In the past, I’ve posted here that I don’t believe Paul Henderson was a Hall-of-Famer. I recognize that many disagree, but I have always felt that and still feel that to this day. He’s just not a Hall-of-Fame player, not in the way I look at the Hall, at least.
This is not to in any way disparage Henderson, a true gentleman (someone I met briefly years ago because of a mutual business engagement/connection, and was exactly as he appears—a nice and good man) who has been an inspiration to many in his battle with cancer and a guy who was a first-rate hockey player with the Red Wings and Leafs in his playing ‘hey-day’. (As a then very young hockey fan, I remember him well as a speedy Detroit winger in the early 1960s. I saw him play a lot because I lived right across from the Motor City, and I was able to see many of Detroit’s “away” games on the old local UHF channel in Detroit. I also saw Henderson, pictured at right, in action at the old Olympia when my Dad would take me to watch the Wings in person.)
It’s just that he wasn’t a special player, compared with those who truly deserve Hall-of-Fame status, and the many other fine, and even more deserving star players who will never get in to the Hall. He was a smart player, for sure. While not overly physical, he certainly played hard. He was one of the faster players in the league in the old "Original Six" days and maintained his effectiveness well into the '70s. But he fell short, in my mind, of being an all-time great.
That said, I have long felt that the Hall could establish a special “wing” of sorts to highlight rare or unique achievements in the game. That would provide appropriate recognition for Henderson’s most noteworthy (and quite stunning) accomplishment: netting three game-winning goals in Moscow in the highly influential and dramatic 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the then Soviet Union, a series that has triggered reverberations and memories galore for the last 40 years.
Willie O’Ree would surely find a niche in the Hall, for his ground-breaking and courageous efforts in breaking hockey’s colour barrier—a barrier which had prevented other talented players of colour from making it the world’s best league.
The point, for me, is that we don’t have to open the doors of the Hall wide open for every single player who did something special at some point in his career in terms of offering them full “membership”. But we could certainly create a category, a “wing” of the Hall, if you will, that would capture and treasure those moments, events and special achievements that might otherwise be more or less ignored.
One example that springs to mind is Darryl Sittler’s 10-point game. Now it so happens that Sittler is already a Hall-of-Famer, and in my view, probably rightly so. But let's say he had not been voted into the Hall. His 10-point game against the Bruins in the mid-’70s would certainly be worthy of a special designation in the Hall, right?
Maybe the things and people I’ve mentioned are already highlighted at the Hall. I don't really know. I just believe that the “standards” of any Hall-of-Fame should be kept very high, which by definition means it should be extremely difficult to get in. I already believe the Hockey Hall has too many inductees, guys who were certainly terrific players but should not be in enshrined with guys like Bobby Orr, Bobby Hull, Rocket Richard, Jean Beliveau, Gordie Howe, Jacques Plante, Wayne Gretzky, etc.. I realize that not all Hall-worthy players can be in the class of those I just mentioned, but I'd like to think the separation should not be as great as it now is in many cases.
The solution for me is very simple. Create a special wing. Call it whatever you want. But surely it could be done, while respecting the legacy of those truly deserving Hall-of-Famers- and those individuals who also made their mark on the game in some memorable manner.