Avalanche’s Cale Makar Making Strong Case for Hall of Fame

On the heels of Cale Makar‘s magnificent 2021-22 campaign in which he won his first career Norris Trophy and helped lead the Colorado Avalanche to their third Stanley Cup in franchise history, why not revisit his apparently already sturdy case for the Hall-of-Fame?

Prior to last season, I compared Makar’s career to date to those of many inducted defensemen and found that he already had the foundations of a historic NHL tenure in place at the ripe old age of 22. After a season in which he compiled every award of note given to blueliners, the Avalanche superstar all but etched his name into a plaque at the Hall of Fame. Let’s explore what’s left for him to accomplish before his career is complete in order to take his place on the Mount Rushmore of NHL defensemen.

Avalanche’s Makar Enjoyed Historic 2021-22 Season

What can Makar possibly do for an encore after collecting almost every award of significance during the 2021-22 season? After winning his first career Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenseman with an 86-point campaign, the 23-year-old rearguard led the playoffs in scoring (29 points in 20 games) while the Avalanche won the organization’s third Stanley Cup. His scoring total ranked fourth all-time at his position and he unsurprisingly won the Conn Smythe Trophy for his efforts, becoming the 11th defender in NHL history to be named playoff MVP.

Cale Makar Colorado Avalanche 2022 Conn Smythe
Cale Makar of the Colorado Avalanche accepts the 2022 Conn Smythe Trophy (Mark LoMoglio/NHLI via Getty Images)

Makar’s Norris win followed his second-place finish to Adam Fox of the New York Rangers in 2020-21, and he was named to the NHL’s year-end First All-Star Team for the second consecutive season. Since the Conn Smythe Trophy was first awarded in 1965, a defenseman has won the award 12 times, with Bobby Orr being the only one to win it on more than one occasion (1970 and 1972). Of the 11 blueliners, eight have been named to the Hall of Fame with Victor Hedman joining Makar as the only active defensemen on that list, although Duncan Keith just retired this past offseason and should easily earn induction as well.

After evaluating the state of Makar’s trophy cabinet after last season, we can begin to put together a list of criteria which must be met in order for a defenseman to earn induction into the Hall of Fame.

Establishing the Unofficial Criteria for the Hall of Fame

For a defenseman’s accomplishments to be considered, his playing career must have taken place entirely during the modern era (post-1967). However, both Orr and Serge Savard will be included having each only played a single season in the pre-expansion era. With those two in mind, there are 24 defensemen currently in the Hall of Fame who fall under the parameters above and create a decent sample to help assess Makar’s career to date.

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The main factors used to determine a player’s Hall-of-Fame case are the length of their career, their level of offensive production, and the number of awards and accolades at both the individual and team levels. Of the inducted defensemen hailing from the NHL’s modern era, a majority have met at least two out of four specific milestones: 1000 career NHL games, 750 career points, at least one Norris Trophy, and at least one Stanley Cup.

Of the 24 current members, 83 percent (21 of 24) played at least 1,000 games over their career, and 75 percent (18 of 24) accumulated over 750 points in the NHL. Over half (14 of 24) earned at least one Norris Trophy, and just under 80 percent (19 of 24) were Stanley Cup champions.

An additional set of criteria I did not include in the original article was being named to the NHL’s season-end All-Star Teams. 19 of the 24 defensemen were named to the First All-Star Team, but several of the 19 were only named once and one member (Kevin Lowe) was never named to either of the two All-Star Teams.

Kevin Lowe Edmonton Oilers
Kevin Lowe, Edmonton Oilers, Nov. 24, 1990 (Graig Abel/Getty Images)

In fact, the only criteria that Lowe met were exceeding the 1,000-game threshold, and being part of a Stanley Cup-winning team. Given that the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, and Paul Coffey bear more responsibility for those Cup wins and his lack of individual hardware or accolades of any sort, his induction is puzzling, to say the least.

Now that a general checklist of milestones and awards has been established for induction into the Hall of Fame, let’s grade Makar’s current accomplishments against the overall rubric.

Makar’s Resume Already at Hall-Of-Fame Level

Looking at Makar’s list of awards and accomplishments to date, it’s clear that he is well on his way to earning induction into the Hall of Fame upon retirement. He’s met three of the five main criteria and the remaining two are just a matter of naturally progressing through his career.

1,000 Games PlayedNo822
750 PointsNo570
Norris TrophyYesN/A
Stanley CupYesN/A
1st NHL All-Star TeamYesN/A
Makar’s career (2019-2022) graded against the Hall-of-Fame rubric

An interesting historical footnote is that of all of the eligible Norris Trophy winners, only Randy Carlyle (1980-81) has yet to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Including Makar, there are currently 11 other Norris winners who are either still active or have yet to pass the three-year waiting period for Hall-of-Fame eligibility. Judging by their career numbers or future trajectory, most if not all of those 11 should be future inductees upon retirement.

Given that Makar still requires 822 appearances and 570 points to meet the other criteria, let’s calculate when he is on pace to exceed those marks, and how far up the all-time leaderboards he could ascend.

StatisticCareer Pace (Per-Game)All-Time Rank
Makar’s career per-game scoring rates and rank among defensemen with at least 150 career NHL games since 1967-68

Assuming Makar produces at the same scoring pace for the next 12 seasons – taking him to age 35 – and plays in 70 games each season (his 82-game pace thus far) we can estimate his potential career totals. An additional 12 seasons of 70 games each (840 total) multiplied by his career rate of 0.27 goals per game produces an additional 227 career goals to add to his current total of 48, giving us 275 pro-rated tallies. Multiplying 840 games by his career rate of 0.74 assists per game generates 622 additional assists, bringing him to 754 total after including his 132 helpers to date. Combining those totals produces a career estimate of 1,029 points in 1,018 games at the age of 35, assuming he makes a conservative rate of 70 appearances per season.

As of the end of the 2021-22 season, 275 goals would rank him seventh all-time, 754 assists take him to ninth, and 1,029 points are good enough for eighth place. Although those estimates bring him into the upper echelon of NHL defensemen, it’s possible he blows past those totals if the conditions are right.

First, many of the Hall-of-Fame blueliners have played well into their late-30s and judging by Makar’s skating abilities and offensive awareness, he has the traits required to thrive later in his career. Next is the assumption that he misses an average of 12 games each season for the next 12 campaigns, robbing him of 144 potential outings over that time. It’s true that he has missed time through injury during his first three NHL seasons, but it’s yet to be determined if those are rarities going forward.

Where Will Makar’s Career Rank All-Time?

Judging by the early returns, Makar’s career is on an almost unparalleled trajectory. At this rate, the only major award he has yet to win at either the individual or team level is the Hart Trophy, annually given to the league’s MVP. Only two defensemen (Orr and Chris Pronger) have won the award since the beginning of the NHL’s modern era, and none since Pronger’s win in 1999-00.

Ray Bourque, perhaps Makar’s closest modern contemporary in terms of playing style, played until his age-40 season, finishing with over 1,600 career games and scoring 59 points in his final NHL campaign. If his durability holds and he continues to improve, Makar could change the definition of a modern NHL defenseman beyond anything we’ve seen in the modern era. The points and awards will come, but his ultimate legacy remains undefined. No pressure, Cale.

Data courtesy of Hockey Reference and the NHL

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