By: Scott Hokkanen
The 2017 Hockey Hall of Fame Induction class is headlined by two players commonly associated with speed, scoring, and hockey in Anaheim.
“The Finnish Flash” Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya played as teammates for both the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and the Colorado Avalanche.
Both player’s careers spanned over three decades and they are two of just 53 players all-time to average at least a point-per-game.
However these two newly appointed Hall of Famers have walked a vastly different career path through the NHL.
One of Selanne’s career defining moments was finally hoisting the cup in 2007 with the Ducks at the age of 37.
It was a long time coming for a player that was so beloved by his peers and the league’s fans.
In contrast, the moment that is commonly associated with the equally admired Kariya’s time in the NHL, is iconic for an immensely different reason.
In game six of the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals, playing for Anaheim facing the New Jersey Devils, Kariya was decked by a thunderous hit from Devils captain and now fellow Hall of Famer Scott Stevens.
As thousands of spectators looked on, Kariya lay motionless on the ice, knocked unconscious. Seconds later Kariya jarringly came back to life breathing fog into his visor.
In today’s game, the league’s concussion spotting protocol likely would have removed Kariya from the game. But back in 2003 Kariya returned to action after a short trip to the trainer’s room.
Just 11 minutes after being knocked out cold, Kariya came back and scored on future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur, forcing a seventh and deciding game, which the Devils would win.
The Kariya comeback and goal are famous moments, and are engrained in the minds of hardcore NHL fans.
The Stevens hit is now recognized as an illegal hit to the head and it had a greater impact on Kariya’s life than just that game.
Kariya would play in parts of six more seasons, but his all-star productivity and signature tenacity were never the same.
He went from scoring 86 points the year before the Stevens hit, to 36 in the year after. In the 2009-2010 season Kariya put up 43 points, still more than enough to have a place in the league, but he chose to follow the advice of his doctors and retire in 2010 at the age of 35.
Kariya racked up an impressive career 989 points in 989 career games. Many hockey fans wish and wonder what more Kariya might have done had he not struggled with traumatic head injuries and concussions.
In an interview with Gary Kingston of the Vancouver Sun, Kariya said, “My love was for playing, if I could still play, I’d still be playing out there…to me targeted head shots have no place in the game.”
The overhanging minutia over this year’s induction class is whether or not Kariya accomplished enough in his shortened career to receive the honour before players like; Steve Larmer, Jeremy Roenick and Alex Mogilny all of whom logged more than 1000 points during their careers.
Jason Kay, editor in chief of The Hockey News said that more than career longevity and the player’s amount of points are considered in the selection process.
“It’s case by case, in addition to what the player accomplished on the ice we are all human beings, and emotion does come into it,” Kay said. “When you consider the impact a player had on a community and what kind of impact they made on the hockey world as a whole…you never know which way the voters are going to go.”
Both players averaged approximately a point-per-game in their longer than average careers. However Selanne, the senior in age, played for four more seasons after Kariya retired, despite starting his career two years earlier.
Selanne played 265 more games and scored 197 more points after Kariya retired, with the two sharing a similar career points-per-game average; this is essentially a measuring stick signifying the gap between the career of a great player, and a great player with concussions.
Selanne would play until 2014, capping off his legacy by captaining the 2014 Finnish Olympic hockey team to a Bronze Medal in Sochi. Selanne would finish eleventh all time in goals with a legendary 1457 points in 1451 games played.
Kariya never got to 1000 points and never won a Stanley Cup or major trophy. Of the four players being inducted into the Hall this year, Kariya is the only one to play less than 1000 career games.
When asked if Kariya’s legacy is of Hall of Fame caliber Jason Kay said, “Kariya’s brilliant moments include the Canadian Olympic Golds, and the ’03 Finals when he got his bell rung by Scott Stevens. He along with J.S. Giguere carried them to a place where no one thought they would go. When you do these things and are a top player in the league for years, then longevity isn’t much of a factor.”
Hockey Hall of Fame Director of Corporate and Media Relations, Kelly Masse explained that the general public can make recommendations to the selection committee which could help or hurt a popular player like Kariya who’s career longevity was effected by injuries.
When asked about the debate over Kariya’s candidacy, Masse, said, ”I did hear that it was a lively meeting this year.”
With debate and discussion being an integral part of the induction process, players with shortened careers like Kariya could face difficulty in getting inducted. As for the 2017 induction class, concussions could not prevent Kariya from reaching hockey’s Hall of Fame.
The induction ceremony is set to take place in Toronto, in November.