Monday, December 29, 2008

In praise of Whatshisname

You know you are getting older when your childhood sports heroes start to have their numbers retired. At least they aren't dying yet (a point I'm sure they would agree with).

As I've mentioned here before I grew up, oddly, as a Washington Capitals fan (I also just grew up oddly, but that's another topic). We're talking late '80s here. So, I spent many a night watching Mike Gartner on my illegal satellite dish.

It's possible that Gartner is the most underrated hockey player of all time. He was fast and he could score -- two pretty good qualities for a NHL player. And, consistent. Gartner scored as a young player and as an older one too throughout a long career.

The numbers, for those that don't remember, were 1432 games played, 708 goals,627 assists for 1335 points. Let's just reiterate that. He scored seven hundred and eight NHL goals.

Yet ask a hockey fan to list the best players of all-time and Gartner doesn't register. Sure, he's a Hall of Famer, but so is my cat Fumo (if you follow).

Again, seven hundred and eight goals.

You can criticize him for not winning a Stanley Cup (like it's his fault the Caps goalie in the late '80s was Pete Peters), or that he only had one 50 goal season (ignoring that he had five 45 goal seasons). But, that might just be a tad pedantic. That he only had 53 goals for the Leafs in two and a bit seasons likely hurts his reputation in the centre of the hockey universe, but come on.

Seven hundred and eight

It's time hockey fans gave Gartner just a little more credit.


KML said...

This is no slight to Gartner, who was an excellent player, but it is well past time that we start taking the numbers put up in the 1980s with a massive grain of salt.

As NHLers that starred in the mid-1990s start coming up for HoF nominations, their careers risk being overlooked because of the low scoring and vastly improved goaltending of their era. How many goals would Pavel Bure or Alex Mogilny have scored in the 1980s?

Duane Rollins said...

I agree. But, you have to compare the numbers to their contemporaries. And, Gartner's stats hold up. Yes, scoring was up, but Gartner was scoring more than most others.

Telling is Gartner's stats in 95-96 and 96-97, in the middle of the dead puck era. As a 36 and 37-year-old he scored 35 and 32 goals. How many goals would that have been in 1987?

(and I understand you weren't knocking Gartner, I just wanted to get in a preemptive defense)

Duane Rollins said...

To use another underrated Caps player to frame your argument...

Shouldn't Peter Bondra be a sure fire HoFer? 503 goals scored in the dead puck era? How many would he have scored if he had started his career in 1980 instead of 1990?

Yet Bondra is likely less appreciated than Gartner.Even among thinking hockey fans he's a borderline player...

sager said...

I wouldn't call Gartner most underrated; he is in the HHOF. He was a little underappreciated, though, since he had all the traits of underrated players... wasn't flashy, wasn't a big personality, didn't play in a major hockey market, didn't play on many championship teams, but he was a great one. He also never had a season like the one Bernie Nicholls had in 1988-89, when he scored 70 goals and people were like, "Who is this guy?"

To take a stab at Duane's question, in 1996-97 Gartner scored 32 goals in a league that had 5.83 goals per game. If you do some crude cross-multiplication, that is works out to a 40-goal season in 1986-87 (7.3 per game). It's probably higher since teams gave their first two lines more ice time in the slower-paced game of the '80s, so it might have been a 45-goal season.

In today's hockey, it's probably about 35 ... anyone who's scoring 35 goals in his late 30s is a hell of a player. Keep in mind that a good litmus test for a Hall of Famer is, "Could he continue to play effectively once he was past his prime?"

To answer the first commenter, people do take the stats of 1980s players with a grain of salt -- just ask Dino Ciccarelli, 608 goals and not in the Hall.

kml said...

I think Ciccarelli has more to do with his um, style of play than anything else. However, that's just a hunch.

My standards for how the 80s are overrated continue to be Glenn Anderson and Bernie Federko, as well as guys like Bure and Oates of the 1990s (Bondra is another good example) that seem to get no respect.