Mark Messier, Ron Francis, Al MacInnis and Scott Stevens are this year’s player inductees with bodies of work that suggested automatic inclusion in their first year of eligibility.
“I have a lot of respect for all the guys who were inducted this year,” Messier said after the announcement Thursday. “I think their stats and what they’ve done speak for themselves.”
It is the Hall’s first four-player haul since 2001 when Mike Gartner, Jari Kurri, Slava Fetisov and Dale Hawerchuk also pushed the selection to the four-player maximum.
“There was a number of players eligible this year beyond the number that we could put in,” said former Toronto head coach Pat Quinn, a member of the 18-person selection committee. “The deliberations were strong.”
Igor Larionov, the former Russian great who excelled on both sides of the ocean, didn’t make it. Adam Oates and Claude Lemieux were other first-year eligibles passed over, while Glenn Anderson, Doug Gilmour, Kevin Lowe, Steve Larmer and Pavel Bure were once again left out.
It was hard to argue with the four selected Thursday.
“The players elected represent the epitome of hockey excellence,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “Their careers were distinguished by their skill, by their drive, by their refusal to accept anything less than the best.
“I congratulate the honourees and I commend the selection committee on having created a spectacular Class of 2007.”
NHL executive Jim Gregory will enter as a builder, a well-deserved honour for a man who has given his life to hockey. Gregory was general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1969 to 1979 before running the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau. He’s currently a senior vice-president with the league.
“When I got the call I was just flabbergasted,” said Gregory. “I had to pull over and my wife and I really enjoyed the moment. It was fantastic.”
The induction ceremony will be held Nov. 12.
Messier is second all-time in NHL’s points and Francis is fourth. MacInnis is third all-time in points by defencemen. Stevens won three Stanley Cups with the New Jersey Devils while punishing the opposition as the game’s best hitter.
“I’m honoured to be going in with a class like this,” said Francis. “Certainly over the years I’ve spent a lot of time playing against Mark, Scott and Al and appreciate just how great hockey players they were.”
Messier was a slam dunk after a career that saw him win six Stanley Cups – five with the Edmonton Oilers and one with the New York Rangers. If it were baseball, he’d have to wear one of those two jerseys in the Hall.
“Hopefully, they can sew a jersey together and split it down the middle and I can go in as both,” joked Messier.
Only his former teammate and buddy Wayne Gretzky amassed more points in the NHL, but leadership is perhaps what distinguished Messier most.
“Mark’s reputation is the right one as far as maybe being if not the best leader in the game for many, many years,” said MacInnis, who competed against Messier in the Battle of Alberta. “Everybody talked about the stare.
“I’m sure that stare not only went for his own teammates but also went for a lot of players that played against him. Just a great leader, a complete player, he could change the momentum of a game with his skill level and his physical attributes.
“Arguably one of the top players to ever play the game,” MacInnis added.
MacInnis also played 23 NHL seasons, winning the playoff MVP while helping Calgary to the Stanley Cup in 1989. He was also a valuable blue-line contributor in Canada’s 2002 Olympic triumph. He’s the first Nova Scotian to get into the Hall in the players category.
“I certainly am proud of where I come from,” said MacInnis. “I actually wasn’t aware of being the first Novan Scotian until (Hall chairman Bill) Mr. Hay told me this morning.
“With the players coming out of there today, the likes of Sidney Crosby, it’s not going to last long.”
Francis is a two-time Stanley Cup winner. He played 23 NHL seasons and trails only Gretzky on the all-time assists list.
“I know as a kid growing up in Sault Ste. Marie I oftened dreamed about playing in the NHL, envisoned myself carrying the Stanley Cup over my head, but never did I expect that I would accomplish the Hall of Fame,” said Francis.
In addition to the championships, Stevens won with the Devils, he was named playoff MVP in 2000. A fierceless player known as much for his leadership as his bone-crunching body checks, Stevens proves there is room in the Hall for more than just offensive players.
“Absolutely,” said Stevens. “It takes everything to make a hockey team and make a winning hockey team.
“The physical part of the game is very important and good defence, just like offence. You need a good combination of everything.”