Inside the NHL
We’ve seen Seattle-centric lobby campaigns to push players into a Hall of Fame, especially the one that recently paid off in baseball for Mariners great Edgar Martinez.
But here’s something different: A Seattle push to get a player into the Hockey Hall of Fame nearly a century after this city last had a major professional team in the sport.
Not only that, but the player, former Seattle Metropolitans center Bernie Morris, died 56 years ago in Bremerton. Nonetheless, Morris is getting a posthumous push by Queen Anne author Kevin Ticen, whose recent book “When it Mattered Most: The Forgotten Story of America’s first Stanley Cup’’ chronicles the 1917 championship exploits of Morris and his Metropolitans of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA).
“I think his story is pretty compelling,’’ Ticen said after a reading last week at Elliott Bay Book Company in Capitol Hill. “He already had a strong Hall of Fame case to begin with and he effectively lost two full seasons to things completely outside his control.”
Morris, who played major pro hockey from 1914-1925, had the biggest impact on the Metropolitans’ 1917 Stanley Cup victory with a club-high 37 goals, 17 assists and 54 points that season, before scoring 14 times in the finals against Montreal. He is the franchise’s all-time leader in assists with 73 and second in goals with 148 and points with 221 behind Hall of Fame teammate Frank Foyston.
Onetime University of Washington varsity catcher Ticen, a former Anaheim Angels farmhand, doesn’t need any primers on Martinez’s baseball career and agreed on similarities with Morris. Both hailed from elsewhere — Morris from Manitoba and Martinez from Puerto Rico — but settled here after retiring from sports.
Each had borderline “counting stats” when it came to reaching accepted Hall-worthy milestones of their era, but above average “rate stats” in their per-game production. Both were often overshadowed by shoo-in Hall of Fame teammates — Martinez by Ken Griffey Jr. and Ichiro and Morris by Foyston and Jack Walker.
And they each lost significant playing time to events beyond their control.
Ticen last week described for the reading event’s attendees how Morris was imprisoned for Army desertion ahead of the ill-fated 1919 Stanley Cup Final, likely costing Seattle another title over Montreal in a tied series cancelled with one game left because of Spanish influenza. Morris had claimed that, as a Canadian citizen, he wasn’t in Washington to receive his draft summons but was subsequently arrested after testifying at his 1919 divorce proceedings he’d resided here full-time.
By the time things were resolved and Morris released, his 1919-2020 season was a writeoff. Morris had also been suspended for the 1913-14 season because of an eligibility dispute, which helped keep the seven-time PCHA all-star’s career stats at borderline Hall levels.
Throw in a lack of popularity due to his somewhat tormented nature and few were championing the onetime orphan’s Hall cause.
“I don’t think anyone blocked him,” Ticen said. “I just don’t think anyone pushed for him to get in.”
The majority of pre-1940s players were enshrined the first 15 years of the Hall’s existence starting in 1945. A handful more previously overlooked candidates were added in a “veteran players” category from 1986-2000 — with Roy Conacher in 1998 the last whose career began in the 1930s. Now, all players regardless of era are considered from the same candidates pool and none who began pre-1955 has been enshrined since Dick Duff in 2006.
Ticen recently sent Hall officials a Morris packet that will eventually be forwarded to an 18-member selection committee of former players, hockey officials and media members. Worth noting: One committee member is NHL Seattle general manager Ron Francis.
“I would assume that would be a little unusual,” Francis said of electing a player from a century ago. “And the challenge with the older stuff is you don’t have a whole lot of video, so you’re just going off a lot of the stats. But you never know.”
Each member can nominate a single male or female player for consideration when the committee meets for voting next June. Nominated players then need 14 of 18 votes for enshrinement.
In his Morris submission, Ticen compared the top 41 point-getters from the early-century PCHA, NHL, National Hockey Association and West Coast Hockey League during years they competed for the Stanley Cup. Morris’ “counting stats” were 17th in goals (174), 15th in assists (85) and 16th in points (259) – his points total equal or greater to 12 Hall of Famers from that era.
Of the top-21 point-getters, only Morris and No. 10 Odie Cleghorn are not enshrined.
But “rate stats’’ are where Morris shines, jumping to 6th in goals per game average, 4th in assists per game and 5th in points per game. Everybody ahead of Morris is a Hall of Famer, as are numerous others trailing him.
Ticen even borrowed from the “Edgar for the Hall’’ playbook by arguing how Morris might have fared if not for his two lost seasons. Martinez, of course, lost production by the Mariners keeping him in the minors until age 27.
Inputting Morris’ average yearly numbers to two additional seasons, Ticen showed how he could have ranked 11th in goals (210), sixth in assists (103) and eighth in overall points (313) — surpassing the era’s 200-goal, 100-assist and 300-points thresholds for which enshrinement was considered automatic.
So, we’ll see whether Morris becomes the first pre-1930s player inducted since Bun Cook in 1995.
“With all the bad things that went against him,” Ticen said, “It would be neat to see him up there with some of the all-time greats.”