Friday, December 17, 2010

2011 HHoF: The Case for Doug Gilmour

doug gilmour leafs hall of fame
Amidst my Leafs depression I seemingly forgot about the 2011 Hockey Hall of Fame series I was writing. That’s what happens when your team spends the better part of a month losing games with shocking regularity. All of a sudden the Leafs have won a few games (and been throttled in a few others), so I’m slowly getting my mojo back.

So after a brief respite here’s the final piece in the series outlining the players who should comprise the 2011 Hockey Hall of Fame class. I’ve already made the case for Ed Belfour, Eric Lindros, and Pavel Bure, but I’ve saved my personal favourite for last. Uh oh, that must mean it’s a Leaf!

Doug Gilmour is one of the most popular Leafs of all-time. The Leafs honoured his jersey number, even though he only played four full seasons (and two half seasons) in Toronto. This makes it one of only 17 numbers to ever be honoured or retired by the team. That shows the impact Gilmour had on Toronto. It’s entirely possible that my case for Gilmour will reflect this, but his accomplishments are also impressive.

Gilmour’s 1414 career points rank 17th all-time, which is surpassed by only three players who are not already in the Hall of Fame, two of which will certainly be first balloters (Joe Sakic and Jaromir Jagr), and the other, Adam Oates, has a strong argument for inclusion as well. His 964 career assists are good for 12th all-time and he ranks 18th all-time in games played. He scored 450 goals, which I know isn't the magical 500, but is still impressive for a player who was primarily a playmaker.

He’s a 14-time 20+ goal scorer who broke the 100 point barrier three times, one of which was a monster 127 point season in his first full season in Toronto, which still stands as a Leafs record. This was the same year that Gilmour won the Selke Trophy for best defensive-forward and was the runner-up to Wayne Gretzky for the Hart Trophy.

Gilmour’s playoff resume is just as impressive as his regular season one. Gilmour accumulated 188 points in 182 post-season games, which is seventh all-time, and he played an integral role on the 1989 Cup winning Calgary Flames. That year he scored 22 points in 22 games, including two third period goals in game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, one of which was the Cup winner that finished off the Montreal Canadiens. He also had a huge playoffs for the Leafs in 1993 when he amassed 35 points in 21 games before coming within one blown call of leading the Leafs to a date with the Canadiens in the Stanley Cup Final.

I’m also very impressed when a player makes a cultural impact on the game. Gilmour did that. Before Gilmour arrived in Toronto, the Leafs were the laughingstock of the league. They suffered miserably through the 1980s and were the only team unable to actually make the playoffs during that decade. Once Gilmour arrived in Toronto he immediately made an impact on the team. He led them to two straight Conference Final appearances and brought respectability back to one of the league’s most storied franchises. I don’t care if you hate the Leafs; you have to admit that reviving a dead franchise is a major accomplishment. Sidney Crosby’s Hall of Fame resume will be choked full of accomplishments, one of which will be single-handedly saving hockey in Pittsburgh. These things count for something.

Gilmour also owns an impressive list of nicknames (some of which I didn’t even know until Wikipedia told me). In St. Louis, Brian Sutter dubbed him “Killer” because of his intensity on the ice and reportedly for his resemblance to Charles Manson. He was also known as the “Prince of Pain”, the “Archduke of Agony”, and the “Sultan of Silent Suffering” because of his physical play despite standing only 5’11 and weighing 175 pounds.

Gilmour played during an era that included greats like Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky, Steve Yzerman, Joe Sakic, and Brett Hull. You can’t make a case that Gilmour was better than any of these players, but Gilmour was certainly one of the best two-way players during his era, this despite being considerably undersized – especially for a centre. He played with a tenacity that endeared himself to fans and coaches alike. I love Doug Gilmour so much that I’m even willing to overlook the fact that he signed as an unrestricted free agent with the Canadiens in 2001.

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