Winning Does Not Equal Greatness

Posted: February 25, 2011 in Hockey, Sports
Tags: , , , ,

No offense to Henri Richard, but his 11 Stanley Cup victories (an NHL record, by the way) isn’t going to help him overshadow his older brother any time soon.

‘Henri?’ you might ask.

Yes, Henri Richard, whose most famous accomplishment is being the brother of a certain Maurice “The Rocket” Richard.

He’s just one example of why winning championships, or even playing in championship games, in team sports does not make you a great player.  Some others that make this list include NFLers such as Charles Haley, Don Beebe, and Gale Gilbert and NBA players Robert Horry, Steve Kerr, and Derek Fisher.

Championships are a sign of success, with the assumption being that if a player is on a championship team – or better yet a key player on a championship team – then that player is automatically great.

But the list shown above tells us otherwise.  Haley, despite winning 5 Super Bowls, could never be considered to be a better player than Reggie White, for instance.  Horry and Fisher will always be remembered by who they played with, having ridden the coattails of sure-fire Hall Of Famers Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson, and Tim Duncan.

The moral is that teams win championships, not players.  Each of Bryant, O’Neal, Robinson, and Duncan were great NBA players irrespective of whether or not they ever played in an NBA final.  However, to win those championships, they needed the help of role players like Horry or Fisher.  As a group they were able to win multiple times and each had their own part to play.

It all seems straightforward, right?  Don’t call players great just based on whether or not their team is winning.

Apparently not.

Every year players receive awards on the basis that they are the best player on the best team.  For example, to win the NBA’s MVP award, your team had better be one of the top 5 or 6 teams in the league.  Very rarely does a player buck the trend and win it on a losing or even just over .500 team.

But that’s not what bugs me the most in this situation as often a top team is a top team in a given season because of some outstanding individual displays from its players.  And those individual displays should be rewarded.

What bugs me the most is when, at the end of a player’s career, the greatness of their career is judged on how many games or championships their teams have won.  After all, no one would call Henri Richard the greater of the Richard brothers just because he won 11 titles to Maurice’s 8.

Let’s take the case of Dominik Hasek as another example.  Hasek, a former Buffalo Sabres and Detroit Red Wings legend, won 2 Stanley Cups and 389 regular season games over his career.  These “win numbers” put him quite a ways behind other goaltenders of his era such as Martin Brodeur (3 Cups, 600+ wins) and Patrick Roy (4 Cups, 551 wins).

On these considerations, Hasek would not even be in the conversation concerning the greatest goaltender of all-time.  However, if you consider what he has accomplished as a goaltender only in relation to the other two (both Brodeur and Roy are widely considered to be 2 of the top 5 goalies of all-time), then the conversation changes drastically.

Hasek has the best save percentage of any goalie in history with a .922 career mark.  His 81 shutouts place him between Brodeur (100+) and Roy (66) and his career 2.20 goals-against-average just edges Brodeur’s career mark of 2.21.  This is backed up by winning 6 Vezina Trophies for being the best goalie in a given NHL season and being the only goaltender to win multiple Hart Memorial Trophies as the league’s Most Valuable Player.  And all of this came during a career that was mostly spent with the middle-of-the-pack Buffalo Sabres, unlike Brodeur and Roy who played with consistently excellent teams.

From this information, we can firmly place Hasek amongst the greatest goalies of all-time.  He hasn’t won as many Cups, he hasn’t played on as good of teams, and his playing style can be compared to watching a freshly-caught fish writhe around on dry land, but the numbers don’t lie.

As such, Hasek is an example of why we shouldn’t place stock in championships or wins in team sports.  When we do so we risk giving credit to some great players who never got the chance to play on a championship-worthy team.

If you still disagree, explain to me why Peyton Manning is one of the greatest NFL quarterbacks even though he has only won a single Super Bowl…


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