Hockey Hall of Fame Debates: Sergei Makarov

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. Here we talk Soviet legend Sergei Makarov.

Ranking Makarov:

  • 322 Soviet goals
  • 710 Soviet points
  • 519 Soviet games
  • 1.37 points per game average in Soviet league
  • 134 NHL goals
  • 384 NHL points
  • 424 NHL games
  • 1.19 points per game in international play

Why He Should Get In:

This is where we put the idea that this being the Hockey Hall of Fame and not the NHL Hall of Fame to test.

Makarov’s NHL numbers aren’t Hall of Fame worthy on their own. It’s his track record in international play, his dominance of the Soviet league and that he was able to translate that talent to the NHL late in his career that makes him worthy of being in this discussion.

It gets complicated because it’s not just a case of Ilya Kovalchuk deciding to go back to the KHL and making it difficult to compare his numbers to his peers in the NHL. Makarov was playing in the Soviet Union at a time where it wasn’t just a question of “Do you want to play in Russia or in the NHL?” If this is truly the Hockey Hall of Fame, Makarov should find his way in.

Makarov was dominant in the Soviet Union and came to the NHL at age 31, becoming the oldest player to ever win the Calder Trophy, in 1990 when he was also named to the All-Rookie Team, and was part of the reason that there is now an age restriction on winning the Calder.

His career was heavily weighted toward time in the Soviet Union, having played 11 seasons in his prime between CSKA Moscow and the Soviet National Team, then seven seasons in the NHL.

His NHL stats are hard to rank. He was good and he made an impact, but he also entered the league at 31 and that makes it difficult to judge his NHL scoring rates too harshly. One indication of how good he was in the NHL, outside of his prime, he maintained a 32.3% shooting percentage through 78 games in his rookie year, ultimately scoring 24 goals and 62 points. Through his seven-year career he shot over 20% three times.

Non-NHL Accomplishments:

The debate over Makarov is kind of a referendum on, in the men’s player category, this being the Hockey Hall of Fame and not the NHL Hall of Fame. Makarov’s international resume outside the NHL is very substantial.

Makarov won Olympic gold in 1984 and 1988, won World Championship gold eight times, won gold at World Juniors twice and won the Canada Cup in 1981. If you’re searching for the full pile, he also has one Olympic silver from 1980, a World Championship silver in 1987 and two World Championship bronze medals.

For personal honors he was named to the World Championship All-Star Team eight times, was named Best Player at the World Championship in 1985, was named the Soviet Union’s Player of the Year three times, was a Soviet All-Star nine times, lead the Soviet league in scoring nine times and was an All-Star in the 1984 Canada Cup.

In 145 international games (Olympics, World Championships, Canada Cup) he averaged 1.19 points per game.

He was also given the high honor of being inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2001 and was named to the IIHF Centennial Team, an honor given to just six players in the game. Wayne Gretzky, Vladislav Tretiak, Viacheslav Fetisov, Börje Salming, and Valeri Kharlamov are the others. Makarov is the only player from the Centennial Team that is not in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Why He Shouldn’t Get In:

While it’s not the NHL Hall of Fame, obviously a player’s performance in the NHL is given serious consideration. The comparison of the very understood quantity of the NHL and Soviet leagues, where most voters never played, could be problematic. His NHL totals trail off rather quickly, which may lead some casual observers to think that his skill didn’t translate. That’s inaccurate. His talent clearly did translate and the trailing off of his point totals should largely be looked at as a factor of age.

For those who weigh the Stanley Cup in this situation, Makarov did not win it, but he’d probably point you to his 7,000 pounds of international medals as proof that he’s got a pretty solid record of team success.

The NHL-slant is the biggest hurdle standing in his way.

Verdict:

He wouldn’t be the first Soviet player who was inducted based on international track record as much as NHL appearances, like Vladislav Tretiak, Igor Lariaonov and Viacheslav Fetisov. But I think that it’s time a couple more of the Red Army guys got their due.

This should be a knock out. Makarov is due. He is one of the greats and should take his place among them. His inclusion on the centennial team is proof.

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