Yesterday was a celebratory day for the Los Angeles Kings family, but even more so for Rogie Vachon personally who, after 31 years, finally received the call that he was to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Vachon joins a short list of inductees this year which includes Eric Lindros, Sergei Makarov and one-time Kings head coach, the late Pat Quinn. Yet, while the Kings community rejoiced Vachon’s long overdue honour, not everyone shared the same enthusiasm.
Ken Campbell of The Hockey News had questioned the Hockey Hall of Fame’s decision to induct Vachon, noting that while they had “ignored Vachon’s brilliance for three decades,” the Hall of Fame should be reserved for “the truly great players” and “not just the very good ones”.
Campbell also noted that Vachon will figuratively be placed in the Hall’s so-called Bob Pulford–Clark Gillies–Dick Duff–Bernie Federko wing, very possibly insinuating that, in addition to the Kings legend, the inductions of the four aforementioned should also be disputed. Most notably, however, Campbell said of the Hall of Fame’s selection committee, “It is simply unable to resist the urge to act like an old boys’ network,” noting that it’s made up of “18 white guys” and the youngest of the members being 50 years old. Yet, while the selection committee may or may not have chosen Vachon because he’s a part of their generation, if you will, it is worth noting that of the 30 NHL players inducted between 2007 and 2015, only Mark Howe played professionally before 1980. In fact, among the other 29, in addition to Howe, only Dino Ciccarelli and Ron Francis played while Vachon was still active — and they both started their NHL careers during the penultimate and final season respectively of the netminder’s career.
Campbell also pointed out that, prior to the 1967 Stanley Cup Final, former Toronto Maple Leafs coach Punch Imlach referred to Vachon as a “Jr. B goalie,” which, with all due respect, is grossly inaccurate. After all, as respected a figure and as smart a hockey mind as Imlach was, he was nonetheless wrong about Vachon. The netminder would go on to win two Stanley Cups — albeit in limited roles — and the Vezina Trophy before moving on to the Los Angeles Kings where he became an all-star and a franchise player. Vachon was even named Team Canada‘s MVP at the 1976 Canada Cup for his stellar play in goal. So, while that may not be relevant when it comes to Hall of Fame voting, it was Vachon who earned the role of Canada’s No. 1 man in between the pipes, not Ken Dryden, not Bernie Parent, and not Tony Esposito — all of whom, by the way, are Hall-of-Famers, and deservedly so.
Vachon was a truly great player and not just a “very good” one. He may not have been among the greatest to ever play the game but Vachon’s 355 wins ranks him 19th on the NHL’s all-time list, his 51 shutouts put him in a tie for 23rd all-time, his 795 games played are good enough for 16th all-time and he finished his career with a goals-against average of just under 3. Yet, while his overall success in the NHL makes him a Hall-of-Famer, his contributions to the Los Angeles Kings should especially be noted. What he meant as a player — and even later as a general manager — to the organization speaks for itself as his prowess in goal helped turn average Kings teams into good ones and good teams into great ones. In fact, nearly four decades after ending his tenure with the Kings, fans in Los Angeles still revere the man who brought them so much, and understandably so. In fact, in recent years when Jonathan Quick passed Vachon on the club’s all-time wins and shutouts list, it was just as much as a celebration of Vachon’s legacy as it was of Quick’s accomplishments. His No. 30 was the first to be retired by the organization and, like his other achievements, that is no fluke.
Perhaps there were others who were just as deserving to get the call on Monday, but nonetheless, this is Rogie Vachon’s time. This writer is only saddened that Vachon’s wife, Nicole, who passed away earlier this year, could not be here to celebrate this. Nevertheless, there should be no dispute of the decision to have Rogie Vachon inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
So, while skeptics may continue to make excuses or even going as far as making conspiracy theories, no one will be able to deny Mr. Vachon taking his rightful place in Toronto on Monday, November 14, for that will be when he makes his overdue, but deserved, entrance into hockey immortality.