We know that Jarome Iginla is a mortal lock to be named to the Hockey Hall of Fame by the selection committee in his first year of eligibility Wednesday. But what about former Edmonton Oilers’ captain Kevin Lowe, in his 20th year of eligibility, and other candidates like Theoren Fleury, Alexander Mogilny, Marian Hossa and Daniel Alfredsson, to name just five of several candidates? Lots of room for debate there.
Iginla, a local lad who spent most of his NHL career with the Calgary Flames, is a no-brainer. He scored 625 goals and had 1,300 regular season points in 1,554 games. A two-time 50-goal scorer and Rocket Richard Trophy winner, Iginla was a two-time Hart Memorial Trophy runner-up, a winner of the Ted Lindsay Award and an Art Ross Trophy winner.
Iginla was a two-time Memorial Cup winner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and he won gold at the WJC. He wore the captain’s C for the Flames for a decade as one of the most dominant power forwards of his era. He won the King Clancy Memorial Trophy and the Mark Messier Leadership Award for philanthropy. I’m likely missing an award or two in there, but you get the drift. Slam-dunk, even without a Stanley Cup ring.
I think Alfredsson, who is in his fourth year of eligibility, could and should get in this time. Reasonable cases can be made for Mogilny, in his 12th year of eligibility, Hossa, in his first year, and Keith Tkachuk, in his eighth-year. The two who generate the most debate, and have for many years, though, are Lowe and Fleury. A pair of polarizing players to be sure. Are they HHOF worthy?
KEVIN AND THEO
While Lowe never won a Norris Trophy and was never a dominant offensive player like Paul Coffey, or even the best defenceman on his team, all he did was win. Lowe sipped from six Stanley Cups, five with the Oilers and a sixth with the New York Rangers. He is tied for sixth all-time among NHL defencemen with 214 playoff games. Nine of the top-10 D-men in that category — Chris Chelios, Niklas Lidstrom, Scott Stevens, Larry Robinson, Larry Murphy, Ray Bourque, Scott Niedermayer, Coffey and Denis Potvin – are in the HHOF. Only Robinson won as many Cups.
Simply put, Lowe did the dirty work not the glamorous work, taking care of his own end first. That’s not something as easy to measure and put value to as offensive numbers. A lot of people, many of them former teammates like Craig Simpson, say they believe Lowe should be in. In 2019, the HHOF committee gave Guy Carbonneau the nod. Carbonneau, who won three Stanley Cups with Montreal and was a three-time Selke Trophy winner, wasn’t a big numbers guy. Like Lowe, he won. He did his job.
With headlines about Fleury being sexually abused by coach Graham James and his issues with addiction, what a dynamic player Fleury was can get lost in the noise. At five-foot-six and 165 pounds when he broke in with Calgary in 1988-89, Fleury was a diminutive dynamo in big man’s game. He had a 50-goal season. He hit 100 points twice. Fleury played in seven all-star games. He finished in the top-five in Hart Memorial Trophy voting twice. His 1989 Stanley Cup aside, Fleury won gold medals at the Olympics, the Canada Cup and WJC.
Despite his struggles off the ice, Fleury was unquestionably brilliant on it, finishing top-10 in goals and points on three different occasions. That said, it can be difficult to separate the two, particularly with how his career ended. His 455 goals rank him 58th all-time. Fleury is one of only 15 players in NHL history to average one point per game in regular season (at least 1,000 games played) and in playoffs (at least 75 games played). The other 14 are in the HHOF.
THE WAY I SEE IT
I think perceptions of Lowe and Fleury have been tainted by factors other than what they did on the ice. With Lowe, I don’t think there’s any doubt his lack of success in Edmonton as GM and POHO after his playing days were done soured some Oilers’ fans on him. I can’t imagine that has any impact with HHOF voters.
With Fleury, his alcohol addiction caused his departure from the NHL. It ended badly. Fleury was suspended for two months before the 2002-03 season for being in violation of his substance abuse aftercare program. Then, after being reinstated, Fleury was suspended indefinitely. It’s not a stretch to think he’s not in the good graces of many NHL people, including those who vote.
Bottom line? For me, Lowe was a really good and important player on some great teams, but he falls just short of what constitutes a HHOF player. Then again, there are some players already inducted who fall into the same category. I wouldn’t be stunned or unhappy if Lowe got in, but for me it’s close but no cigar.
As for Fleury, I think he deserves to get in but won’t, at least not yet. I’d love to be wrong, but I don’t think enough people with votes are willing to put aside the tumultuous end to his career and how he left the league before an unsuccessful comeback bid.