With another Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony in the books, it is once again time to reflect on the selection process. In particular, as it relates to those who played in the Original Six era.
In 2000, the Hall decided to abolish the Veterans Committee from the process. The main purpose of this group was to elect players who had been retired for 25 years or more. Often, this was the only avenue open for those who were overlooked or considered to be borderline candidates.
Neither individual had overwhelming statistics, but both were very talented players. Conacher excelled in a number of sports and was named Canada's top athlete of the first half of the 20th century. Watson was a solid two-way player who just happened to win 5 Stanley Cups.
As is usually the case, arguments can be presented from both the pro and con sides concerning their eligibility for acceptance into the hockey shrine. It was of major importance that they were judged on their abilities during the era in which they performed. The comparison aspect could only enter the debate if it was within the players term of service. There could be no saying "but, Harry Watson is no Gilbert Perreault. The standards set for today, cannot be applied to another era.
The political implications which were prevalent in the early years should not be taken lightly. It has been said that Harvey "Busher" Jackson was kept out of the Hall because Conn Smythe deplored his lifestyle away from the rink. How often did some form of political maneuvering occur to deflect an individuals nomination?
In 2010, there are still debates over why certain players are not members of the Hockey Hall of Fame. The case of goaltender Lorne Chabot is frequently discussed in hockey circles. Many are of the opinion that it is a miscarriage of justice that he has been excluded. Then, there are the unique circumstances surrounding a player like Bill Barilko. Despite only playing 5 seasons, he won 4 Stanley Cups. His value and contributions to the Leaf Dynasty of the late 1940's cannot be refuted. In 1951, he scored one of the biggest goals in Leaf history. The overtime tally against Montreal provided Toronto with their last Stanley Cup until 1962. Tragically, Barilko lost his life in the summer of 1951.
If the Hall of Fame was to reinstate the Veterans Committee, players like Chabot and Barilko could have a place to be heard. Present day historians and those on the selection committee could take a fresh approach, and analyze the facts in a more detailed fashion.
The make-up of a new Veterans Committee demands that creativity be a number one priority. It should be composed of members who specialise and have knowledge/understanding of a particular era. Their credentials should be beyond reproach. A subcommittee of researchers should be engaged to thoroughly build a case for a players nomination. An exhaustive review of all documentation, including game tapes should be incorporated into the fact-finding mission. First hand accounts and interviews should be conducted. The detailed report supporting justification of an inductee would be made public. This way, everyone is aware that an intelligent and informed decision was made.
The perception of "Out of sight, Out of mind" must be wiped off the map. A new road map is essential to bringing the past into focus.
We owe it to those who have been ignored or who have slipped through the cracks.