TORONTO, CANADA – Pardon my French in the headline, but when the Hockey Hall Of Fame inducts Ed Belfour, Doug Gilmour, Mark Howe (questionable selection) and Joe Nieuwendyk tomorrow, sans a guy that I see as a no-brainer, Rick “Nifty” Middleton. Middleton consistently turned opposing defenders and goaltenders into royal arses inside the old Boston Garden.
There are no written criteria for admission into any of the four major sports Halls of Fame leaving voters to arbitrarily interpret numbers the way they see fit. There are certain “magic numbers” that make for no-argument induction in Baseball. Football has recently strayed from Super Bowl-winning criteria to individual merit and Hockey needs to do likewise. The NHL’s process is documented but the names are as top secret as The Colonel’s Original Recipe at KFC.
Like Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League uses the # 500 as a benchmark – for goals instead of homers. It also uses the 1,000 point plateau. Unlike MLB and to their credit, the NHL makes a case for dynamic players with short careers by using per game statistics – Don Mattingly and his fans should be so lucky. There is, however, a heavy bias for players that are on Stanley Cup winners. More than several players’ statistics fall way short, yet they got in because they hoisted the cup. To wit: Clark Gillies (319 G, 378 A, 697 Pts) somehow found his way into the Hall. Bob Gainey, a one-dimensional defensive forward and few of his teammates on the Canadiens during their hockey conquest, were selected with underwhelming numbers. Two-time Philthy cup winner, Bill Barber, got in with less than point-per-game numbers and was shorter on 500 goals than assists. Joe Mullen, Lanny MacDonald, and Glenn Anderson all compare similarly to Nifty, but being on championship teams put them Over The Top like Sly Stallone.
“To get the phone call today took my breath away. I never expected that call. I don’t consider myself in the class of the Gordie Howes, Wayne Gretzkys and Bobby Orrs. It means the world to me.”Having my father be Gordie Howe, I just know what a tremendous day this is for my dad. It makes me very emotional and it brings a tear to my eye. I’m very grateful. When I was trying to call dad and I called my children, I began to tear up. It is just a tremendous honor.” — Mark Howe
Consider Middleton’s 1005 GP, 448G, 540A, 988Pts, +180 were amassed on a home rink that second-smallest in the league and played 16 road games per year in the other two mini-arenas, Buffalo and Quebec. His ice-time didn’t increase until his second year with the B’s proving to Don Cherry the capability of two-way play. Nifty made teammates better while playing his off-wing as a right handed shot and was member of two Canada Cup teams coached by Scotty Bowman and linemates of Gretzky and Perreault. The praise of all three was high as Bowman also coached the Sabres team that saw Middleton amass 19 points in a seven game playoff series en route to a record 33 points for a non-Finals team.
The NHL Hall of Fame is missing an elite player in Rick Middleton. An elite write-winger tomorrow… West Coast Craig.