Monday 16 January 2012

The Meritorious Men of the 1910s

To finish up our look at players from hockey's early years who merit the honour of being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, we look at players whose careers centred on the 1910s. We start with the very best from that decade:

1910s Players Who Likely Merit the Hall of Fame

1Taylor, Cyclone1906-192342116.5Yes
2Lalonde, Newsy1905-19265113.4Yes
3Pitre, Didier1904-192372110.3Yes
4Johnson, Moose1904-192236108.1Yes
5Patrick, Lester1904-192634103.5Yes
6Gerard, Eddie1910-192336103.1Yes
7Smith, Tommy1906-19205102.9Yes
8Vezina, Georges1911-1926G102.7Yes
9Lehman, Hugh1907-1926G101.9Yes
10Malone, Joe1909-19245101.7Yes
11Cleghorn, Sprague1910-19263297.0Yes
12Holmes, Hap1910-1926G96.9Yes
13Foyston, Frank1912-19265696.0Yes
14Walker, Jack1908-19264695.7Yes
15Cleghorn, Odie1910-19267594.8No
16Cameron, Harry1912-19263294.5Yes
17Darragh, Jack1910-1924789.5Yes
18Irvin, Dick1913-1926589.2Yes
19Hall, Joe1901-19193788.6Yes
20Morris, Bernie1911-19255788.6No
21Prodger, Goldie1911-19253688.6No

The Hall of Fame committee has done a very good job in recognizing the best players from this era. The top 14 players by the HOFPA (Hall of Fame by Point Allocation) method are all in the Hall, as are 18 of the top 19. The most notable player who's not in is Odie Cleghorn, who should have followed his brother Sprague into the temple, but did not for whatever reason. Sprague certainly made more noise with his career, for better or worse, but Odie was nearly his equal on the ice.

Bernie Morris is no surprise, here. As a member of the perennially powerful Seattle Mets, Morris led the PCHA in goals, assists and points on different occasions, and played in three Stanley Cup finals, including one with the Calgary Tigers.

Goldie Prodger is an interesting player, who will get a writeup here in due time, like all of these players. George Prodger is a pretty obscure player; it was many years before researchers even got his name consistently right - he was often called Prodgers in the past. I believe it was Jeff Klein and Karl-Eric Reif, in their Hockey Compendium, who first noticed that when Prodger joined a team, it got better immediately, and when he left a team it fell just as quickly. He skated for eight different high-level professional teams and was versatile, mostly playing defence but also manning either left wing or right as the team's needs dictated.

1910s Players Who Possibly Merit the Hall of Fame
22Harris, Smokey1911-1925687.8No
23Griffis, Si1902-19193487.0Yes
24Rowe, Bobby1903-19263785.8No
25Cook, Lloyd1913-19253285.4No
26LeSueur, Percy1904-1916G85.1Yes
27Dunderdale, Tommy1907-19244585.1Yes
28Stanley, Barney1912-19266283.6Yes
29Shore, Hamby1905-1918283.1No
30Laviolette, Jack1904-19181782.4Yes
31Roberts, Gord1910-1920679.7Yes
32Ross, Art1905-1918178.8Yes
33Oatman, Eddie1910-19264778.8No
34Hyland, Harry1909-1918778.1Yes

The next group finds eight of 13 players in the Hall of Fame. How many of these deserve to be there? Several at the top of this list were missed by the committee; and all were largely western players, so perhaps that's not a coincidence (though if there is an eastern bias in the membership of the Hall, it's not a large one). But if Si Griffis, Percy LeSueur and Tommy Dunderdale deserve the honour, so do Smokey Harris, Bobby Rowe and Lloyd Cook.

Where do we draw the line here? I would put it under Barney Stanley. While his career strikes me as Hall-worthy, Hamby Shore's really does not. So there the line goes, cutting out (just barely) Jack Laviolette, Gord Roberts, Art Ross and Harry Hyland. Laviolette and Ross certainly got boosts from their hockey activities off the ice, and Roberts and Hyland, while excellent scorers, just don't quite have enough.

1910s Players Who Likely Do Not Merit the Hall of Fame
35Patrick, Frank1904-19243776.3No
36Loughlin, Clem1911-19263275.8No
37Crawford, Rusty1911-1926675.3Yes
38Smaill, Walter1905-19182475.0No
XRankin, Frank1911-1915462.1Yes
XBaker, Hobey1912-1916460.3Yes
XDavidson, Scotty1912-19147255.8Yes
XMcNamara, George1907-19171747.1Yes
XRuttan, Jack1909-1918246.8Yes
XMaxwell, Steamer1910-191546.7Yes

Although the committee did a good job according to the top of this list, they did a fairly poor one according to the bottom. Rusty Crawford had a very long pro career, first playing in Saskatchewan in 1910 and lasting until the 1929/30 season in Minneapolis. His selection is certainly not a terrible one. It's the names at the bottom of the list that are problematic.

Hobey Baker we've discussed before, and won't rehash here. Scotty Davidson us a very similar case, a player with a few very good seasons who was killed in World War I. If he had continued to play at a high level when he returned, he might very well have a case. But once you start playing "what if" with these things, it's rather hard to know where to stop.

Fred "Steamer" Maxwell had a short and unremarkable senior career in Winnipeg. That he coached the Winnipeg Falcons to the very first Olympic hockey gold medal surely had nothing to do with his presence in the Hall as a player, right?

By a remarkable coincidence, the coach of the second team to ever win an Olympic gold medal in hockey, Frank Rankin, was also a Hall of Fame-calibre player. He wasn't actually, of course. Although he was far more effective on the ice than Maxwell was, he was not one of the very best. Subsequent events have a way of affecting people's memories of earlier ones.

George McNamara also helped his case with his coaching career, winning the 1924 Allan Cup as Canadian senior champs. George and his brother Howard were big (over six feet at a time when that was rare) bruisers as blueliners, laying the body with gusto likely unmatched at the time. They were called the "Dynamite Twins", and played for a number of pro teams. (A third brother, Harold, also played professionally, but was not in the same class as the other two.) As such, they had big names to match their big frames, but this was not necessarily equaled by their actual performance on the ice. In fact, George may not have even been the best player in his family. He recorded 27.1 TPA in 644 effective games played, while Howard put up 28.8 in 669.

I've never been able to find the reason that Jack Ruttan was enshrined. He had a short, decent senior career in Winnipeg, won the 1913 Allan Cup as a player, went to war and coached and refereed in Winnipeg for a few years after his playing days were done. He's not the worst selection ever made, but he could be the most puzzling. There's no easy explanation for why he was picked out of any number of senior players from his day.


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