Doug Wilson, Kevin Lowe proof that good things come to Hockey Hall of Fame-eligible players who wait … and wait

The Hockey Hall of Fame seems to be changing on the fly while catching up with the past.

The 18-member selection committee held its first virtual induction debate, complete with computerized voting, and emerged with six names that in some ways ignited a debate about what makes a hall-of-famer.

First-year eligibles Jarome Iginla and Marian Hossa were essentially slam dunks. Current Oilers GM Ken Holland, going in as a builder for his success in Detroit, was well deserved and Kim St-Pierre became the eighth female player in the hall and the first goalie from the women’s game.

But it was the other two selection — the long-overlooked Kevin Lowe and Doug Wilson — who stood out. You could make arguments for the likes of Daniel Alfredsson, Rod Brind’Amour, Alex Mogilny, Curtis Joseph, Keith Tkachuk and Theo Fleury. But they’ll have to wait, just like Lowe and Wilson did. Lowe retired in 1998, Wilson in 1993.

The selection committee, whose membership changes over time, viewed the two differently than previous committees.

“It’s not only that you have to get 14 of 18 votes, or 75 per cent of the vote,” said Lanny McDonald, chairman of the Hockey Hall of Fame. “But it’s also sometimes who you may be up against when you’re nominated that for that year … It’s just, sometimes it’s timing.”

Wilson’s wait lasted 24 years. He is perhaps better known to today’s generation of hockey fans as the general manager of the San Jose Sharks. But he goes back a long way, to rooming with Stan Mikita in his rookie year with the Chicago Blackhawks, and being a teammate of Bobby Orr.

“I’ve always looked at the hall of fame in awe,” said Wilson. “The Wayne Gretzkys, the Bobby Orrs, the Stan Mikitas. People of that level. So, when, something like this happens, it truly was unexpected.”

The 62-year-old Wilson has been eligible for induction since 1996. (Players must wait three years from their last game as a professional.) His 827 points (in 1,024 games played) are 11th among defencemen. He won the Norris Trophy in 1981-82.

“There are so many other players and people that I feel are deserving of this, at least equal or more than me. But the timing, really, I didn’t even think about it. I’ll be honest with you, it caught me off guard.”

Lowe is probably the last of the great Oilers dynasty of the 1980s who will be inducted. Six others from those years — Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Grant Fuhr, Paul Coffey and Glenn Anderson — are already in the Hall. Lowe’s No. 4 is expected to be retired in Edmonton this year.

It’s McDonald who called the recipients, meaning a Flame like McDonald had to give an Oiler like Lowe the good news.

“It was never fun to play against Kevin,” said McDonald. “We all knew he was the leader of the pack. Every time something happened — and we had plenty of battles between Edmonton and Calgary — Kevin Lowe was in the thick of it.

“What a day it is to be able to call him.”

Lowe was the first player the Oilers drafted when they joined the NHL in 1979. He said he didn’t even know Edmonton had joined the NHL. (Edmonton was one of four WHA cities to merge into the older league.)

“The goal was always about winning,” said Lowe. “I had to find my place within that team. We figured out the formula pretty well.”

The hall has been catching up with overlooked players for a while. Vaclav Nedomansky went into the hall in 2019, 36 years after becoming eligible. He was joined by Guy Carbonneau, who waited 16 years from the time of eligibility. Rogie Vachon went into the Hall in 2016, 31 years after becoming eligible.

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Now players like Alfredsson, who has been passed over four times, and Mogilny, passed over 11 times, have to wait.

“If I have any advice for anybody that’s on the cusp of perhaps going in someday, just hang in there,” said Lowe. “It’s all worth the wait.”

Said Wilson: “That’s an understatement.”

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