James Duthie will stand in front of the Class of 2022 and almost all the important people in hockey, lending his voice and personality as host on Monday night of the Hockey Hall of Fame inductions.
A room full of Duthie admirers — most of whom are unaware that he, among others, is ineligible for Hall of Fame recognition.
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It is crazy when you think of it that way. Duthie is the premier sports broadcaster in Canada but under the current terms of the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award — the equivalent of Hall of Fame induction for a hockey broadcaster — he, like Dave Hodge, like Ron MacLean, is not eligible for election.
Some of the biggest names in the history of hockey broadcasting can’t be considered for Hall of Fame recognition because they don’t do play-by-play or colour analysis of games. They merely host the largest programs in the sport. Hockey Night In Canada. The Hall of Fame inductions. Trade deadline. Free agent frenzy.
They do what others, frankly, cannot do — and have been pushed to the side in almost a piece of unexplainable petty politics, keeping the biggest and most accomplished names in the sport away from the largest acknowledgment.
“It’s a strange thing,” said Joe Bowen, the Leafs broadcaster, who has won the Foster Hewitt Award. “I do know what we’re doing needs to be changed.
“I don’t even know how the Foster Hewitt thing is voted on and I won it. I don’t vote. I don’t know who votes. We’ve never had a meeting and ‘Let’s talk about this.’ It’s not just Duthie or Dave Hodge or Ron MacLean. I think Ralph Mellanby should be in the Hall of Fame, did anyone influence hockey broadcasting more than he did.”
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The NHL is aware of the problem with the Foster Hewitt Award and would like to see change. But the NHL, despite the optics, says it has nothing to do with the Hall of Fame. The league can say change is necessary but someone has to act on that change.
The Hall of Fame shrugs its collective shoulders when asked about the broadcast award. Like, it’s not our award, therefore we can’t tell anyone what to do. If the Hall is doing anything to change the mind of the NHL Broadcasters’ Associaton behind the scenes it isn’t saying so. The Broadcasters’ Association is led by president Chuck Kaiton, who no longer works as an NHL broadcaster.
“However it works, they’ve got to do something about it,” said Keith Jones, who has broadcast hockey in the U.S. for the past 17 seasons. “I’m shocked to hear who can get in and who can’t.
“This doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Some of the guys you mention are guys I grew up watching on TV. The hosts, they make you who you are. A good host is why some guys are going to the Hall of Fame. Without guys who know how to do that, transition seamlessly from topic to topic, and do such an incredible job of delivering it to the fans, without question they need to be considered and this needs to change.”
TSN’s semi-retired Bob McKenzie has been recognized with the Elmer Ferguson Award for hockey writing but isn’t eligible for the Foster Hewitt Award, where he truly made his reputation as a broadcaster.
“Bob revolutionized the insider role for hockey broadcasters,” said Gord Miller, the excellent TSN play-by-play man. ‘He changed the way networks do hockey.”
And then Miller expressed concern similar to that of Bowen.
“I don’t know who selects for the Hall of Fame,” said Miller, who has been calling hockey games for 28 years. “Frankly the whole concept of awards makes me uncomfortable to begin with because it’s so subjective. But if you’re going to do it, don’t you have to do it properly?”
Like Bowen, like Jones, Miller is a member of the Broadcasters’ Association. He votes every year for coach of the year. But he admits confusion over the Foster Hewitt voting.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” he said. “I do know this is a conversation that needs to be had. I do know there needs to be change.”
Imagine if the 18 voters who determine which players are elected each year decided that forwards can get in the Hall, but not defenceman. There would be national outrage over such an arbitrary proclamation. But that’s what the Broadcasters’ Association has done here. If you call games, you’ve got a shot at lifetime recognition. If you host games, you don’t.
Longtime analyst Bill Clement will be awarded on Monday with the Foster Hewitt Award. He is absolutely deserving of the recognition. But understand this, he played in the NHL when Hodge was hosting Hockey Night In Canada. And he was starting out as a broadcaster about the same time MacLean was starting out in Calgary.
There should always be an order of respect involved with every Hall of Fame choice. Hodge should be there before MacLean and before Duthie – and all three should win the Foster Hewitt Award. The fact they are ineligible remains a travesty in need of correction.