These are the salad days for the Hockey Hall of Fame. Its list of inductees the past four years is a who's who of NHL superstars from the turn of the century. The 15 players inducted between 2012 and 2015 represent a four-year run of inductees the Hall has never seen before.
In fact, I rated the top 10 induction classes from 1966 to this year and found each of the past four years to be worthy enough to be on that list. I picked strictly the post-expansion era because that's when the HHOF reduced the number of inductees each year from unlimited down to three, then later four in the players category.
While this weekend's Hall of Fame celebrations – and Monday's induction ceremonies – are an opportunity for hockey fans to reflect and appreciate the exploits of these greats, there's also a wedge of bitterness to go with all those sweet memories. After all, this crowning achievement in their careers also serves as a reminder we're no longer blessed with watching them play.
This year's class of Nicklas Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov, Chris Pronger and Phil Housley rates as the third best class of all-time, by my assessment. But this is one of these subjective evaluations when I don't mind being overruled by the savvy eye of the everyday hockey fan – yourself. Let us know what you think.
As you can see by the rankings below, I considered both quality of players and depth of field in coming up with the order. If this was just a straight tally of Hart Trophies, points and other awards, the 1999 class that Wayne Gretzky was inducted would have to be in the top two. He won nine Harts and is widely recognized as the greatest player of all-time. But he was the only player in the 1999 class.
1. 1972 – Each of these three superheroes won the Hart Trophy and together they combined for nine – as well as five runners-up. In The Hockey News Top 100 NHL Players of All-Time (published in 1999), Howe was No. 3, Beliveau No. 7 and Geoffrion No. 42, making this the Hall of Fame's best induction class ever.
2. 2007 – Each of these players had a distinct calling card that made them special.
3. 2015 – Two Hart Trophies and a whack of Norrises and other NHL awards.
Chris Pronger – Combined brawn and brilliance to be one of the best two-way defenders of his era. The league became a little easier to play in the day he retired.
Sergei Fedorov – Dominating in all aspects of the game, both from a skill perspective and versatility. Full credit for his Hart Trophy win in 1994.
Nicklas Lidstrom – Seven-time Norris Trophy winner among the top-three defensemen of all-time. Some say he was even better than Bobby Orr.
Phil Housley – The highest-scoring U.S.-born defenseman was a smooth skater and a brilliant playmaker, especially on the power play.
4. 2014 – This class is headed by the top goaltender of all-time in some estimations.
5. 2009 – Each of these players hard long runs of dominance.
6. 2013 – This class was exceptional in terms of team accomplishments as well.
7. 2004 – Rivals this year's class as the best group of 'D' inductees in one year.
8. 2012 – Pure offense for all four of these industry leaders
9. 2001 – Two Europeans and two Canadians thought the game at a high level.
10. 1997 – These two sublime stars even shared a Stanley Cup together in 1992.
1988 – A forward, defenseman and goalie tore up the league in the 1970s.
1979 – Some call Orr the greatest player the game has seen.
1984 – Three difference personality types, three game-changers.
1983 – Dryden had the Stanley Cups, Hull and Mikita the dominating longevity.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior editor and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Brian Costello on Twitter at @BCostelloTHN