The NHL’s Hall of Fame class of 2017 is officially enshrined, and it was an interesting year on the player side. The accomplished Teemu Selanne and Daniel Goyette weren’t surprise inductees, and there was precedent for inducting a player of Paul Kariya’s ilk after Cam Neely, Pavel Bure, Peter Forsberg and Eric Lindros overcame injury-shortened careers to earn their Hall passes. But Mark Recchi and especially Dave Andreychuk were fascinating cases in that they fell under the “will they or won’t they?” category. The power play goal maven Andreychuk had been eligible since 2009. Whether you agree with the induction or not, there’s no question Andreychuk opens the door for other candidates previously written off – the Theoren Fleurys and Sergei Zubovs of the world.
It’s easy to predict at least some of 2018’s class. Martin Brodeur is an automatic first-ballot pick. But who else might receive that magic phone call next summer? Here are my top 10 player picks.
1. Martin Brodeur
No need to spend much time explaining Brodeur’s case here. He owns the goaltending record books. Still has 140 more victories than the next-closest netminder. Four Vezinas, three Stanley Cups, Calder Trophy, Olympic gold. He couldn’t be more of a lock. Moving on.
2. Hayley Wickenheiser (waiting period waived)
The last player to jump directly to the Hall of Fame with an exemption from the mandatory waiting period was Wayne Gretzky in 1999. Now that the Hall honors female inductees, it should subject female players to all the same rules – and unwritten rules – as the men, and that means it should be fair game to consider immediate induction for a deserving woman. And nobody fits the bill more than freshly retired Hayley Wickenheiser, arguably the greatest female player of all-time. She has four Olympic gold medals, a 2002 Olympic MVP award, seven World Championship golds and a Clarkson Cup. She was the first woman to play professional men’s hockey at a skater position. She’s Canada’s all-time leading scorer.
Allow me to editorialize for a second here: do it, Hall of Fame. Make a statement. Show Hayley the respect she deserves. Waive her waiting period.
3. Martin St-Louis
Alfredsson probably has better odds to make it in Year 2 of eligibility than St-Louis does in Year 1, but it shouldn’t be the case. St-Louis’ resume is far superior. He hit the 1,000-point benchmark just like ‘Alfie’ did, but St-Louis also has two scoring titles, an MVP, a Pearson, a Stanley Cup, Olympic gold and three Lady Byngs. He’s quietly one of the most decorated players of his generation. St-Louis isn’t often mentioned as a lock – but he should be.
4. Daniel Alfredsson
Putting Alfie in the Hall of Fame is a matter of precedent. His only major NHL award was the Calder, he was never a first-team all-star, and he was a top-10 scorer three times in 18 seasons. But Alfredsson did have a long, productive career, racking up 1,157 points despite toiling in the Dead Puck era. If the likes of Mats Sundin and Bernie Federko got Hall calls and that’s the standard the voters have set, it wouldn’t make sense to shut Alfredsson out. He was a durable and consistently excellent player and a revered captain. He’ll get his nod. That said, to me, he epitomizes the “Hall of Very Good” debate.
5. Jeremy Roenick
Roenick falls under the same category as Alfredsson, in that ‘JR’ didn’t win a championship or pile up individual hardware but was very good for a long time. Roenick blended great hands and goal-scoring ability with two-way skill and grit up the middle. He’s best remembered now for his gift of the gab and for his tenacity, but Roenick was a potent offensive weapon at the beginning of his career. He hit the 50-goal mark twice and 100-point mark three times as a Chicago Blackhawk.
6. Alexander Mogilny
The non-lock class includes players with lengthy, fruitful careers and also guys like Mogilny, who didn’t hang around for two decades but was a more dominant force at his peak than the Alfredsson and Roenick types. Mogilny exploded for 76 goals in 1992-93 with the Buffalo Sabres. He also went off for 55 goals and 107 points in 1995-96 as a Vancouver Canuck. He finished just short of 1,000 games but was better than a point-per-game player despite spending the second half of his career in peak Dead Puck times. Mogilny, blessed with nifty hands and a deadly shot, was one of the best pure offensive talents ever to play the game. He just didn’t harness his tools as consistently as many others with similar ability were able to. He was known to disappear on the ice if his head wasn’t in a game. He was a blunt and enigmatic personality, which sometimes got him confused with not being a “team guy.” Is that why he hasn’t received his Hall call yet? He also deserves credit for being the first Soviet defector in the NHL and the first European captain of an NHL team.
7. Theoren Fleury
Andreychuk’s inclusion reopens Fleury’s book. He overcame his tiny stature – in an era when it was much tougher to be small than it is today – to become a legit NHL star, known not just for his speed and scoring ability, but also for bringing serious sandpaper. Fleury’s list of career accomplishments looks similar to Alfredsson’s, with three top-10 scoring finishes. The problem for guys like Fleury and Roenick is that they played under the gargantuan shadows of Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr, who were the only three people to win the scoring title from 1979-80 to 2000-01. Think about that for a second. So a lot of truly special talents from those decades get overlooked, and Fleury is one of them.
8. Curtis Joseph
Joseph never won a Stanley Cup or Vezina Trophy, but he was one of the best five goalies in the league for extended stretches of his career, and he’s top-five all-time in wins. Victories tend to be an overrated stat – to a point. If the same goalie (or pitcher) keeps ranking among the league leaders in wins for, say, 15 seasons, it eventually becomes clear that player is the common denominator. The athletic, spastic, thrilling CuJo won 30 or more games with five different franchises and finished top-five in Vezina voting five times.
9. Keith Tkachuk
Tkachuk joins Brendan Shanahan, Kevin Stevens and Gary Roberts as the only four players in NHL history to record 50 goals and 200 penalty minutes in the same season. Not that we want to glorify PIMs, but it tells you what a unique specimen Tkachuk was as a peerless power forward. He rattled off a pair of 50-goal years when league-wide offense was tanking in the mid to late 1990s. Tkachuk’s 538 goals rank 32nd all-time, tops among Hall-eligible players who aren’t inducted. Adjusted for era, Tkachuk’s total rises to 584, placing him inside the all-time top 25.
10. Manon Rheaume
I’ll let my colleague Ryan Kennedy explain in detail the case for Rheaume to reach the Hall as a builder: read it here. Not only was she a great goaltender, but she was also the original trailblazer, tending goal for the Tampa Bay Lightning in an NHL exhibition game.
Other names to watch: Sergei Zubov, Sergei Gonchar, Rod Brind’Amour, Boris Mikhailov, Steve Larmer, Doug Wilson, Pierre Turgeon, John LeClair, Tim Thomas, Chris Osgood, Dale Hunter