Hockey Hall of Fame's induction of Mike Vernon over Curtis Joseph is a puzzler

The Hockey Hall of Fame's decision to induct Mike Vernon shows an emphasis on team success that's unfair to individual standouts like Joseph and others.

There were plenty of things to debate after the Hockey Hall of Fame released its 2023 class on Wednesday.

The annual calls for Alexander Mogilny — who was left out once again — rang loud, and the selection committee's decision to add just one woman to the Hall with so many deserving eligible candidates available was justifiably maligned.

At this point it's worth questioning the entire process, but if we're going to zero in on one decision that made the least sense from Wednesday's class it's the inclusion of Mike Vernon — particularly in the context of Curtis Joseph's exclusion.

Vernon posted an enviable career that included 19 seasons in the NHL and two Stanley Cup wins. He has a Conn Smythe Trophy to his name, and helped his team win the William M. Jennings Trophy in 1995-96. All of that is impressive stuff, but the idea that Vernon was a superior goaltender to Joseph is preposterous.

Here's a basic comparison of the two netminder's career stats:

Via Hockey-Reference
Via Hockey-Reference

These numbers give Joseph a clear edge, but there are two obvious rebuttals. The first is that Vernon had more playoff success, which is undeniable. The man hoisted the Stanley Cup twice and won a Conn Smythe Trophy.

However, a look at the playoff stats below indicate Joseph was actually a more consistent postseason performer from an individual standpoint.

Via Hockey-Reference
Via Hockey-Reference

Vernon's teams won more games, but Joseph bested him in every other category in a similar sample.

While "Cujo" never got a ring, he had a number of incredible playoff moments, like his legendary run with the 1992-93 St. Louis Blues where he posted a .938 save percentage and produced a 61-save game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

He also has a pair of legendary Game 7 saves on his playoff reel.

The second part of the rebuttal for Vernon's case over Joseph's is that the two played in different eras. During much of the former's career, scoring was at an all-time high, so any comparison between the two on raw stats isn't exactly apples to apples.

That is a valid concern, but even looking at era-adjusted statistics, the gap between Vernon and Joseph is significant. GSAA is a good metric for this type of comparison as it pits a goaltender's save percentage against the league average in whichever season he registers it.

Whether you're looking at the playoffs or the regular season, GSAA favours Joseph by a massive margin.

Via Hockey-Reference
Via Hockey-Reference

Joseph posted a positive GSAA in 12 of his 19 seasons, led the NHL in the metric in 1992-93, and posted three seasons with a better total than Vernon's career-high (22.3). Meanwhile, Vernon was below-average by GSAA in 10 of his seasons — including four of the five times he finished top-10 in Vezina Trophy voting.

During Vernon's career, goals-against average was seen as the best statistic to evaluate goaltenders and he usually excelled by that metric, often playing behind dominant teams who allowed very few shots and scoring chances through.

Joseph never won the Vezina, but he earned five top-five finishes that tended to be more deserved. He was also robbed in 1992-93 as he led the NHL in save percentage (.911), GSAA (57.4), and goalie point shares (16.7), but lost to Ed Belfour primarily due to a disparity in wins and GAA.

Curtis Joseph had a season to remember with the St. Louis Blues in 1992-93. (Graig Abel/Getty Images)
Curtis Joseph had a season to remember with the St. Louis Blues in 1992-93. (Graig Abel/Getty Images)

There is an argument to be made for keeping Joseph out of the Hall for those inclined to make it.

For most of his career he was a great goaltender, but he didn't match up with contemporaries like Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur, Dominik Hasek, and even Belfour. He was usually considered to be in a tier just below the best the NHL had to offer.

He also doesn't have a Stanley Cup win or a major award to his name, other than the King Clancy Memorial Trophy for humanitarian contribution. Much of the case for Joseph — who has the seventh most wins (454) among NHL goaltenders all-time — is based on longevity, and opinions differ on the value of a long career.

All of that said, the only case that Vernon is a more deserving inductee is the argument that a player should be judged by his team's success. Vernon was a part of clubs that achieved great things — and he helped those squads ascend to the mountaintop — but it would be nonsensical to treat those achievements like they belong to him alone.

The Hall of Fame is about honoring the individual, and if we're talking about individual excellence, celebrating Vernon over Joseph is a clear misstep.