Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Herb Cain; The Only NHL Scoring Leader Not in The Hall of Fame

Okay, I should re-phrase the title of this one. Herb Cain is the only player over the first 77 years of NHL play to lead in scoring and not be later elected to the Hall. Of the players since 1994 not yet elected to the Hall, all are still active except for Eric Lindros and Peter Forsberg and I believe each will get in sooner than later.

Cain remains the one exception having topped the NHL in scoring in 1943/44 with a new NHL single-season record of 82 points. His career numbers of 570 games, 206 goals, 400 points and two Stanley Cups are fairly impressive. He was also only the 13th man ever to score 200 career goals and twice finished second, once fourth and once sixth in goals scored. Obviously all this was not enough for selection to hockey's shrine. I may be slightly biased in his favour however as Cain was born and raised in the town I grew up in, Newmarket, Ontario. And, although steady and consistent, I don't think fellow Newmarket native defenceman Jamie Macoun will be getting the call from the Hall soon.

There are a few reasons why Cain may have been overlooked. Firstly, there is the fact that in his league leading year the talent level was quite diluted due to wartime enlistments. Indeed there were quite a few regular goaltenders that season that would go on to do little or nothing in subsequent seasons. Other than the fact 1943/44 was the rookie season of all-time great Bill Durnan of Montreal, it really was an awful year for goalkeepers. The Canadian Press expressed in newspapers across the land their thoughts on Cain's record year;

"That 82 point all-time National Hockey League scoring record set up by the Bruins' Herb Cain is going to be marred by an asterisk when it is recorded in the official records. With the forward passing rule and the number of mediocre goalies in action during the past season, the league govenors have agreed that goals and assists came much too easy to warrant the customary consideration.

As far as this department is concerned, little Cooney Weiland still is the NHL's top scorer. When he collected 73 points back in 1929/30, he did it the hard way...Weiland set his record during a 44-game schedule, when the league comprised 10 teams, every one of them strong except the Pittsburgh club."

Even reports of him breaking the record were muted at best the day after he did it. On March 14, 1944 the AP covered it with one line of type, "Boston's Herb Cain collected two assists to boost his season's total to 75 points, a league scoring record." The article went on to talk of Boston keeping their playoff hopes alive without mentioning Cain again. Right from the very beginning, reports were downplaying Cain's accomplishment.

Aside from Durnan the other goalies to play at least 15 games that year were; Ken McAuley, Bert Gardiner, Paul Bibeault, Mike Karakas, Connie Dion, Hec Highton, Benny Grant and Jmmy Franks. Household names to few. These guys cobbled together a collective goals against average of 4.46. Four of these eight would not play another game in the NHL after 43/44, the other four
were done within three seasons over which they had a collective record of 81-130-35 with a 3.98 GAA. Sure, 3.98 is better than their 43/44 mark but the average NHL team over the next two seasons lowered their goals against to 3.68 then 3.35 no thanks to these guys.

Indeed, the goaltending wasn't up to par during Cain's big year but he still managed to come out on top of an impressive field of skaters. He bested such notables (and Hall of Famers) as Doug Bentley, Elmer Lach, Bill Cowley, Bill Mosienko, Syd Howe, Toe Blake and a 22 year-old Maurice Richard.

Another reason is he may very well have been black-listed by Boston owner Art Ross due to a holdout over money after the 1945/45 campaign. Although he was only 33 years-old and had scored 17 goals that year, Ross demoted Cain to Hershey of the AHL where he proved he was anything but washed up. He tallied 36 goals in 59 games and helped lead the Bears to a championship. Nevertheless, Herb Cain would not grace an NHL ice sheet again and played three more years in Hershey before retiring.

Herb Cain passed away in 1982, surviving Hodgkin's disease through experimental treatment in 1955. Although his time to be enshrined has long passed, hockey fans really should be aware of Herb Cain and his solid career.

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