Olaf Kolzig is one of the all-time greats in Capitals' history, but was his career worthy of the Hockey Hall of Fame?
In an article published on ESPN.com Tuesday, Joe McDonald asked that very question. Though McDonald presents a lengthy argument in favor of Kolzig, he ultimately rules against it saying "one unsuccessful trip the Stanley Cup finals and one Vezina Trophy isn’t enough to get in."
The ESPN panel voted against Kolzig getting in. Are they right? Let's 'try' to take the Caps-colored glasses off and evaluate him objectively.
Kolzig certainly has earned consideration at the very least. Over an NHL career that spanned 17 seasons, Kolzig won a Vezina Trophy for the league's top goalie in 2000 and the King Clancy Memorial Trophy for leadership and humanitarian contribution in 2006. He played in two All-Star games and was named on the first NHL All-Star team for the 1999-00 season.
Kolzig also represented Germany in several international tournaments including two Winter Olympics. That is relevant for this discussion as the Hockey Hall of Fame considers "Playing ability, sportsmanship, character and contributions to his or her team or teams and to the game of hockey in general." Consideration is not limited only to NHL accomplishments.
But how does Kolzig stack up to other Hall of Fame goaltenders?
Comparing goalies of different eras does not paint an accurate picture, so let's look at some of Kolzig's contemporaries.
Three goalies have been inducted into the Hall of Fame since 2003:
Played from 1984 to 2003
Career save percentage .910, 2.54 GAA
Career postseason save percentage .918, 2.30 GAA
Won 3 Vezina Trophies, 5 William M. Jennings Trophies
Lead the NHL in wins twice, save percentage four times, GAA three times and shutouts three times
Won 4 Stanley Cups
Played from 1988 to 2007
Career save percentage .906, 2.50 GAA
Career postseason save percentage .920, 2.17 GAA
Won the Calder Memorial Trophy, 2 Vezina Trophies, 4 William M. Jennings Trophies
Lead the NHL in wins once, save percentage twice, GAA twice and shutouts four times
Won one Stanley Cup
Played from 1990 to 2008
Career save percentage .922, 2.20 GAA
Career postseason save percentage .925, 2.02 GAA
Won 6 Vezina Trophies, 3 William M. Jennings Trophies, 2 Ted Lindsay Awards, 2 Hart Memorial Trophies
Lead the NHL in wins once, save percentage six times, GAA twice and shutouts four times
Won 2 Stanley Cups
Played from 1989 to 2009
Career save percentage .906, 2.71 GAA
Career postseason save percentage .927, 2.14 GAA
Won 1 Vezina Trophy, 1 King Clancy Memorial Trophy
Did not win a Stanley Cup
To win a Stanley Cup championship, a team needs a solid goaltender. The majority of all great Cup teams had a solid backstop between the pipes. There are examples of the “one-hit wonders” who helped their team to a title, but the great ones are at their best when it counts the most. Kolzig led the Capitals to the Stanley Cup finals in 1998, but the Red Wings swept Washington in four straight.
That's not exactly fair. First, I take issue with the fact that winning a Stanley Cup is somehow a prerequisite for making the Hall of Fame. The best players elevate their teams, yes, but it seems a bit unfair to disqualify a player based on what is ultimately a team accomplishment especially given how much his career numbers improved in the playoffs. Hasek was past his prime when he won his two Stanley Cups and only appeared in four playoff games in his second run.
Second, anyone who watched the Caps during the Kolzig years knows that at times Kolzig was the only player keeping the team competitive. To say Kolzig did not elevate the team because they never won a Stanley Cup is simply incorrect.
The issue for Kolzig is not the team accomplishments, but the individual ones. He has only one Vezina to his name and never led the NHL in wins, save percentage, GAA or shutouts. He ultimately failed to establish himself within the league in the same way that Roy, Belfour and Hasek did during the same era.
Can you make an argument that Kolzig's charity work off the ice pushes him to the HOF threshold? He is after all the only one of the four listed above to receive the King Clancy Memorial Trophy awarded for leadership and humanitarian contributions.
While Kolzig was always very active within the community throughout his career, the main factor is still on-ice play. Kolzig was always great, but he never rose to what I would consider Hall of Fame great.
Kolzig certainly should be recognized and celebrated for what he accomplished in Washington, but even when you take Stanley Cups out of it, Kolzig's resume unfortunately just does not stack up.
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