Hockey Hall of Fame Debates: Alexander Mogilny

This week we’re debating the merits of players who may have been overlooked for induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Using the Hall’s criteria of judging a player based on their “playing ability, sportsmanship, character and contributions to his or her team or teams and to the game of hockey in general” we will debate who should be up next for inclusion in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Today I look at Russian phenom Alexander Mogilny.

Ranking Mogilny:

  • 473 goals (52nd all-time)
  • 559 assists (102nd all-time)
  • 1,032 points (72nd all-time)
  • 141 power play goals (56th all-time)
  • 20 short-handed goals (63rd all-time)
  • 39 playoff goals (95th all-time)
  • 66 game-winning goals (52nd all-time)
  • 0.478 goals per game (34th all-time)
  • 1.042 points per game (38th all-time)

Why He Should Get In:

Mogilny was an incredibly fast player who was dominant in his day. Every time he entered the zone with control of the puck he was dangerous and in his prime often looked so fast that he just dumbfounded defensemen.

Mogilny combines two things much revered on a Hall of Fame resume: team success and individual awards. He hoisted the Cup in 2000 and won the Lady Byng in 2003. He played in six All-Star games through 16 seasons and ranks second in points among Russian-born players all-time (though Alex Ovechkin is likely to pass him in the not too distant future).

Importantly for his Hall of Fame resume, that Cup in 2000 made him a member of the Triple Gold Club, which, combined with his other accolades, should be enough to get him in the discussion for the Hall of Fame.

He was also the last player to score 70-plus goals in a season (he scored 76), doing so in the 1992-93 season when both he and Teemu Selanne achieved the feat, tying for the league-lead. We haven’t seen anyone sniff 70 in a long time. Since the 1995-96 season only two players have broken 60.

That year he also lead the NHL in game-winning goals and had seven hat tricks, somehow only getting named to be a Second Team All-Star, an honor he would receive twice.

Importantly, he was the first Soviet hockey player to defect to the U.S. when he came to the NHL. That started a wave of Russian players coming to North America that elevated the game in the NHL. He sacrificed a lot to play the game, including being convicted in absentia of treason since he was technically a member of a the Soviet military while playing for the Red Army team. That alone deserves consideration and was a fact he would keep on our minds throughout his career by selecting number 89 for his jersey, representing the year he defected.

He was a player who broke new ground for the league multiple times, from his defection to becoming the first Russian captain in the league when he captained the Buffalo Sabres for a single season in the 1993-94 season.

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Non-NHL Accomplishments:

Mogilny was famously part of a dominant Russian line in the World Junior Tournament, leading the Soviet Union to a gold medal. He and his two Hall of Famer linemates, Sergei Fedorov and Pavel Bure, combined for an incredible number of points, with Bure posting eight goals and 10 assists for a tournament-high 18 points in seven games. That was enough to get him named the Best Forward in the tournament.

While ihe entered the NHL with a lot of eyes on him and very high expectations, he entered with a considerable international record at his back. He had won a gold medal with the Soviet Union in the 1988 Olympics and gold in the 1989 World Championship, the last time he’d play for the team before defecting.

He has returned to Russia now and serves as president of Admiral Vladivostok in the KHL.

Why He Shouldn’t Get In:

He was an incredible player when he was young, but he peaked early. He was still good as he got older, but starting in the 1997-98 season his production began to tail off, in part because he was regularly injured, though he did post 43 goals in the 2000-01 season, seemingly out of nowhere.

His NHL totals don’t quite rank with the elite that get into the Hall and though he won a Lady Byng, he doesn’t have the record of leadership a guy like Paul Kariya does. That he was the first Russian captain in the NHL is significant, but he was the Sabres captain for a single season and then wore the A in two other non-consecutive seasons for two different teams.

And though he won a Cup and entered the Triple Gold Club, his NHL playoff performances don’t quite measure up even to guys in the ocnversation who never won a Cup like Jeremy Roenick or Eric Lindros, averaging just 0.69 points per game in the postseason, a serious step down from his average of 1.04 points per game during the regular season. Part of that may be that he had broken his leg in his prime during the playoffs, potentially cutting off a time when he would have thrived, but that’s not excuse enough.

Mogilny burned bright for a few years, but his overall career doesn’t measure up to guys like Fedorov or Lidstrom.

Verdict:

Mogilny is a borderline call. I might lean toward yes, if only for how good he was when he was young, that he had a great international career and that he holds a special place in hockey history.

He wasn’t great when he was older, but having the 43-goal season and a Lady Byng thrown in toward the end offsets the injuries and slow years. If I’m looking at just the next three years of inductions, it’s difficult to see how he gets in during that time with a big piece of his case being his historical significance. Not that he’s unworthy, but there are a lot of guys like Sergei Makarov and Viktor Tikhonov who have similar significance to the game and the history between Soviet-era hockey and the NHL.

Though, his former lineman Fedorov disagrees, telling Ken Campbell of The Hockey News, “He deserves that honor. Alex was faster than all of us and Alex was a machine. He was built like a machine. Plus on top of all the crazy skill he had, he’s better than all of us. He’s amazing.”

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More Hall of Fame Debates:

Dave Andreychuk
Curtis Joseph
Paul Kariya
Steve Larmer
Eric Lindros
Sergei Makarov
Jeremy Roenick