November 03, 2015

2015 HHOF Inductee: Phil Housley

One of the best offensive defensemen in the high scoring 1980s, Phil Housley played 1,495 regular-season games played, which set the standards for all American born players. Housley also retired as the highest scoring US born player with 1,232 points (338 goals and 894 assists).

Housley began his NHL career with Buffalo in 1982. The 6th overall draft pick from 1982 skipped college and went straight from high school to the NHL without missing a beat. In his rookie season he scored 19 goals and 66 points by as a defenseman. There was no sophomore jinx for Housley, as he improved to an incredible 31 goals and 77 points in season two. He did spend some time playing left wing however.

Scoring was never a problem for Housley. He was a superior skater, blessed with speed and agility, and a powerplay specialist. He was equally adept at rushing the puck or making the perfect first pass out of the zone. His small stature gave him trouble on one-on-one battles in the defensive zone, and he struggled early in his career with his defensive game, but there were very few defensemen better at the transition game.

Housley was a mainstay in Buffalo until 1990 when he was part of the Dale Hawerchuk trade with Winnipeg. Housley's offense only improved in Winnipeg. In his third year he and a rookie named Teemu Selanne formed a special chemistry. Selanne smashed NHL records with 76 goals as a rookie, and many of those goals were on assists from Housley. Housley had a career high 79 assists and 97 points that season.

Selanne would never again come close to the 76 goal mark. Part of that reason was because of the break up as Housley was traded to St. Louis in 1993-94. It should be noted that Housley held out and demanded the trade. The story at the time suggested Housley was not happy paying high taxes in Canada and wanted to return to his native United States. How accurate that story is is debatable, but Housley burned a lot of bridges in Canada with the hold out.

Housley never challenged the point totals he had achieved in Winnipeg or Buffalo. His stay in St. Louis was short, as he moved to Calgary then New Jersey. In 2000 he rejoined Calgary and enjoyed a bit of a renaissance. He finished his career with two seasons in Chicago and one game in Toronto.

Throughout his career Housley endeared himself to the international game as well. In 1982, Housley played in the world junior championships. Seven times he would skate for Team USA at world championships. He played in the 1984 and 1987 Canada Cups. He was a member of the victorious 1996 World Cup of Hockey team and the silver medal winning Team USA at the 2002 Olympic games. He is a member of the IIHF Hall of Fame.

Phil Housley was a fun and entertaining player. Offensively he was elite. Defensively he was at times an adventure.

Over time his totals still really impress, and his offensive approach to the game is rare and missed. He made other players better, particularly the likes of Dave Andreychuk and Teemu Selanne. But the same passage of time has allowed many to forget the flaws in his game. He was not great - or at times in his career not even good - defensively. Early in his career he was a complete adventure in his own zone. He settled down over the years, but was always susceptible to lapses. Remember that 97 point season in '92/93? He was minus 14 on a good team. And he provided next to no physical game at all.

Housley never came close to winning a NHL award. The closest was in '92/93 when he led all defensemen in scoring, but he finished 4th in Norris Trophy balloting. He never came close to any trophy nomination other than that.

And of course he never won a Stanley Cup. A lot of people think that is a must for inclusion in the Hockey Hall of Fame, though I do not agree with that. But Housley's playoff record was underwhelming at best.

The best modern day comparable player, in my opinion, is Brian Campbell. Campbell, too, is a wonderful skater and an offensive blueliner, albeit in a more defensive era. He, too, is soft in his own end, and despite some strong seasons has never been considered a Norris Trophy level defenseman. Campbell isn't exactly known for his defensive zone play either, but he is reliable. More so than Housley.

No comments: