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On the Paul Henderson debate: Let’s create a special section in the Hockey Hall of Fame for unique accomplishments

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.

The Hall could also, for example, include Jim Craig’s performance for Team USA at the 1980 Winter Olympics- maybe some of his teammates as well.  Another less recognized American goalie, Jack McCartan, could be similarly highlighted for his tremendous work in leading the underdog Americans to the Olympic title back in 1960. (McCartan, left, played briefly with the Rangers in the NHL after the 1960 Olympics, just as Craig played a bit in the NHL after his stellar work in the '80 Games...)

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.


  1. Yup. Good idea. Players whose careers were cut short might also make it. etc.

    Not Norm

  2. the special wing sounds like a good idea to immortalize key events/moments in hockey.

  3. Thanks Alex! (For all I know, they already have an area that is designated for this stuff...but if not, I think it would be a way to immortalize certain players/moments, as you say...)

  4. Just like a 'Hall' is a larger image/metaphor relating to an entire career (i.e. "Hall of Famer"), Perhaps a "Wall" (being a smaller portion as metaphors go) could be used for the candidates chosen for specific accomplishments. Yes, it could be another 'wing' of the building, but those so honoured could be, thereafter, designated "Wall of Famers"...

    Love your 1962 calendar on the side... I was born the day the Leafs won the cup in '62, 10 minutes before the game according to the 'prophecy' of my Dad who (jokingly) hoped to see the game, but was told I wouldn't arrive for many hours.

    The doctors were wrong and he was actually sent home from the hospital before the 2nd period started (because Mom was asleep and fathers just sat in the waiting room in those days).

    Dad got to see our boys win the cup!

    Lifelong Leaf Fan

    Signed: In Time for '62'

  5. Thanks for your comment, and thanks as well for sharing a wonderful story, In Time for '62...(The '62 Cup is a favourite for me for many reasons, including the role of back-up goalie Don Simmons in the win. I was 8 at the time...)

    Hope you'll post again sometime.

  6. It's been a while since I was at the HHOF, but as I recall, there is (or was) something commemorating 1972. I think they do have a number of those types of exhibits... recognizing events and accomplishments without maing the team/player an Honoured Member.

    I realize the issue for many is that Henderson himself is not an Honoured Member. From all I have read, Mr. Henderson himself is simply happy to have accomplished what he has, and never worries about the HHOF. Many folks also forget that he is an inductee into Canada's Sports Hall of Fame (individually and as a member of Team Canada 72), so it's not as if he is not recognized for his feats.

    I've seen many comments, and I for one and not a proponent of putting Henderson in the Hall. He had a nice, but not really great, NHL and WHA career. I was born in 1969, so I don't really share first-hand memories of 1972, but I fully acknowledge the importance of the Series, and greatly admire Paul Henderson's performance for his country... he was incredible when it counted. And not just him, Espo's speech in Vancouver, the importance of the Henderson-Clarke-Ellis line, Little M's shortie, all of it. But on the balance of his career, as you said, a nice career for Henderson, but not Hall-worthy.

    Frankly, I'd be more inclined to say his contributions to Canada's collective identity and pride, and his work speaking to people since he became a Christian, he'd be worthy of being made a Member of the Order of Canada. Contribution to the community and his country, that deserves recognition over his hockey career.

    One personal note... back in the mid 1990s I bought myself a copy of Andrew Podnieks' 'Blue and White Book'. Shortly thereafter, I heard that for the 25th anniversary of 1972, the HHOF had some events scheduled. I decided to book a day from work and went down to hear Paul Henderson speak. At the time, his linemate Ron Ellis was the event host (I think in keeping with his duties at the Hall then). Anyway, I brought the book with me, and stayed and lined up for autographs. Paul Henderson signed the entry with his Leaf statistics, while Ron Ellis signed a full page black and white photo of himself (wearing #8 I think). They were the first 2 signatures I got (I think I have something like 40 in there, haven't added any new ones in probably 10 years though). Anyway, one of my favourite memories.

  7. I'm with you on Henderson, Mark. He himself (maybe he is just being humble, but I think it's more than that) recognizes he was a good player, but not a Hall-of-Fame type player. But yes, he absolutely did something special. As you say, he has been recognized in other life arenas, and could certainly attain broader recognition as well for his important work beyond hockey.

    That's a wonderful story about Henderson and Ellis and their signing for you. Both of those gentlemen were fine Maple Leafs, and class individuals who have gone through a lot in their lives and have helped others as a result. Thanks for that, Mark.

  8. Great article! If anyone agrees with this, go to to sign the petition! We're at roughly 550 signatures and if we had more, HHOF would respect our movement more!

    -Heritage Hockey