It’s a story that repeats every year around this time, and 2020 is no different. Once again, Buffalo Sabres great Alexander Mogilny has been snubbed the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee and will not be inducted into the HHOF just yet.
The biggest question here is…. Why in the world not?
Mogilny is more than deserving of the Hall of Fame nod. He’s been eligible since 2009 (players must have been retired for at least three years), so this year marks his 12th year of eligibility.
Year after year, others get selected ahead of him, and it’s honestly hard to make sense of it.
Before we go into further detail regarding why the Russian superstar is worthy of entering the HHOF, here’s an alphabetical list of male players who have been inducted since 2009, when Mogilny first became eligible. This isn’t intended to imply that any of these players are more or less deserving that Mogilny himself, but it’s important to get the full scope of things, including taking into consideration some recency bias:
- Adam Oates
- Alexander Yakushev
- Brendan Shanahan
- Brett Hull
- Brian Leetch
- Chris Chelios
- Chris Pronger
- Dave Andreychuk
- Dino Ciccarelli
- Dominik Hasek
- Doug Gilmour
- Doug Wilson (2020)
- Ed Belfour
- Eric Lindros
- Guy Carbonneau
- Jarome Iginla (2020)
- Joe Nieuwendyk
- Joe Sakic
- Kevin Lowe (2020)
- Luc Robitaille
- Marian Hossa (2020)
- Mark Howe
- Mark Recchi
- Martin Brodeur
- Martin St. Louis
- Mats Sundin
- Mike Modano
- Nicklas Lidstrom
- Paul Kariya
- Pavel Bure
- Peter Forsberg
- Phil Housley
- Rob Blake
- Rogie Vachon
- Scott Niedermayer
- Sergei Fedorov
- Sergei Makarov
- Sergei Zubov
- Steve Yzerman
- Teemu Selanne
- Vaclav Nedomasky
With 289 players in the HHOF (including the 2020 class), it’s also worth looking at the nationality breakdown of those inducted. About 88% of the players inducted have Canadian citizenship, or dual Canadian citizenship with another country. While hockey is often heralded as Canada’s game, the fact that there is so little representation from other countries is still mind-boggling.
There are 14 American players in the Hall of Fame, but more relevant to Mogilny, there are nine players from either Russia or the Soviet Union. That’s nine out of 289, a measly three percent of those inducted.
Annually, only four players are selected to be inducted – but let’s keep in mind, that number is really arbitrary. It’s a number that was determined by a selection committee, and in all reality, there’s nothing stopping them from deciding to induct five players in one year. The rules are literally made up and can be broken if they really want to. Just look at the three-year eligibility rule that’s been waived numerous times over the years for players who are considered “especially notable,” such as Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky. The rules are made up and can be broken or changed if they really want to.
At any rate….
If there is *any* player from Russia or the Soviet Union who deserves to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, it’s Alexander Mogilny.
First and foremost, he took an incredible and important leap when he defected from the Soviet Union to come to North America to play in the NHL. That bold, risky move opened the door for players from his country to join the NHL, a move that is still paying dividends to the league and the hockey world at large to this day.
According to a NY Times article that was published around the time of his defection:
“Soviet officials denounced the defection. They accused the Sabres of ‘’piracy’’ and portrayed Mogilny as a money-hungry ingrate who had long been regarded as a pariah by his teammates.
‘’This player showed by his action that it’s not happenstance that he didn’t have friends among his contemporaries on the team, that he was a person of secret intentions,’’ the Soviet national coach, Viktor Tikhonov, told Tass, the Soviet press agency.
The coach said that before leaving for the world championships, Mogilny, a junior lieutenant in the Soviet Army, asked the authorities for a better apartment because he planned to marry. There were also reports he had recently been fined a month’s salary, stripped of his Master of Sports decoration and suspended for 10 games for fighting, an unusual offense in Soviet hockey.”
Mogilny, who was the youngest Soviet hockey player to win an Olympic gold medal, reportedly “slipped away from a victory banquet in Stockholm on Wednesday night and failed to show up for the team flight back to Moscow.”
Instead, he drove around Sweden and eventually flew to the US with Gerry Meehan and Don Luce of the Sabres. If you haven’t read more about Mogilny’s story, I certainly recommend it. Reading about how they had to evade Soviet officials, switch hotels on a regular basis to avoid being found, etc. really adds to the magnitude of the story.
He was only 20 years old, and the gall it would take, in that climate, for a player of any age and his skill level, to do what Mogilny did is unfathomable. It was about much more than just sports; it was a political move as well, and its importance can’t be overstressed. It meant leaving his country, leaving his family, and not knowing if he would ever be able to return or see them again.
And then, of course, there was hockey to be played.
Mogilny was an absolute superstar on the ice. He made his NHL debut later that year after his defection, and scored just 20 seconds into his first shift. It was a fitting beginning for his career, which began with the Sabres but also saw him suit up with the Vancouver Canucks, New Jersey Devils and Toronto Maple Leafs.
After Pat Lafontaine suffered an injury early in the 1993-94 season, Mogilny was named captain of the Sabres, becoming the first Russian captain in NHL history. He held that honor until the end of that season. Overall, in six years with the Sabres, Mogilny recorded 444 points in just 381 games, including 211 goals. He was a superstar sniper, known for his skill and speed, and his offensive abilities were nearly unmatched. Scoring 76 goals and 127 points in 77 games is an incredible feat even in today’s NHL.
Following his time in Buffalo, Mogilny spent a few seasons with the Canucks, before heading back east to New Jersey and Toronto. He won the Stanley Cup with the Devils in 2000, and eventually retired in 2007 due to hip issues.
Overall, his NHL career saw him accrue 1,032 points in 990 games, including 473 goals. He scored 66 game-winning tallies and put 2,966 shots on net.
Aside from his impact in the NHL and on the ice in North America, Mogilny also won three international gold medals (1988 Olympic, 1989 World Championship, 1989 World Juniors). Following Mogilny’s defection in 1989, several other notable future NHLers would defect, including Petr Nedved and Sergei Fedorov.
If you have 23 minutes to spare, I’d recommend watching this 2014 video story from Sportsnet on Mogilny’s defection:
It’s really difficult to read Mogilny’s story, watch his on-ice play and page through his stats, and *not* wonder why in the world he isn’t already in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
While being in the HHOF isn’t everything, it’s a notable honor and one he certainly deserves. Unfortunately, 2020 isn’t going to be his year – but there’s always 2021.