Truly, there is only one award coveted by every single NHLer. It is the Stanley Cup and it is difficult to win. And while the humility of many of the athletes who play the sport dictates that individual honors take a back seat to the ultimate team goal of winning the title, a nice little hat-tip at the end of one’s career never hurt.
But in most years, getting elected to the Hall of Fame is a tough accomplishment, made even more difficult by the fact there are so many more players to choose from than there were in the Original Six era, or even when the NHL had 21 teams.
So how does an elite athlete distinguish himself today? In the words of Alex Ovechkin, “Cups is Cups.”
For a number of veteran players, that elusive Lord Stanley is the one piece of the puzzle left in what could be a Hall of Fame career. Let’s look at the candidates.
Mats Sundin, Vancouver – As my colleague Brian Costello has posited in the past, Sundin is not quite a Hall of Famer just yet. But the way I see it, clinching a championship would put him in. The big Swede’s next goal will put him past former teammate Joe Nieuwendyk for 20th all-time in NHL history (Teemu Selanne passed both of them and Mike Bossy this year) and he also ranks 33rd overall in assists (passing Jean Ratelle, but getting passed by Mike Modano) and 25th all-time in points.
Stats aside, I really get the sense the Hall of Fame wants him in. I’m not saying this is virtuous, but he was captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs for a decade and is that franchise’s all-time points leader. The Olympic gold for Sweden and two-time all-star* honors are nice, but a Cup with the Canucks would seal the deal.
Jeremy Roenick, San Jose – Another fan favorite and one of the greatest personalities the game has seen, J.R. unfortunately does not have a lot of hardware to back it up. In fact, the tough-as-nails Shark has no trophies or all-star selections in his career and that’s probably not going to change. He is, however, one of the highest-scoring Americans of all-time and has certainly made an impact on the game for the better. Much like Sundin, a Stanley Cup may give the selection committee the excuse they need to get him in.
Mark Recchi, Boston – True, Recchi already owns two Stanley Cup rings, courtesy his time in Pittsburgh and Carolina, but a third Cup with a third team would give the savvy vet irrefutable entry into the Hall. Think about it: Recchi is nearly a point-per-game player over a 20-year career and has an all-star team selection (1992) under his belt. But to prove himself once again to be that consummate playoff performer – not to mention someone brought in by the Bruins for the express purpose of putting the team over the top – would raise a lot of eyebrows in the right places.
Claude Lemieux, San Jose – Speaking of playoff genius, Lemieux is the poster boy. The agitator extraordinaire will have easily punched his ticket if he could win an incredible fifth Cup with a fourth team this summer. Based on post-season heroics alone, Lemieux should be a lock, but he’s not exactly a cuddly selection to make. He trails only Wayne Gretzky and Brett Hull in game-winning playoff goals and has a Conn Smythe Trophy on his mantle.
*In all cases in this column – and anywhere in The Hockey News – an all-star is a player selected to the end-of-year all-star team, not the guys who played in the mid-season All-Star Game.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his column – The Straight Edge – every Friday, and his features, The Hot List and Prep Watch appears Tuesdays and Thursdays.
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