Volume 91, Issue 10

Friday, September 12, 1997

frosh pit


Slow down Mario

The election of Mario Lemieux to the Hockey Hall of Fame was nothing more than a publicity stunt and a desperate cry for attention by the National Hockey League.

Yes, Mario is one of the greatest players to ever don a hockey jersey. His illustrious 12-year career is filled with credentials including two Stanley Cup championships, three Hart trophies as the league's most valuable player, six Art Ross trophies as the league's scoring leader and two Conn Smythe trophies as the most valuable player in the playoffs. While Lemieux was a unanimous choice to become a Hall of Fame inductee, the timing and process smells of later embarrassment.

For the eighth time in NHL history, the three-year waiting period for induction into the hallowed hall will be waived to take full marketing advantage of a sporting legend that is still in the news and not yet forgotten by the hockey fans and the press. Of those eight exceptions, three players, Guy Lafleur, Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay, returned after already being immortalized in hockey heaven. Is the hall not a place to reward players for their contribution over their entire career? Is it not a place for fans to worship heroes of the past that have built hockey into what it is today? By inducting Mario without waiting, the league once again risks the possibility of his return to the ice and another embarrassment for the NHL spin doctors to dance around.

Plagued by a back injury for much of his career, it appeared at the end of the 1993-94 season that Mario the Magnificent would be leaving hockey with the announcement of his battle with Hodgkin's disease. What would have happened if the 18-member selection committee had inducted him then? They would have rewarded a man who had yet to win two more scoring titles, recorded 283 points and captured another Hart Trophy in his final two seasons after his return. If he left the game once, it's definitely possible that at the young age of 31, his love for the game will once again return him to his true home on the ice.

Has the NHL not learned from their mistakes of the past or are they planning to replace their current slogan "the coolest game on ice" with "short term gain for long term pain"?

In comparison, Major League Baseball has a very strict five-year waiting period for its players and has never wavered for this policy – removing nearly all possibility of embarrassment when legends such as Ryne Sandberg of the Chicago Cubs returned for another kick at the can. With the NHL only waiting three years for most of their heroes, you would think they could do the same.

It also raises the problem of separating hockey's legends into two tiers – the heroes, who wait three years and the Gods, who don't. Whether it be a Stanley Cup winning goal in the dying minutes of the third period, or a smile on the face of a sick child meeting their hero, all of these men have made a contribution to the hockey ideal. The Hall of Fame is a place where these men should stand together on the same plain of existence as those who built the game.

What purpose does waiving the three-year period serve? If the player is nearing heaven's gates, then yes, honour him while he is still with us. Otherwise, the only reason for the NHL to allow such an exception would be to sensationalize the event for promotional purposes in the battle for the almighty entertainment dollar. With Mario out of the news for three years, will he create as much media hype around his induction? No. Will he still be around? Yes. Unfortunately, the call has already been made and on Nov.17, Mario Lemieux will have his career immortalized, for better or worse.

To Contact The Sports Department: gazsport@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1997