And for that reason many in and around the hockey world believed Igor Larionov might be among this year’s inductees. But the Russian great was on the outside looking in Thursday when the Hockey Hall of Fame announced Mark Messier, Ron Francis, Al MacInnis and Scott Stevens as this year’s player inductees – all four easily worthy of the honour.
So was Larionov, a former member of the famous KLM line whose exploits on both sides of the ocean made him a strong candidate in his first year of eligibility. But Hall bylaws only allow four maximum player inductees per year.
“It’s not the end of the world, I can tell you that,” Larionov told The Canadian Press upon learning the news. “It’s OK with me. I’m absolutely not disappointed.
“Those are four great players, and I just wish them all the best. It’s a good day for them and that’s fine.”
Larionov, in Alaska on a golfing trip, understood it was a tough year to get in.
“I guess I have to wait and see,” said the 46-year-old. “But to me it’s not a big disappointment. That’s the way it is, it’s nothing I can control.”
Larionov, along with HHOF member Viacheslav Fetisov, was instrumental in breaking the barrier that stopped Soviet players from signing with NHL teams.
A centre, he was one of the best passers of all time.
“Larionov is a world-class player that will eventually get into the Hall of Fame,” MacInnis said on the Hall conference call. “And that’s why it is called the Hockey Hall of Fame, because it’s open to anybody and any nationality.”
After skating on the KLM line with Vladimir Krutov and Sergei Makarov, winning two gold Olympic medals, Larionov earned three Stanley Cup rings with Detroit.
“I don’t think it’s a question of whether he’ll get in, but a matter of when,” said Francis. “He’s certainly deserving of the honour.”
Stevens played with Larionov in New Jersey.
“Igor is a great individual,” said Stevens. “I had the opportunity to play with him and play against him many times. He’s just one of the best players I’ve ever played against and one of the best people I’ve played alongside.
“Hopefully next year he’ll get in. I wish him all the best.”
Claude Lemieux and Adam Oates were other first-year eligibles that warranted consideration, as well as others who have already been passed by in years past such as Glenn Anderson, Kevin Lowe, Doug Gilmour, Steve Larmer and Pavel Bure.
It’s why MacInnis wasn’t sure he’d get in.
“The Hall of Fame is a tough place to get into. It’s a tough vote,” said MacInnis. “And with the players that were available to get in this year, not only for the first time, but players from the past still trying to get in still, it’s a very impressive list.
“I wasn’t going to hold my breath. I know there’s a lot of great players out there.”