Monday, 11 August 2014

Hall of Fame Standards for the Major-League Era (Part One)

Any longtime fan of hockey knows that the identity of the players in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and of the players who have not been inducted, can be a source of great debate among the faithful. Almost everyone has a favoured played they really feel deserve the honour, and can name several players already in the Hall that probably shouldn't be there, especially not ahead of their preferred hockeyist. These disagreements arise not only because of the selection committee's opaqueness when it comes to the selection process, but also because there are obviously no objective standards as to who should be a Hall-of-Famer and who should not. You cannot look at a player's career, add up all his awards and accomplishments, compare the total to a chart, and arrive at a “yes” or “no” answer. It's just not that simple.

However, even though there are no objective standards, we can try to figure out whether the Hall of Fame selection committee has any implicit standards; that is, standards that can be determined based on who has been inducted into the Hall of Fame, and just as importantly who has not, in a sort of reverse engineering of the selection standards. Such a system could be used to discuss past selections, but perhaps more interestingly it could also be used to predict future inductees based on the career records of active or recently-retired players. So, can we examine the career statistical records of Hall-of-Famers and non-Hall-of-Famers, and come up with a formula that represents the basis the selection committee apparently used to select the players for the honour?

As it turns out, we can derive these standards, and we call the resulting system the Inductinator. The Inductinator calculates a score for every hockey player, and any player who achieves a score of 100 or more meets the implicit standards of the Hall of Fame selection committee. It's important to remember that this system is not concerned with who should or should not be in the Hockey Hall of Fame, but rather to determine whether there are any set of standards that the selection committee could have used for the honourees. It's descriptive rather than prescriptive; it does not deal with what should be, but what is.

The Inductinator results for players whose careers were primarily after 1930 make up the bulk of my contribution to Hockey Abstract 2014, available now. Here at Hockey Historysis, I'm going to take it back even further, and today we're going to look at the Inductinator for players whose careers primarily spanned 1912 to 1929, which I refer to the as the "major-league era" here, since it was the first time that competition for the the Stanley Cup was restricted to the major professional league or leagues (NHA, NHL, PCHA, WCHL and WHL).

Like later eras, the system addresses forwards, defencemen and goaltenders separately. Later eras are generally easier, because of greater consistency in the statistics (since top players only played in one league for the most part) and because of the existence of annual individual awards. So while I was able to arrive at implicit standards that perfectly discriminate between Hall-of-Famers and non-Hall-of-Famers for 1930 and beyond, it's to be expected that earlier eras are more difficult. And indeed, there are some players from this era that I am not able to statistically make a Hall-of-Famer without also elevating dozens of other players who have not been honoured to the minimum score of 100. But it's actually only three players that I cannot account for, although a couple of others require something of a cheat to get them in, as we'll see. Just like in the Hockey Abstract, I'm going to go position-by-position, starting in goal.

Hall of Fame Standards for Major-League Era Goaltenders
As it turns out, the goaltenders for this era are really, really easy to develop implicit standards for. So easy, in fact, that there is an almost limitless number of ways in which you could do it. Also, you could do it with a single one of a number of statistics.

For example, as you can see below, for goaltenders who played primarily in this era, there are only five netminders who played at least 333 top-level games, and they're all in the Hall of Fame. So you could say that any goalie who played at least 11 major-league seasons is a Hall-of-Famer. You could even say that any goalie who won a Stanley Cup as a starter is a Hall-of-Famer. There are other goalies who won a Cup in the years 1912 to 1929, however their careers were primarily after this era, and so are not included in this group.

Of course I did not want to use any of these simplistic ideas for the Inductinator, so I put together something that seemed reasonable, considering not only the Hall-of-Famers but other goalies as well. I'll use Georges Vezina to illustrate. Vezina played 15 seasons of top-level hockey; he gets seven points for each of those seasons beyond the eighth, for 49 points. He gets 40 points for winning at least one Stanley Cup as a starter, and since he had at least one win for every two games played, he earned points there as well. He receives one point for each .001 that his winning percentage (wins divided by games played) exceeds .460, for 67 points. He died tragically in mid-career, and the Hall of Fame loves that kind of thing, so he gets 40 points for that as well. He also gets the maximum 30 points for his career games played. This brings his total to 226, well above the 100 minimum and more than any other netminder of the era. Note that for career statistics, for seasons before 1926/27 we consider professional stats, and after that season NHL stats only.

The only thing Vezina misses out on is points for his GAA relative to league average. He had a career GAA of 3.40, which the league average for the seasons in which he played was 3.41. He would have received points if his GAA was .90 of the league average or less. Alec Connell, for instance, meets the Inductinator standard with his GAA alone, earning 114 points that way. It should be noted that while Percy LeSueur and especially Paddy Moran look bad by GAA, they played largely in earlier times than the others, when scoring was much higher. For the first half of Moran's career, he played in leagues that featured more than six goals per game.

Georges Vezinayes2263281733.41
Alec Connellyes2054171931.91
Clint Benedictyes2034402392.44
Hugh Lehmanyes1814222203.29
Percy LeSueuryes178170984.31
Hap Holmesyes1404091982.81
Paddy Moranyes107206985.24
Hal Winklerno832031002.28
Bert Lindsayno64150665.37
Jake Forbesno26210852.76
Charles Stewartno1877302.45
Hec Fowlerno17186833.64
Bill Lairdno1053302.96

Hall of Fame Standards for Major-League Era Defencemen
Defencemen are a much more varied group than the goaltenders when it comes to Hall-of-Famers. There are 15 honoured defenders from this era, compared to five goaltenders. It is worth noting that  players are included in this era if they had even one full season after 1911. This is the only way we can make sense of the inclusion or exclusion of certain players.

Defencemen receive points from many things for their Inductinator score. Games played (adjusted to consider any seasons missed due to military service), points scored and points per game are all important. The number of senior seasons played, and the number played at the highest level are also considered. Stanley Cups won, and being the captain of a Stanley Cup champion are also very important. The number of years that the defenceman was a player-coach is included, and if he had a very long career as a coach after his playing days were over, he received some points for that. Players whose careers were ended early by injury or death have an adjustment for this fact.

Since Québec-born Francophone players and US-trained players were fairly rare in this time period, such players receive a bonus to their Inductinator scores. Without this adjustment, it would be extremely difficult to see how Jack Laviolette had a Hall-of-Fame career.

One player from this era that you might have wondered about is Gordon "Phat" Wilson, the great senior player for Port Arthur. Wilson never played professionally, and never played in the best senior leagues either. What he did do, and what it seems the Hall of Fame selection committee wished to reward, is be in the Allan Cup playdowns year in and year out. His teams qualified for the Allan Cup eight times and won the championship three times, and Wilson played 41 Allan Cup matches, scoring 29 points as a defenceman. No one else from this era can match these accomplishments, and as such it seems clear that Allan Cup play is what earned Phat Wilson his place in the Hall.

The only one that I simply cannot explain with any kind of implicit standards is George McNamara. Although he was a very famous player in his day, especially in conjunction with his brother Howard with whom he shared the moniker "Dynamite Twins" due to their powerful body-checking, there is nothing remarkable about his career. If anything, his brother Howard had the more impressive career, and yet it is George who is in the Hall of Fame. Here he scores a big fat zero on the Inductinator as a player, and I cannot provide any reason for him to have been inducted based on his days as a player.

The only thing that makes him stand out from his brother is that after his career, he was the coach of an Allan-Cup winning team, with Sault Ste. Marie in 1924. For some early players, the selection committee clearly did consider post-playing career accomplishments, as we will see. But it would be incredible to say that an Allan Cup championship as a coach for a former player would be worth, by itself, selection to the Hall of Fame. This was during probably the toughest era for the Allan Cup, since it was after a formal playoff system was instituted for the Allan Cup, and before the establishment of minor-league hockey which siphoned off so many quality senior players. Moreover, Eddie Carpenter, who scores at nine on the Inductinator for his playing career, was the coach of Port Arthur as they won two Allan Cups in 1925 and 1926. So if McNamara were to be enshrined for this accomplishment, surely Carpenter would have been as well. This strongly suggests tells us that this was not the implicit standard that McNamara benefited from. I gave both McNamara and Carpenter 20 points for this accomplishment, but that only puts George up to 20, though it does move him ahead of his brother who scores 17 based on his playing career.

McNamara's score of zero as a player led me to a deep search for anything that made him stand out. I decided to check newspaper reports from the time that he was selected for the Hall of Fame, and made what could turn out to be a rather startling discovery. I checked several different Canadian newspapers from April 28, 1958, and they all say the same thing when discussing the newly-elected members of the Hall of Fame for that year. Here is an example from the Regina Leader-Post:


Those added were:

Builders. Senator Donat Raymond, Montreal; the late George McNamara, Toronto; George Dudley, Midland, Ont.; the late Jim Norris Sr., Detroit; Conn Smythe, Toronto; Al Pickard, Regina; and Lloyd Turner, Calgary.

Players with the teams they were most closely identified with. Frank Boucher, New York; Frank (King) Clancy, Ottawa and Toronto..."
George McNamara was listed as a builder, not as a player. Now, it remains entirely possible that the media was given erroneous information, and that McNamara was in fact supposed to be listed as a player. Indeed the Hockey Hall of Fame itself lists him as an Honoured Player. Frankly, his selection would make a great deal more sense in the builder category. A SIHR member related to me that McNamara contributed a substantial amount of cash toward the construction of the International Hockey Hall of Fame in Kingston, and that he was generally quite philanthropic after his playing career was done, so it would make a great deal more sense as a basis for his induction than what he did on the ice.

However, it seems that this is ultimately a red herring, that the player category is where McNamara was inducted. This was confirmed by a SIHR member via a contact at the Hall of Fame. But yet another SIHR member, Andrew Ross, actually blogged about the McNamara induction a few years ago. He noted that in a letter, Frank Selke Sr. (who was a member of the Hall of Fame selection committee) wrote that "when George was admitted [to the Hall] Howard's wife told a friend of mine that George could not carry Howard's skates. I asked [Art] Ross and Lester [Patrick] about this and they said, which one was Howard?"

So perhaps it was supposed to be Howard. He would certainly have been a better choice based on his playing career, but the Inductinator still would not have been able to justify it. The McNamaras were a bit larger than life, and perhaps their reputation was all that was needed. Regardless, the selection of George McNamara is surrounded by quite a bit of confusion.

Next time we will look at the forwards from this era.

Eddie Gerardyes24925017076246325
George Boucheryes21849615191242927
Sprague Cleghornyes209377174105279849
Lester Patrickyes20622716971240187
Harry Cameronyes18035022095315490
Reg Nobleyes173541195109304982
Art Rossyes1641859834132563
Joe Hallyes14124015940199913
Moose Johnsonyes10925712250172505
Herb Gardineryes1092777647123147
Jack Lavioletteyes1022359834132489
Joe Simpsonyes10039712776203274
Si Griffisyes1001498343126181
Phat Wilsonyes100117562480148
Bobby Roweno9929112356179567
Goldie Prodgerno9123411540155262
Frank Patrickno8812410538143106
Clem Loughlinno803838044124342
Art Duncanno803829669165406
Lloyd Cookno7423111459173210
Walter Smaillno6814010135136231
Hamby Shoreno6718912131152566
Bert Corbeauno603418355128939
Billy Coutuno57300452167532
Percy Traubno51318323466551
Leo Reiseno503298054134276
Duke Dukowskino423566648114424
Muzz Murrayno421264445269
Gord Fraserno30279633194495
Eddie Carpenterno29192521264330
Bobby Trappno28257474592264
Harry Mummeryno27239623294602
George McNamarayes20139371754291
Slim Haldersonno192186244106318
Howard McNamarano17152542074456

1 comment:

  1. When I originally posted this, I had erroneously included Bobby Rowe among the Hall-of-Famers. He is, of course, not in the Hall of Fame. A few minutes of playing with the weights, and he's now where he belongs, outside of the Hall of Fame. That's belongs in the sense of reflecting history, not in the sense of not deserving to be there, because obviously there's an argument that he should be. Thanks to James Benesh for pointing out this error.


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