played total is not adjusted. By the end of the season, each active player will likely end up with 25 fewer PAT, if they maintain their current seasonal pace, with 50 more games played. The same is true of seasons shorter than 82 games, such as strike or lockout shortened years.
For example, Connor McDavid is currently number 122 on the list, with 366.5 PAT. He has 526 Adjusted Points in 319 career games. These 526 points include 136 from this season, which is his 82 game pace for this season, with a slight adjustment for scoring inflation (his unadjusted pace is 133). Even if he does keep up this scoring pace, he will have 50 more games played by the end of the season, so it will be 526 Adjusted Points in 369 games, which comes out to 341.5 PAT.
On the topic of McDavid, he should be right around the 400 PAT mark by the end of next season. Which means he’ll essentially have a Hall of Fame resume by the age of 24. I don’t find this to be a ridiculous assertion, since a player with his peak has never fallen short of Hall of Fame standards, but it’s still wild to think that a player so young could already be in such elite company in a cumulative stat.
Finally, if you scroll down the complete Google Sheet, you’ll notice some hall of famers who didn’t even come close to the 400 PAT standard. Some of these are older guys, who got in before quantitative analysis became part of sports writing, but, interestingly, the single lowest ranked Hall of Fame member was actually voted in this season. Guy Carbonneau, who actually had fewer than half an adjusted point per game for his career, and therefore has a negative PAT value for his career. He’s the only modern era forward with that dubious claim and a Hall of Fame plaque.
This shows the need for stats like this. If deserving players like Pierre Turgeon or Theoren Fleury are ever going to get the respect they deserve, hockey is going to need to start having some stats-based Hall of Fame campaigns. #DougWeightHOF has a nice ring to it.