SUN Hockey Pool

Hall should consider Middleton

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:30 AM ET

Some of the best minds in hockey will lock themselves in a room today and hammer out a deal.

Don't get all excited. It won't have anything to do with a collective bargaining agreement but it will mean something even more precious to the player or players whose names make the cut.

We're talking about the meeting today of the members of the Hockey Hall of Fame's selection committee, who will have their work cut out in naming their 2005 inductee(s).

This is an unusual year in that there are no clear candidates among those freshly eligible. It could very well be a year when the committee takes care of some nagging unfinished business from years gone by.

The names that keep popping up are Dino Ciccarelli, Steve Larmer and Glenn Anderson, with a passing nod to Cam Neely. Any of those names would probably fit right in alongside the greats of the game.

From this vantage point, though, there is a name that resonates from a time when hockey was played in the manner that everyone currently in the game would like to duplicate. The 1980s have produced dozens of Hall of Famers but one who slipped through the cracks was Rick Middleton, a Toronto boy who was a heart and soul player for the Boston Bruins in an era when the Bruins never missed the playoffs.

The Sun's Lance Hornby ran Middleton's name past Harry Sinden, the Bruins longtime president and GM and also a selection committee member, yesterday.

"(Middleton) was nominated before," said Sinden. "Twice, I think. His statistics stand up pretty damn well."

And his chances?

"I don't know ... maybe in the future."

Which tells us that Middleton's name may not come up today. That lack of recognition probably is representative of Middleton's entire career. Despite the fact he was a magician with the puck and could feather a pass and was a goal-scorer's goal-scorer, he always seemed to elude the limelight. He played at a time dominated by the Islanders (Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, Denis Potvin; heck, even Clark Gillies beat Middleton in) or the Oilers (Gretzky and pals) or the residue of those great Canadiens teams of the 1970's.

The 1976 trade that brought him to Boston from the Rangers just two years into his career, in exchange for Ken Hodge, is considered one of the most lopsided in history. Hodge was at the end of his career and played only one season for the Rangers. Middleton became a Bruin mainstay for the next dozen years, three of which he was co-captain with Ray Bourque.

Perhaps what made Middleton less noticeable was that he was one of those rare offensive players who understood the importance of playing sound defence. What a concept. He was equally at home killing penalties as he was on the power play. With his skills, he probably could have been perennially among the league's leading scorers in an era that included some of the great scorers of all time.

Instead, while he scored plenty, he also excelled at one of those stats that nobody notices much: Plus/minus. For his career, Middleton was a plus-186.

So, today's lively discussion -- there are no holds barred, we're told, in this arena -- will probably centre upon other names.

You could throw a blanket over all of them. Ciccarelli had 1,160 points in 1,156 regular season games, plus 118 more points in 141 playoff contests. Larmer had 1012 points in 1,006 games. Anderson was just under a point per game for his 1,129 games but was a superb playoff performer.

Middleton? He had 988 points in 1,005 games and 100 more in 114 playoff games.

In fact, had Middleton not had the misfortune of being struck in the head by a puck during a Bruins practice in 1986, he probably would have surpassed them all. The concussion he suffered at the time forced him out for the rest of the season. He played only two more years in Boston after that, finishing his career with a season in Switzerland.

When he played, Middleton's nickname was "Nifty." That would describe exactly how we would feel about the Hall revisiting his resume today.


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