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October 01, 2022

Remembering Duncan Keith

Alright, back to looking back on the careers of the recently retired. Today we look at Hockey Hall of Fame lock Duncan Keith

Duncan Keith, a 17 year NHL veteran, was one of the best defensemen of his generation. His dynamic skating defined by elite lateral agility allowed Keith to be a true workhorse defender, always near the top of the league in terms of ice time. He had fantastic offensive instincts, often pinching or jumping into the play. He had great offensive creativity and a lively shot. I think my favorite aspect of Keith's game was his feisty and spirited physical game. He played with an aggressiveness - an almost reckless abandon - that belied his modest frame. 

He was twice named as the Norris Trophy winner (2010 and 2014) as the top defenseman in the NHL. He also won the Conn Smythe Trophy as Stanley Cup MVP in 2015.  He was a three time Stanley Cup champion with the Chicago Blackhawks (2010, 2013 and 2015). He was also a key member of Team Canada's Olympic gold medal winning teams in 2010 and 2015.

Obviously that 2010 season was one of the all time great efforts by a NHL defenseman. Stanley Cup, Olympic gold, Norris Trophy. That's pretty hard to top. 

Duncan Keith will be a first ballot Hockey Hall of Famer in 2025


Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 2025

In our recent reviewing of players who have retired in the off season of 2022, one thing has become readily apparent - the Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 2025 will face some hard decisions.

Now to be eligible for the Hockey Hall of Fame a player must be retired from active professional participation for 3 seasons. Hence why these most recent retirees must wait.


But the first year eligible class of 2025 will include forwards Ryan Getzlaf, Jason Spezza, Dustin Brown, Patrick Marleau; defensemen Duncan Keith, Zdeno Chara and PK Subban; and goaltender Tuukka Rask.

Those are the players likely to be nominated at some stage for discussion, all with good merit. Though it is unlikely the Hockey Hall of Fame will ever be asked to look at the careers of the other 2022 retirees, technically eligible names will include Keith Yandle, Kurtis Gabriel, Nathan Gerbe, Mathieu Perreault, Kyle Turris, Greg Pateryn, Ian Scott, Andrej Sekera, Carter Hutton, Franz Nielsen, Samuel Morin, and Nate Prosser. And we might see other names to be added to this list in the next few weeks and months.

And of course there is always an impressive list of backlogged players passed over from previous inductions who are still waiting for their inclusion, further clouding the picture.

If I had to make a guess three years out, I would suggest that Keith, Chara and Getzlaf will all get the first year call. But it depends heavily on the passed over ballot. Alexander Mogilny is still waiting. Pierre Turgeon is a very comparable player to Getzlaf and especially Spezza. The 2023 first year draft class appears to be weak and presents a prime opportunity for the Hall to make some corrections, especially ahead of the stacked 2024 (Patrick Marleau, Pavel Datsyuk, Mikko Koivu, Pekka Rinne, Ryan Miller) and 2025 classes.


September 26, 2022

My 1972 Summit Series Confession


I owe a lot of my hockey reputation to the 1972 Summit Series.

In early 2002 I realized that later in September Canadians from coast to coast would be celebrating the 30th anniversary of the famous summit showdown between Canada‘s best NHLers and the Soviet national team, amateurs in name only.

Even I did not realize how big the 30th anniversary would become. It made me all the more excited that I had registered the domain name 1972SummitSeries.com and put a lot of free work into making it a rich - and, more importantly, the first - online resource for old and new fans alike.

Website traffic astounded me, as thousands of people visited. The success of the site established my name as a credible hockey writer and researcher in both the international and history related hockey fields. So many doors have opened - 2 books on international hockey, opportunities to work with Hockey Canada, The Hockey News, and the Henderson Jersey Tour. to name but a few. GreatestHockeyLegends.com and HockeyBookReviews.com followed, as did many magazine article opportunities and publishing contributions. I've worked for the NHL and the Canadian Museum of History.

Yes, I owe a lot to 1972SummitSeries.com and to all the people who visited and interacted to make that site such a success. The site is gone nowadays, even though I intended to ride it through the 50th anniversary. But it played a big role in getting me to where I did.

At the great risk of ruining my reputation as some sort of 1972 Summit Series expert, I have a confession to make: I have never watched any of the eight Summit Series games in their entirety.

First off, I was not even born until 1974. I have always been fully open about that fact and how that fact has fuelled my desire to understand the true significance of Summit Series to Canada. No matter how hard you try, it is impossible to truly understand the importance to the nation if you were not there, or not alive. It was a very different time, a very different context.

Of course there is no excuse for not watching the games nowadays. I do own two box sets of DVDs featuring all the games and then some. I even owned the VHS tapes years before that. But I have never actually sat down and watched any of the games - not even game eight - in their entirety.

Why?

I actually tried to a couple of times. The first time I was going to sit down and watch the entire series, right from game one. But I realized I could not do it. So I thought I would try watching just the final game. It only took a few minutes into the game before I turned it off. I could not watch it. Even with my innate understanding of the 1972 Summit Series, watching the games would ruin it all for me.

For those who lived through it, the 1972 Summit Series was an important piece of the Canadian fabric. But for those of who were born later - who grew up knowing the narrative but never truly understanding why these 28 days in September 1972 came to occupy such a privileged place in Canadian history - we experience the Summit Series somewhat differently.

As I tried to watch the DVDs, I quickly realized there was no way watching the games, even with all my studies, could come close to matching my expectation. I grew up with the Summit Series’ legacy - the unmatchable drama, the overwhelming nostalgia, the cultural importance, the national pride. But if you were not actually there to experience it in the first place, so much of the experience is mythical. To go back and watch it for the first time you quickly realize there is no way the grainy video could possibly live up to the legend this series has become. The heroes would deteriorate to just ordinary. The storylines would become anti-climatic, the emotion all but removed. Thanks to all the children - including myself - that have recreated Henderson’s goal a million times, there’s just no way the real thing could live up to the hype and euphoria that the legend has become after all these years.

The overblown legend of the 1972 Summit Series is my experience. And I like it that way. I want to forever keep it that way. To watch the games now would tarnish my image of one of the most important events in Canadian history. Watching the games now would only disappoint me.

I know my 1972 Summit Series reality is the overblown myth that it has become. I never want to lose that.

Who Was Better? Jason Spezza vs Ryan Getzlaf

Yesterday we looked Jason Spezza's career resume in relation to his chances of making the Hockey Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible in 2025. I came to the conclusion that I do not think he should be included.

Today we are going to look at the resume of another 2025 eligible Hockey Hall of Famer - Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks. Getzlaf and Spezza are very comparable players of the same era, but I am going to argue Getzlaf had the better career and should be included in the HHOF one day.

Spezza and Getzlaf had remarkably similar careers statistically. Both retired as top-100 scorers in NHL history - no easy feat for a league that is over a century old. Getzlaf has a slight edge with 1019 points (282 goals and 737 assists) in 1157 career games. He also had stronger playoff metrics, with 120 points in 125 career Stanley Cup matches.

Like Spezza, Getzlaf was a highly skilled playmaking center who protected the puck so well with his big body. At 6'4" and 220lbs it was easy to underestimate the big man's athleticism sometimes. He had a powerful stride and deceptive quickness, though he - like Spezza - was prone to not moving his feet all the time. Both were pass first pivots despite having excellent shots and solid defensively.

Where Getzlaf differed from Spezza was his penchant for the physical game. The Ducks had a reputation as big and bruising team, and their captain led the way. He was never a big accumulator of penalty minutes, but when he wanted an opponent to know he was on the ice, he could definitely make an impact, literally and figuratively. He had a long fuse, but he did show a mean streak now and again.

I believe it was that added element of physicality that allowed Getzlaf to have a better career than Spezza.

Of course when Getzlaf's Ducks downed Spezza's Senators in a head to head matchup inthe 2007 playoffs to win the Stanley Cup, it wasn't Getzlaf's own physical game that gave the Californian's the edge by any means. But I do think it endeared him more to the hockey world - namely Team Canada.

At the NHL level the two had very comparable careers, though Getzlaf has, very importantly, the Stanley Cup championship, and at Spezza's expense nonetheless. But at the international level Getzlaf was a regular member of Team Canada at best on best international tournaments. Spezza played at World Championships but never at true best on best tourneys the Olympics or World Cup. He was part of Canada's back to back Olympic gold medals in 2010 and 2014. He also won gold with Canada at the 2003 World Juniors and the 2016 World Cup.

To me Spezza and Getzlaf had remarkably similar careers, but Getzlaf's championship resume ranks him ahead on the all time list of great hockey players. I believe it is also enough to get Getzlaf into the Hockey Hall of Fame one day. It might not be immediately in 2025, but one day he should be included.

Hall of Fame Worthy? Jason Spezza

Jason Spezza retired in 2022 after a 19 year career most notably with the Ottawa Senators, but also Dallas and Toronto. The second overall draft pick in 2001 scored 995 points in 1248 career games, with another 76 in 97 playoff games. He never won a Stanley Cup or a major NHL award. He represented Canada at three World Juniors and four World Championships. He was named the tournament's top forward in 2015 when he led Canada to a gold medal.

So the question is: Is Jason Spezza Hall of Fame Worthy?

I liked Jason Spezza a lot. But the answer in my mind is a fairly quick no.

Spezza was a flashy, talented stickhandler and playmaker who excelled at shielding the puck thanks to his large frame and big wingspan. He was playmaker first and foremost, despite a heavy and accurate shot. He had soft hands when it came to setting up teammates for beautiful goals. He was a conscientious defensive player, as long as he kept his feet moving. He was an excellent faceoff man and a rangy skater who could surprise defenders with an unexpected quickness given his size. He had zero temperament needed to be truly physically assertive, which is detractors pointed out.

Spezza was a consistent scoring threat in Ottawa, especially early in his career,  but his best season was likely 2011-12. Rejuvenated under new coach Paul MacLean, Spezza tied a career high with 34 goals and added 50 assists for 84 points. As a younger player he had three seasons with more points where he showed promise of becoming a super star, but his 2012 season saw him finish 4th in the league in scoring and 6th in the league in Hart Trophy voting as NHL MVP.

That was the closest Spezza ever got to winning a major award. The closest he came to winning the Stanley Cup was in 2007 when Ottawa fell to Anaheim in the Final. Spezza, along with teammates Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley, shared the playoff scoring lead with 22 points, but it was not quite enough to beat the Ducks.

Alfredsson is entering the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2022. Could Spezza join him in 2025, when he becomes eligible?| It's certainly possible, though like Alfie I suspect Spezza would have to wait a few years. He was a key piece in a Canadian market, and super likeable guy, which doesn't hurt his chances by any means. And, as always, the Hockey Hall of Fame has created a problem of letting in a few too many "very good" forwards as opposed to the truly elite.

I think Spezza fits in the very good category and I'm okay if Spezza has to enter the Hockey Hall of Fame the same way I have to - by buying a ticket. As much as I liked Spezza, he comes up short of truly being one of hockey's all time greats.