The debates over players’ worthiness of enshrinement in halls of fame have become a staple of sports discussion. When a player wins a championship or passes a statistical milestone, we wonder if he or she is worthy. Athletes past, present, and occasionally future are stacked up against their contemporaries and those that are considered all-time greats in statistical analysis, television debate, and internet discussion boards. As heated and in-depth as these discussions can get, they rarely have any real sway over actual hall of fame voting. The selection process for athletes is generally undertaken by sportswriters or members of the respective halls, though the details of the processes vary by sport.
While the public is left out in the dark in nearly all hall of fame decisions, the Hockey Hall of Fame has a unique policy that allows the public to make submissions on behalf of players they feel deserve to be enshrined. If one of the Hall’s committee members supports the submission, that player is put up for a vote. One of the more noteworthy campaigns of this sort has been undertaken by Canadian musician John K. Samson on behalf of Reggie Leach, who played in the NHL for 13 years, including stops with the Bruins, Flyers, Red Wings, and the now-defunct California Golden Seals.
In short, Leach deserves a place in the Hall as an Honoured Member (the proper term for a member of the Hall), and the committee should take Samson’s submission into consideration.
Leach’s statistics speak for themselves, especially when stacked up against other Members. Known as “The Riverton Rifle” for his powerful slap shot, he scored more regular season career goals than Bobby Clarke, Eric Lindros, and Andy Bathgate, and a better goals per game average than Mark Messier, Denis Savard, and Sergei Fedorov. For the 1975-76 season, he led the league in regular season goals with 61. It was in the playoffs where Leach shined brightest, however. He averaged half a goal a game in the playoffs, a better per-game mark than legends like Phil Esposito, Guy Lafleur, and Jaromir Jagr, and is tied with Member Jari Kurri for the record for most goals scored in a single postseason with 19, a feat he accomplished in two fewer games than Kurri. He scored those 19 goals in the 1976 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and was given the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the postseason, to this day the only non-goalie from a team that didn’t win the Stanley Cup to receive the award. His biggest achievement, however, is winning the Stanley Cup in his first year in Philadelphia, 1974-75.
Leach’s legacy extends beyond just statistics. He was one-third of the Flyers’ legendary “LCB Line”, along with Bobby Clarke and Bill Barber, who have each been in the Hall for over 23 years. Leach’s ethnicity as a member of the First Nations, the collective name for Canada’s aboriginal population, and his public battles with alcoholism also served as an inspiration to many. He currently works as a speaker and coach throughout Canada.
Samson’s campaign to get Leach inducted included a song entitled www.ipetitions.com/petition/rivertonrifle/ that also takes the form of an online petition, and an official submission, available to read online, complete with statistical analysis and letters of support. While Samson has already officially handed in his submission to the Hall, the petition is still live and collecting signatures.
The Hall’s list of qualifications for a player inductee are as follows: “Playing ability, sportsmanship, character and their contribution to the team or teams and to the game of hockey in general.” Few players in the history of the sport have fit this description better than Reggie Leach. He belongs in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and, hopefully, the work of Samson and others will get him there.