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What were the Hockey Hall of Fame voters thinking?

Who else but the Hockey Hall of Fame could take what should have been a historic, feel-good day and turn it into a farce?

The 18-member selection committee was right with the first two women elected to the Hall of Fame - Angela James and Cammi Granato. That was the easy part. James and Granato were the best female players for many years for, respectively, Canada and the United States.

But once again presented with choices that had some degree of difficulty, the selection committee made a hash of things. The only fix to this mess is an overhaul of the selection procedure, the cause of rage and ridicule for decades.

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In the builder's category, the committee snubbed long-time head coach Pat Burns, which caused most of the outrage Tuesday. He was the overwhelming sentimental favourite because he is fighting cancer and may not be able to attend November's induction ceremony beyond this year.

However, when you put aside sentiment, Burns is still a worthy selection. He won a Stanley Cup in 2003 with the New Jersey Devils and he won the NHL's coach-of-the-year award three times with three different teams.

But it was in the male players category where the committee showed they are artists when it comes to screwing things up. Under the rules adopted when it was finally decided women would not unduly sully the joint, the committee is allowed to select two female players and four male players.

So what did they do? Picked Dino Ciccarelli all by himself and left three spots open, snubbing the likes of Joe Nieuwendyk, Doug Gilmour, Pavel Bure, Adam Oates, Dave Andreychuk, Mark Howe and Eric Lindros. It is not too difficult to argue that any one of those players is at least as deserving as Ciccarelli.

Where this ascends to the spectacular in the pantheon of miscues is the great irony in Ciccarelli's selection. He retired in 1999 with 608 goals and 592 assists in 1,232 games in 19 years, impressive credentials even if he never won a championship.

However, Ciccarelli was denied a place in the Hall of Fame for years, seeing lesser candidates admitted, because a couple of run-ins with the law offended the old boys' network that dominated the selection committee. Only this bunch could then turn around and finally admit Ciccarelli while denying every other qualified player a spot.

Reporters looking for an explanation of the latest cock-up were denied. Jim Gregory, the co-chairman of the selection committee, said every member signed a confidentiality agreement. This allowed them to discuss only those who were picked for the Hall, not the losing candidates.

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This was done a few years ago, Gregory said, because the folks running the Hall of Fame felt the players who did not get in were embarrassed when committee members spoke about why they were overlooked.

Well, here's who should be embarrassed, Gregory and his fellow committee members: co-chair Pat Quinn, Scotty Bowman, Dave Branch, Colin Campbell, John Davidson, Eric Duhatschek, Jan-Ake Edvinsson, Mike (Doc) Emrick, Michael Farber, Mike Gartner, Dick Irvin, Lanny McDonald, Yvon Pedneault, Serge Savard, Harry Sinden, Peter Stastny and Bill Torrey.

How did this happen?

Easy. Arthur Goldberg once said if Columbus had an advisory committee, he would probably still be at the dock. That is what we have here.

In the players' category, the committee was presented with a large group consisting of, let's say, B-plus to A-minus candidates. There were no Gretzkys or Lemieuxs, just a bunch of players who ranged from should-be-in to borderline at best.

The problem is, a player needs 14 of 18 votes to get in. With a large number of good but not great candidates, this led to squabbles among the members of the committee. Since all you needed to sabotage someone else's preferred choice was four like-minded committee members, it is not hard to see that the knives must have been in play until the bell rang and there was one lonely inductee standing.

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Obviously the procedure needs to be changed. This will drive NHL executives crazy but it is time the Hockey Hall of Fame adopted a version of the Major League Baseball model. Let the longest-serving members of the broadcast and print media associations vote.

Yes, there have been screwups in baseball. But none this bad.

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