Thursday 12 January 2012

The Meritorious Players of the 1900s

Continuing the examination of the players who should (probably) be in the Hall of Fame from hockey's early era, we now apply the HOFPA (Hall of Fame by Point Allocation) method to players whose careers centred on the 1900s.

1900s Players Who Likely Merit the Honour
1Bowie, Russell1899-19104136.7Yes
2Pulford, Harvey1894-1908199.6Yes
3Marshall, Jack1900-19175199.1Yes
4Smith, Harry1905-1914595.5No
5Phillips, Tommy1901-1912691.2Yes
6Walsh, Marty1903-19125486.8Yes
7Russell, Ernie1905-1914586.7Yes
8McGee, Frank1903-1906586.0Yes
9Moran, Paddy1901-1917G86.2Yes
10Stuart, Hod1899-1907282.0Yes
11Jordan, Herb1903-1911581.7No
12Westwick, Rat1895-1909481.3Yes

Russell Bowie is far and away the player with the most notable career from this era. He had several seasons that are simply massive, with his best being 1901, when he scored 24 goals despite missing one of his team's eight scheduled matches. The next-highest goal-scorer had 10 goals. Bowie scored more goals in seven games than the entire Quebec team did in eight games. The result it a TPAK of 8.57, which is far and away the best single season for the data set I currently have, which goes up to 1926. He also has the third-, seventh- and seventeenth-best seasons as well. I haven't done the calculations for Wayne Gretzky yet, but it's possible Bowie might approach the Great One's level of dominance. He was that good.

As you can see, the Hall of Fame committee did quite a good job at honouring the very best players from this decade.  Among these very best players, only Harry Smith and Herb Jordan have not been recognized by the Hall. I've posted about Smith before; Jordan has likely been overlooked since he played for Quebec in an era when Quebec rarely had a championship team. Jordan was sometimes the only really good player on his team.

1900s Players Who Might Merit the Honour
13Russel, Blair1900-1910678.6Yes
14Boon, Dickie1900-1905276.9Yes
15Lake, Fred1903-19151675.8No
16Breen, Billy1901-1909475.5No
17Hern, Riley1897-1911G75.0Yes
18Smith, Alf1895-1909774.7Yes
19Stuart, Bruce1900-19115474.1Yes
20McGimsie, Billy1899-1907573.7Yes
21Hutton, Bouse1899-1909G70.0Yes

Among the maybes, most have been honoured by the Hall already. I would personally draw the line after Alf Smith. I think he deserves the honour, while Bruce Stuart probably does not. Hod's brother has too many mediocre seasons on his resume to be considered one of the best of his era, in my opinion.

This line would mean that both Fred Lake and Billy Breen deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. I would certainly support the induction of Breen, a Winnipeg hockey superstar, but Fred Lake is something of a surprise here. Lake started his pro career as something of a nomad, playing mostly left wing in the IHL, then later in Manitoba. He then joined the Ottawa Senators in 1909, and played point (the second-most important defensive position) for a defensively dominant team for several years, and these seasons are really what elevate his career to this level.

1900s Players Who Likely Don't Merit the Honour
22Hooper, Art1902-1904469.9No
XRichardson, George1904-1909665.5Yes
XHooper, Tom1902-19082761.2Yes
XGardner, Jimmy1901-1915659.2Yes
XWhitcroft, Fred1907-1910448.7Yes
XScanlan, Fred1898-1903648.2Yes
XGilmour, Billy1903-19097434.4Yes

Here is where we see where the Hall of Fame committee went wrong, as seen by this method. Tom Hooper was inducted due his playing for the Kenora Thistles, alongside Tommy Phillips and Si Griffis (two legitimate Hall-of-Famers), and Billy McGimsie (who's also in but probably doesn't quite deserve it). If the team really had that many of the very best players at the time, they would likely have won more than they actually did.

Fred Scanlan was apparently a matter of completing the Montreal Shamrocks line with Harry Trihey and Art Farrell, and only Trihey really comes close to deserving the honour.

George Richardson was an OHA player who later fought and died in World War I. War heroes have a history of being honoured by the Hall of Fame, regardless of what their hockey career actually entailed. Later events make their career seem better that they actually were.

Jimmy Gardner had a long pro career, but a mid-level one. However, he played an important role in the founding of the game most historic franchise, and this association apparently made his playing career look better in retrospect.

Billy Gilmour is a puzzler. He really only had a couple of good years in Ottawa, and they were only good, not great.

Fred Whitcroft is another head-scratcher. He made as big name for himself for a brief period by signing with the Kenora Thistles in 1907, and then heading to Edmonton to play for the pro team there, playing in three Stanley Cup challenges all told. But he has little more than name recognition going for him; he was a good player for a few years, but not nearly at the level needed to be considered one of the best of his time.


  1. Why don't they just re-name it was it really is: the NHL Hall of Fame?

    Calling it the Hockey Hall of Fame is confusing when so few of the great non-NHL players have been inducted.

  2. Very true. I'm not trying to get into any politics here through. Call it the Hall of Merit here.

  3. I might be missing something, but is there a place where you "showed your work" when coming up with these numbers? I'm just trying to reconcile the fact that every first hand account that I've read from the era seems to think of Hod Stuart more highly than Harvey Pulford, yet Pulford ranks quite a bit higher here. How much of that is due to the fact that Pulford simply played a lot longer?

    1. I haven't show every detail of these calculations, no. There's too much to be detailed in a few blog posts. Now, as to how much of this rating comes from Pulford's longer career, that I can detail.

      Stuart's career lasted from his age-19 season to his age-27 season. If we take Pulford's numbers from the equivalent seasons in his career, his rating would be 88.6, still higher than Stuart's 82.0 but obviously much closer. This 6.6-point gap shrinks to 3.8 if you take penalties out of the equation. Descriptions of a player's play often fail to consider the cost to his team of the penalties he takes, and we have Stuart taking more recorded penalties than Pulford, so that's an advantage to the Ottawa point man that is not typically considered.

      To reconcile the contemporary reports of Stuart, we have to remember how the system works. Although Stuart is known as the best defenceman of his time, there is only so much fudging we can do in the system in his favour. The fact is that he did play for a very bad team in Quebec. His two years in Quebec was for a team with a combined record of 5-11. The system notes that cover-point is possibly the most important position on the ice, and if Stuart were *that* good, surely his team wouldn't have been 1-7 in 1901.

      Pulford, on the other hand, spent most of his career playing the second-most important defensive position on a defensively-dominant team, while contributing next to nothing on offence. This leads to big defensive numbers for him. You don't spend that many years starting for a top-class team without scoring anything unless you bring some serious defence to the game.

      Stuart was certainly a more *noticeable* player than Pulford, and it's quite possible that the system still undervalues great players on bad teams (such as Stuart in Quebec). There's only so much that can reasonably be done to make the numbers fit the perceptions. But there always remains the possibility that perceptions were a little off, as well.

      If you look at the results of the 1900 and 1901 Ottawas, we see a team that increased its marginal goal percentage from .632 to .782. In the off-season they lost Hod and his brother Bruce, and winger Henry Nolan. Replacing them were Rat Westwick, Art Sixsmith and Peg Duval (at cover-point). Pulford was one of the several returnees. Although Hod was still fairly young at this time, the team lost two Hall of Famers (including Hod) and gained back only one, yet improved by .150.

      In summary, a player's contemporary reputation does enter into the system - that's where the fudge factors come from. But there's only so much you can reasonably do, since you have to start with the team results. A player like Stuart will never be shown to be a bad or merely middling player by the system, but he won't necessarily turn out to be the absolute best either. On the other hand, Pulford's advantage, without considering longevity, is certainly small enough such that Stuart could easily be on top if the system were more precise.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. That makes sense. Thanks for the explanation.


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