COMMENTARY: On October 26, Montreal Gazette writer Dave Stubbs wrote a story on former Los Angeles Kings goaltender Rogie Vachon, “Honour Overdue For Ex-Habs Goalie Vachon.” To provide more of a Los Angeles Kings angle to the Vachon story, I decided to spruce up, update and re-publish a story I wrote way back in March, 1998 about Vachon, who should have been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame years ago, but remains on the outside looking in.
LOS ANGELES — Compared to many of today’s goalies who are six feet tall or more, former Los Angeles Kings’ superstar goalie Rogie Vachon is small by comparison, probably around 5-7 (I’m 5-9 and I am taller than Vachon). But despite his relatively small physical stature, Vachon’s place among National Hockey League goalies, past and present, looms large. Based on his performance throughout his sixteen-year NHL career, Vachon is clearly among the elite.
So why, then, has he not been elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame (HHOF)?
When you look closely at the numbers, Vachon certainly deserves to be enshrined among his peers. No one can deny that he was one of the great goalies to ever play the game. Consider that:
In 1998, Vachon was fifth all-time in career wins with 355. Only Glenn Hall (407), Tony Esposito (423), Jacques Plante (434) and former Kings’ goalie Terry Sawchuk (447) had more (all are honored members of the HHOF). Twelve HHOF goalies had fewer wins than Vachon.
Vachon is now sixteenth all-time in career wins, as the likes of Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur, Grant Fuhr, Dominik Hasek and others have passed him. Nevertheless, of the 15 netminders who have won more games than Vachon, only Roy and Fuhr have joined the four goalies mentioned above who are ahead of Vachon in wins and have been inducted into the HHOF.
Nine other goalies who are in the top forty all-time in career wins are honored members of the HHOF despite the fact that Vachon ranks ahead of them. Several other HHOF netminders are not even among the top all-time leaders in wins.
In 1998, Vachon was seventeenth all-time in shutouts with 51. Seven HHOF goalies (Frances Brimsek, John Bower, Gerry Cheevers, Ken Dryden, William Durnen, Billy Smith and Lorne “Gump” Worsley) had fewer shutouts than Vachon.
Today, Vachon is tied for twentieth all-time in shutouts, while Brimsek, Bower, Cheevers, Dryden, Durnen, Smith and Worsley have all been bumped off the list. Indeed, a good bunch of goalies who are honored members of the HHOF are no longer on the all-time shutouts list while Vachon remains.
Vachon also won three Stanley Cups while he played for the Montreal Canadiens (1967-68, 1968-69 and 1970-71). He is a Vezina Trophy winner, having won the award in 1968, sharing it with Worsley, his teammate with the Canadiens. Vachon was also the Vezina runner-up to Philadelphia Flyers great Bernie Parent in 1975. Many have said he should have won the award that season, when he led the league in save percentage (.926) and was second in goals-against average (2.24).
Vachon twice was named as a second-team NHL All-Star (the end-of-the-season honor, not for the mid-season all-star game), in 1974-75 and 1976-77. That same year, he was the named as a first-team All-Star by The Hockey News and The Sporting News.
While he was with the Kings, Vachon was named to the mid-season All-Star team three times (1973, 1975 and 1978). In 1974-75, Vachon and Bobby Orr were the only unanimous selections to the All-Star Game.
Vachon was also named The Hockey News Player of the Year that same season and was runner-up to Flyers star forward Bobby Clarke for the NHL’s Most Valuable Player.
In international play, Vachon led Canada to victory in the 1976 Canada Cup tournament with a 1.39 goals-against average (GAA), a .963 save percentage and two shutouts in seven games. He was named as the best goalie of the tournament and the Most Valuable Player for Canada.
If you compare Vachon with the star goalies of the same era, Ken Dryden, Bernie Parent, Eddie Giacomin, Gerry Cheevers, Gump Worsley, Tony Esposito and Billy Smith, his numbers might surprise some. Vachon is:
- Third in games played. Only Esposito and Worsley played in more games.
- Second in wins. Only Esposito won more games.
- Fourth in shutouts. Only Giacomin, Parent and Esposito have more.
- Fifth in winning percentage. Only Giacomin, Esposito and Dryden were better.
He also led the NHL with a 1.42 GAA in the 1969 playoffs.
And while playing on Kings teams that were usually horrible, Vachon’s numbers were that much more impressive. He earned a 2.86 GAA with the Kings. During the 1974-75 season, he earned an even more impressive 2.24 GAA (a Kings record) and had a .926 save percentage.
The latter would be the Kings’ all-time record, but the league did not start keeping save percentage records until the 1982-83 season.
Vachon was 171-148-66 with 32 shutouts in 389 games with the Kings and was their Most Valuable Player for three straight seasons (1972-73 through 1974-75). If the NHL had started keeping save percentage records earlier, Vachon would lead the Kings in four of the five major statistical categories for goaltenders (games played, wins, shutouts, goals-against average and save percentage).
Vachon also faced six penalty shots while he played for the Kings, but never allowed a penalty shot goal while he wore the Kings’ “Forum Blue and Gold.”
After his playing days were over, Vachon continued to contribute to the Kings and the NHL. He has worked for the Kings in various capacities since he retired as a player:
- Assistant Coach, 1982-84
- General Manager, 1984-92
- Special Assistant to Chairman Bruce McNall, 1992-94
- Assistant to the President, 1994-95
- President, 1995-96
- Chief Hockey Operations Officer, 1996-97
Vachon also served as Vice President of Special Projects and as one of the team’s Royal Ambassadors.
One of Vachon’s most notable contributions was his role in bringing Wayne Gretzky to the Kings. Gretzky’s arrival in Southern California helped generate new interest in the Kings and hockey in general in the Western United States, which has resulted in new teams in San Jose and Anaheim, not to mention the moves of established franchises to places where no one ever dreamed hockey would be popular, such as Dallas and Phoenix.
Former Kings great and HHOF honored member Marcel Dionne said that the Kings must push to get Vachon into the HHOF.
“The organization’s got to get behind this,” Dionne stressed on August 29, 2009, during the Kings’ Hockeyfest 09 event. “It’s a political thing. If you look at the research, [Vachon’s] stats are as good as some of the guys who are elected.”
“I noticed some [prior HHOF inductees] that are political choices,” Dionne noted. “So you’ve got to get behind it. You have to make some phone calls and [go through the process]. You have to put pressure on them.”
After 36 years of following the Kings, I can say that Rogie Vachon is one the biggest reasons why I became hooked on hockey.
I remember watching Vachon in the nets whenever I was at the Fabulous Forum for a game or when I watched the few televised games on KHJ-TV 9 here in Los Angeles way back in the mid-Seventies. Vachon was usually spectacular and since he played mostly for teams that were awful, he was a real standout. Vachon’s quickness, positional play, and ability to remain focused appeared to be his biggest strengths.
Indeed, Vachon was so good, he often won games all by himself. I know many other long-time Kings’ fans who went to games just to see Vachon play. To them, he was incredible. He dominated games, night in and night out.
I have vivid memories of him making, not just the first save, but often the second, third and fourth saves as well, time and time again. Of course, that was because he usually had little to no help from the Kings’ skaters. But the frustration in the faces of opposing forwards after Vachon had stoned them after a flurry in front of the Kings’ net, was a frequent sight.
And in the days when players were nowhere where near as big as they are today and when goalies did not wear the oversized equipment that came into play in recent years, Vachon’s skill and competitive spirit is all that much more impressive.
Because of his great ability and his dedication, Vachon was truly a fan favorite here in Southern California. He often got the loudest cheers when he was introduced and he certainly deserved the few accolades he received while he played for the Kings in obscurity—in a town where hockey has been mostly an afterthought compared to the other major professional and collegiate sports.
Certainly, Vachon was a bona fide NHL superstar, but playing in Los Angeles where NHL games were hardly ever on television back then, let alone in Eastern Time Zone cities because of the three-hour time difference, he never got the exposure that most other star players received.
Of course, there was no cable or satellite television when Vachon toiled on the ice of the Fabulous Forum. Versus and the NHL Network were still many years away, as was NHL Center Ice. In short, unless you were in Southern California, you probably did not see Vachon on television at all.
Based on his record, Vachon would certainly have received much more consideration for election to the HHOF in years past if people in the Eastern Time Zone, where the vast majority of the NHL teams were located at the time and still are, for that matter, could have seen him play more frequently. It is quite clear that Vachon’s bid to be elected to the HHOF was adversely affected by an acute lack of exposure to fans and hockey pundits alike.
Vachon’s case for induction into the hallowed halls of the Hockey Hall of Fame remains as strong as it was eleven years ago when he was passed over by the HHOF Selection Committee yet again. It is a shame that he has not been inducted. Indeed, it is unjust and is an utter travesty that should be rectified post haste.
The Hockey Hall of Fame accepts letters from interested parties (including fans) nominating people for possible induction. You can send letters and supporting documentation to:
Selection Committee Co-Chair
Hockey Hall of Fame
30 Yonge St.
Toronto, ON M5E 1X8
- Montreal Gazette (no longer available): “Honour Overdue For Ex-Habs Goalie Vachon”
- Time For Hall To Include Rogie
- Why Isn’t Rogie Vachon in the Hall of Fame?
- Building A Case For Rogie Vachon’s Inclusion In The Hockey Hall Of Fame
- THN.com Blog: Making a case for Rogie Vachon
- Rogie Vachon Speaks About Career, Hall Exclusion
- Butch Goring Was The LA Kings’ First Star, Fan Favorite
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