Every year, former Dallas Stars defenseman Sergei Zubov gets talked about as a perpetual Hall of Fame snub, but Jere Lehtinen‘s name doesn’t come up nearly as much.
It’s relatively common for sports teams to have a rule that they won’t retire anyone’s number unless they’re in the Hall of Fame. The Dallas Stars have no such rule, written or unwritten.
The Stars hung Lehtinen’s number in the rafters at the AAC last fall without him being named to the Hall of Fame, but only one of the other four retired numbers belongs to a player with that honor: Mike Modano’s 9.
Modano was an easy and obvious choice for the Hall, getting in on his first ballot. As for the others, their cases vary. Bill Masterton is obviously a unique situation. Bill Goldsworthy led the North Stars in goals and points, but he doesn’t have a very good case.
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Neal Broten has the best chance of the three, but still not great. He’s got a Cup, he won the Hobey Baker and the Lester Patrick trophies, and he was part of the 1980 Miracle on Ice team. He’s been honored by the US Hall of Fame, but that’s probably the best he’ll get.
Lehtinen’s resume is the most impressive of the non-Modano group. In addition to his Cup win with the Stars in 1999, he won three Selke trophies and was a finalist three other years. His defensive play was absolutely outstanding with the Stars and he was a key member of the core.
In addition to his NHL success, Lehtinen has decent international work on his resume. He never won Olympic gold, but he does have three bronzes and a silver, one of just six players with four Olympic medals. He’s also got a gold and three silvers from Worlds. This year, he was even inducted into a different Hall: the IIHF Hall of Fame.
His career checks off most of the boxes discussed for Hall of Famers. He’s had team success with the 1999 Cup win. He’s had individual success with his Selke wins. He’s had international success with his Olympic medals.
One of the only things that someone could try to argue as lacking on his resume is his offensive production. That person would be wrong, but for argument’s sake, let’s consider it. He was at 0.59 points per game over his fourteen-year career. That’s not incredibly impressive, but he started playing after the 1994-95 lockout, which is generally agreed upon as the start of the dead puck era. He then proceeded to play through the worst offensive years of the NHL, which still isn’t back to where it was in the 1980s though it has improved.
However, high offensive numbers are something that the Hall of Fame committee loves to see, and it’s definitely something that tends to skew their favor towards a player. Only four other players have three or more Selkes in the history of the trophy. Of those four, two aren’t eligible for the Hall of Fame yet (Pavel Datsyuk and Patrice Bergeron), one isn’t in yet but should be (Guy Carbonneau), and the other is already in the Hall (Bob Gainey). The idea of Datsyuk or Bergeron not eventually making it in may sound crazy to some fans, but two-way forwards just don’t tend to fare quite as well with the selection committee.
It also hurts Lehtinen’s case that he was underrated league-wide. It’s crazy to say a guy with three major awards was underrated, but he was.
It wasn’t shocking when the Stars retired Lehtinen’s number last fall. The only potential surprise is that it took them so long to do it, because fans knew it would happen. He was instrumental in the team’s success for years and he earned that honor.
Now, fans will have to wait and see if he makes it into the Hall of Fame at some point. He should be in, but there’s a lot of other good choices waiting for the call. Zubov is high on that list of waiting players, and even if he does make it into the Hall, it may be a long wait for Lehtinen.