This is the third and final post addressing the quality of pre-Stanley Cup hockey, demonstrating that the line between 1892 and 1893 is an arbitrary one and does not reflect a real difference in the quality of hockey. In this installment, we look at the idea that the lack of Hall-of-Famers from that era speaks to the quality of the players.
Hall of Fame
Some have argued that if the players from the pre-Stanley Cup era were so good, then at least a few of them would have been inducted into the Hall of Fame. The selection committee usually had first-hand knowledge of the players they inducted, and didn't deem any player from this time worthy of the honour.
This appeal to authority is flawed, since the Hall of Fame selection committee has made numerous selections, even its early years, which can be described as questionable at best. The first Hall of Fame induction was in 1945, 62 years after the first Montreal Winter Carnival tournament. The idea that the committee had first-hand knowledge of early players is unsupportable. The first selection committee was made up of the following men:
Red Dutton (born 1898)
Art Ross (born 1886)
Lester Patrick (born 1883)
Abbie Coo (born 1885)
Wes McKnight (born 1909)
Basil O'Meara (born 1892)
W. A Hewitt (Born 1875)
In addition, there were Frank Sargent and J.P. Fitzgerald, whose birth years I have been unable to determine. Clearly there is little evidence that the committee would have had first-hand knowledge of players active in 1890 - some weren't even born yet and several others were but a few years old at the time. There is no reason to think these men had any particular insight into the earliest players. The only one we know to be old enough, W.A. Hewitt, was a native of Toronto and began his newspaper career in 1895 at the Toronto News. Toronto was, of course, not involved in the highest level of hockey at this time. Notably, Hewitt transferred to Montreal to work at the Montreal Herald as sports editor in 1899, when Mike Grant was still active and Graham Drinkwater had only just retired. Coincidentally, these are chronologically the first two Hall of Fame players. Hewitt would have had no direct experience with Tom Paton, then, but plenty with Mike Grant. Is it any wonder that one is in, and the other isn't?
Since hockey in the 1880s era was so similar to the 1890s era, it is unfair to discount its players while not doing the same for men like Mike Grant, Graham Drinkwater, Alf Smith and Harvey Pulford as well. An argument can be made that the professional era brought a higher degree of competition; however the point of these posts is merely to establish that there is no substantive difference between hockey in 1890 and hockey in 1895. If the players from 1895 (Drinkwater, Grant, Havilland Routh, Bob McDougall) are worthy of consideration, then so are the players from 1890. There may be a discount necessary, but not moreso for 1890 than 1895.
In due time we will address which of the early era players should have been considered for induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame. But we're still just getting started here.