The question was simple enough: Is former Flyer Brad McCrimmon worthy of being enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame?
Sadly, the question is sometimes asked when a former player or coach leaves us far too soon, as was the case when former coach Pat Burns was snubbed two years in a row by the Hall of Fame's veiled voting. It's surely the case with McCrimmon, who tragically passed away on Wednesday at the age of 52 in a plane crash in Russia.
But the question popped into mind when his former teammate, Brian Propp, called McCrimmon one of the "most underrated" defensemen in the NHL.
McCrimmon, who played in the NHL from 1979-1997, played in the shadow of some of the game's greatest – mostly on the same defense pairing. Throughout his career, he was paired with Ray Bourque, Mark Howe, Nicklas Lidstrom, Paul Coffey, and Chris Pronger.
All will one day be in the Hall of Fame, some are already.
He also played mentor and leadership roles in nearly every locker room he set foot in.
On the ice, consider these statistics:
So, why didn't McCrimmon garner the accolades he likely deserved?
For starters, he played in an era when fellow defensemen were racking up major points. For instance, his best offensive year was 1985-86, when he netted 56 points playing alongside Howe. Howe posted 83 points that season.
McCrimmon was not a flashy player. "The Beast" was a tough, stay-at-home defenseman who did the dirty work in the corners and cleared the front of the net with ease. He looked and played much bigger than his 5-foot-11, 197 pound frame. That's part of the reason why he dealt with injuries throughout most of the second half of his career. Just twice in 18 seasons did he play an entire slate of games.
Still, McCrimmon finished his career on in the Top 10 all-time in plus/minus with a plus-444 rating.
Here's where he stands:
1. Larry Robinson +730
2. Bobby Orr +597
3. Ray Bourque +528
4. Wayne Gretzky +518
5. Bobby Clarke +506
6. Serge Savard +460
6. Denis Potvin +460
8. Guy Lafleur +453
9. Bryan Trottier +452
10. Brad McCrimmon +444
11. Nicklas Lidstrom +429
12. Mark Howe +400
13. Scott Stevens +393
13. Steve Shutt +393
15. Mike Bossy +381
16. Al MacInnis +373
17. Brad Park +358
McCrimmon, Howe and Lidstrom are the only players on that list that are not currently enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Howe, one of McCrimmon's closest friends, will be inducted in November. Lidstrom is still active and an easy first ballot Hall of Famer.
The numbers, in fact, may benefit McCrimmon even more since his next closest on the list, Lidstrom, had his first career minus season last year as a minus-2.
To put that in perspective, the only active player with a shot to catch McCrimmon is Detroit forward Pavel Datsyuk, who is a plus-194 after 9 full NHL seasons. Even if he keeps up that pace and plays a full 18 seasons, like McCrimmon, he will still only hit plus-388.
Admittedly, a lot of arguments have been made against the validity of the plus/minus statistic. To me, it's no coincidence that some of the game's greatest players all ended their career on this list.
A recent fan poll listed McCrimmon as the 198th best player in NHL history. Is there a spot in the Hall of Fame for a steady-but-not-flashy defenseman?
Does another decade after his playing career spent on an NHL bench factor into his legacy? Does his death? You be the judge.
At the very least, he is worthy of the conversation.
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