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Hockey Hall of Fame needs to get it right and induct Sergei Gonchar already

The former Pens’ defensemen has been over-looked from hockey’s highest honor for too long

Stanley Cup Finals - Detroit Red Wings v Pittsburgh Penguins - Game Three Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

On Wednesday of this week the Hockey Hall of Fame committee is set to meet and announce who will be inducted in the 2023 class. They can induct up to four male players, and this year there is only one new candidate who is a slam dunk, sure fire, first ballot Hall of Famer (Henrik Lundqvist). That means they should be able to catch up with some overlooked players who have had to wait their turns too long.

Being overlooked and waiting has been a hallmark for Sergei Gonchar. Overshadowed by a golden era of defensemen, led by the incomparable Niklas Lidstrom, getting some attention has been tough for Gonchar. But no more, 2023 should be the year to put the deserving defender in.

As Adjusted Hockey’s Paul Pidutti wrote for Daily Faceoff:

Gonchar was second only to Lidstrom in games, goals, assists and points over his stellar 20-season career, complete with a Cup, two Olympic medals, and Norris votes on 10 occasions..

...

Want durability? Gonchar remained a top-20 NHL defenseman for 14 straight years. Every blueliner with 13+ seasons in the top 20 is in the HHOF.

Want consistently elite play? Gonchar stayed around the top 10 for a decade. Nine or more such seasons has a 100% HHOF induction rate, post-expansion.

Want all-world status? Gonchar had a cameo as the #1 defenseman in the NHL

Pidutti notes that post-expansion the Hall of Fame has disproportionately inducted forwards (61) compared to defensemen (25). Putting in Gonchar, who has been eligible for the HHOF but gone unelected for the last five years, would be balance that is past due.

The elephant in the room could end up being timing and Gonchar’s nationality. Understandably due to aggression in Ukraine, not many are in a hurry to embrace or celebrate anything Russian these days. Gonchar’s family lives in America, he’s been a coach in the NHL in his post-playing career and that ought to not be much of a concern, but in 2023 one never knows. Geopolitical issues aside, much like the also snubbed Alexander Mogilny, Gonchar should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame. He’s been waiting too long for the honor as it is and is a deserving candidate.

The best parts of Gonchar’s career individually was in the heart of the dead puck era. In the four seasons from 1999-03, Gonch scored 54 ES goals - almost 20 more than Lidstrom. Gonchar wasn’t much of the voter’s choice for year end awards due to narrative about his defending, but as Pittsburgh fans saw later in the decade he was perfectly passable against top competition in his prime.

The culmination of Gonchar’s career was his second act in Pittsburgh. After the mostly individual success in the first half of his playing time in Washington, Gonchar became the most important defenseman for the Penguins and came two wins away from the Stanley Cup in 2008, before helping to win it in 2009.

Off the ice, the impact can be difficult to measure but also immeasurable considering Gonchar and his family welcomed in Evgeni Malkin. A stranger in a strange land who didn’t grasp much of the culture or language at first, Malkin relied on Gonchar as an interpreter for coaches and teammates and leaned on him big time. It was on Malkin’s mind enough to dedicate his 2012 Hart Trophy to his countryman, mentor and friend in his acceptance speech.

In the end, Gonchar has the longevity, the career numbers - his 811 career points rank 18th highest all-time among blueliners in NHL history, he’s got the trophies with Olympic medals and his name on the Cup. (It’s actually there multiple times for his coaching, but only the playing career is being considered). It could easily be argued Gonchar’s impact and steady presence kept another Hall of Fame career in Malkin on the tracks. As has been insinuated, perhaps a homesick Malkin would have bailed on the NHL without Gonchar. Much like No 55’s mastery walking the blueline and firing a low hard shot on net, it’s time for the committee to fire away and put Sergei Gonchar in the 2023 class of the Hockey Hall of Fame.