The Case for Alexander Mogilny (Александр Могйлный)

AP Photo via Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame

Alexander Mogilny remains unrecognized by the Hockey Hall of Fame. This weekend, the 2019 Class will be honored in Toronto while one of the best Russian hockey players still has yet to have his special day for what he accomplished over a brilliant 17-year NHL career.

It doesn’t seem right that once again, the bias of mostly Canadian writers ignored Mogilny’s resume which includes being a member of the Triple Gold Club along with 473 goals and 559 assists for a total of 1032 career points in 990 games.

That featured a memorable 76 goal, 127 point season during ’92-93 with the Sabres in which he formed a dynamic duo with American Hall of Fame center Pat LaFontaine. His 76 goals tied then rookie Teemu Selanne for the league lead. The 127 points are the most ever by a Russian born player in an individual season. Not even Sergei Fedorov beat him in his Hart year during ’93-94 when he posted 56 goals with 64 assists for 120 points with a plus-48 rating. The best season ever by a Russian player.

While Alexander Ovechkin continues to launch his assault on the goalscoring list with his current total of 672 ranking 12th all-time with Selanne (684) in his sights, the most goals he ever recorded over a season was 65 at age 22 to win his first Hart during ’07-08. The 112 points were also his most in a single season.

Of course, scoring is harder due to some teams having good defensive systems along with commitment to shot blocking and good goaltending. However, the game is opening back up due to the new rules. Scoring continues to increase with Oilers duo Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl lighting up opponents like a Christmas tree. Ditto for Bruins tandem David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand. Nathan MacKinnon continues to produce at a high rate despite no Mikko Rantanen or Gabriel Landeskog.

Offense is something that’s been the focus of a league that allows every power play to start in the offensive zone. Add in the elimination of the two line pass since hockey returned in ’05-06 and it makes things easier for skilled players. The emphasis on obstruction leads to more power plays and diplomatic approach to awarding penalty shots creates more opportunities. Throw in the three-on-three overtime and statistics can increase exponentially.

They didn’t have such rules in place during Mogilny’s era. His first few years, the game was more wide open. That allowed him and other superstars such as Pavel Bure, Brett Hull, Jaromir Jagr, Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Peter Forsberg, Joe Sakic, Eric Lindros, Adam Oates, Doug Gilmour, Steve Yzerman, Jeremy Roenick, Paul Kariya, Fedorov, LaFontaine and Selanne to put up big numbers.

As team defenses improved due to clogging up the neutral zone and making it harder on offensive stars to get great scoring chances, scoring decreased. With future Hall of Fame netminders Dominik Hasek and Martin Brodeur revolutionizing how goalie was played, it became harder to score. The Dead Puck Era lasted through ’03-04. While there still were some exceptions when it came to putting up points, everything was earned.

Even though Mogilny moved around the league to the Canucks, Devils and Maple Leafs, he remained productive due to his deadly combination of game breaking speed, lethal shot and playmaking instincts that were somewhat overlooked. When he wasn’t finishing plays with shots or breakaways with jaw dropping moves, Alexander The Great was busy drawing attention before threading the needle for open teammates to score goals. That’s the kind of smart player he was. He didn’t need to always finish.

It’s still worth noting that Mogilny scored 30 or more with all four teams he played for. He hit 55 goals for Vancouver and added 52 assists to total 107 points in ’95-96. His second best season came without Bure, who only got into 15 games due to tearing his ACL. How much better could Mogilny and the Canucks have been if Bure didn’t get hurt? We’ll never know. They played together for CSKA Moscow. It didn’t work out quite the way late Canucks President Pat Quinn envisioned. Injuries played a role.

Mogilny wound up helping the Devils win a Stanley Cup in ’99-00 after coming over in a trade. Even though he didn’t produce consistently due to having a different role, it was an important acquisition for GM Lou Lamoriello. In ’00-01, Mogilny led the Devils in goals with 43 while totaling 83 points. His most since ’96-97 when he paced the Canucks in scoring with 73 points (31-42-73). A year removed from going a modest 4-3-7 with his biggest goal a game-winner in Game Six of a memorable Eastern Conference Final over the Flyers, Mogilny had 16 points (5-11-16) in 25 games before the Devils lost the Cup to the Avalanche in a crushing seven games.

He signed with the Maple Leafs. Injuries hindered him. He still was almost a point-per-game his first two seasons totaling 57 goals with 79 assists for 136 points over 139 games. In ’02-03, his 46 assists and 79 points in 73 contests led the team. That included a team-leading 46 even strength points (25-21-46), nine game-winners and three shorthanded goals which tied Mats Sundin for the team lead.

His five goals and seven points paced the team in a disappointing seven-game first round loss to the Flyers. The prior Spring, Mogilny helped lead Toronto to the Conference Finals by closing out their first two opponents with clutch goals in Game Sevens to eliminate the Islanders and Senators. He wound up with eight goals and three helpers in 20 games. The Leafs were upset in the third round by the Cinderella Hurricanes in six. Sundin returned for that series, but it wasn’t enough to deny the pesky Canes a trip to the Stanley Cup where they fell in five to the powerful Red Wings.

After only playing in 37 games due to recurring hip issues, Mogilny played in both rounds for Toronto going only 2-4-6. The Leafs were eliminated by the Flyers in six on Roenick’s overtime winner in Toronto. That was the end of an era for some good Leafs teams that never got over the hump.

Following the maddening NHL lockout that canceled the entire ’04-05 season, many veteran stars bid adieu to the league. They included Messier, Scott Stevens, Ron Francis and eventually Hull and Mogilny. He was brought back to New Jersey by Lamoriello, but even with okay production (12-23-25 in 34 GP), he wasn’t as effective at even strength due to the injuries. With the team underachieving, he was sent down to Albany where he got into 19 games to conclude a great career.

A sad ending for a classy player, who was very exciting for fans to watch. When he got the puck on his stick, you didn’t know what he’d do with it. He was electric on breakaways due to great hands, dekes and a accurate wrist shot.

Even though it ended the way it did at age 36, it was Mogilny who helped pave the way for other Russian stars to defect and come over to the NHL. Without Igor Larionov, Slava Fetisov, Sergei Makarov, Alexei Kasatonov, Vladimir Krutov and Mogilny, who knows how long it would’ve took for established Russian stars to defect to the NHL. A new influx of talent helped change the way the game was played.

There’s no Russian Five on Detroit without it. And probably no Stanley Cups in consecutive seasons. Mogilny was one of the key trendsetters, who did what it took to arrive in Buffalo where he became a star.

One final thought on Mogilny. Not many players are as consistent as he was throughout his career. Had it not been for injuries, he easily eclipses 500 goals and is not still waiting to get the phone call. Look how long it took them to induct Bure.

For Mogilny, he’s now 50. It’s been 13 years. Hopefully, number 14 is when he finally gets his recognition. It took a while for Sergei Zubov, who’s going in this weekend. Maybe there’s finally hope for Number 89. I sure hope so. He deserves it.