I've often been critical of the decisions of NHL decision-makers in seasons past. But I have found myself being generally less and less critical of their moves and choices in recent seasons (and as my last post shows, it is clear that their perspectives have certainly changed over time). I think NHL teams collectively have a much better sense of the value of goaltending and what makes a good goalie than ever before.
I don't think the general managers from two decades ago were stupid. I do think quite a few of them were uninformed, unaware of the importance of objective analysis of goaltenders and focusing instead on the things that tradition dictated were important (like winning). I'm making that claim based on award voting and based on the number of bad goalies and washed-up veterans that kept getting NHL jobs long after they were deserving of them.
The same logic applies to Hall of Fame voters. I've gotten into a few discussions about the Hall of Fame, both here and in other places, and when people ask me if I think certainly goalies will end up being elected, I generally say that I really don't know. I do know what kind of voting patterns have existed in the past, but I don't think that those historical rules remain valid given how perceptions have changed enough over the past two decades.
Just because the voters may have overvalued Cups and wins in the past does not mean they are guaranteed to do so until the end of time. Some may have that kind of negative, defeatist approach when discussing the really borderline Hall of Famers, but I think that's unfair to the voting group because it implies they haven't learned anything over the last 20 years, and the progression of Vezina voting makes it absolutely clear that hockey insiders have in fact learned some lessons.
Every goalie now up for voting has an entire career's worth of official save percentage numbers and an entire career's worth of Vezina voting done by the league's general managers. Even though it's almost been three decades since those changes were introduced, Ed Belfour was just the second Hall of Fame goalie who played his entire career in the official save percentage and modern Vezina eras, joining Patrick Roy. Both Belfour and Roy would have been slam-dunk picks in any year, and therefore are hardly litmus tests for how the Hall factors in these new developments. We simply have not seen how much those two things have changed the game in terms of rating goalie careers. As such, any attempt to use prior voting results to predict how the voters rate future HOF goalie candidates is probably little more than guesswork.
I know for sure that there is at least one member on the Hall of Fame committee who doesn't care about goalie wins. A long time ago I linked an article by HOF member Michael Farber in which he quoted fellow HOF voter Serge Savard as saying that goalie was not the most important position, since in almost all cases teams make the goalie, rather than the other way around.
In the past a guy like Scotty Bowman may well have been a traditionalist and rated goalies based on wins, I don't know. But he was there when the Red Wings waived Chris Osgood, and he remains a special advisor to the Chicago Blackhawks, who turfed out their Stanley-Cup-winning netminder to save a few bucks. Seems pretty clear he's either been overruled multiple times by his team's management, or else Bowman is using evidence other than merely wins and Cups to rate goalies. If he's able to do that while helping to run a team, there's no reason he shouldn't apply the same logic when debating Hall of Fame candidates.
Any of the currently active writers or broadcasters on the committee have to be aware that teams are spending less money on goaltending, that mediocre goalies are winning Cups, and that save percentage is being used more than ever to rank and rate goalies. With less of a tradition of rating goalies based on winning in Europe, it's also possible that the two European voters would be more open to rating goalies who were good but not "winners" ahead of average goalies with terrific teammates.
All this is pure guesswork, of course, and the secretive nature of the Hall's election process means that we really have little evidence to go on. Maybe Mike Vernon fell one vote short last year, maybe nobody even mentioned his name, I don't know, but it is at least a positive sign that nobody has voted him in yet, and there doesn't seem to be a huge groundswell of support to get that to happen any time soon. I do think over the next few years we will have a lot better idea of how the Hall rates modern goalies. Perhaps surprisingly to some I am actually fairly optimistic that they are going to get the choices more right than wrong, although only time will tell on that one.