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Some star first-time eligibles will have to wait to get into hockey shrine

The selection committee makes its decisions Thursday. Messier, who amassed more points than any player other than Wayne Gretzky, is a given. That leaves three spots if the 18-member committee chooses to go the max. It's a predicament.

Who do they make wait?

Francis played 23 NHL seasons and trails only Gretzky on the all-time assists list. He's fourth in all-time points.

Given that the criteria for selection includes playing ability, sportsmanship, character and contribution to a team or teams and to the sport in general, Francis should be a lock. The NHL has had few role models of his stature.

Besides his impressive stats and two Stanley Cup rings, the native of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., was named most gentlemanly player in 1995, 1998 and 2002, top defensive forward in 1995 and was given the King Clancy Memorial Trophy in 2002 for exemplifying leadership on and off the ice.

Francis, 44, is director of player development for the Carolina Hurricanes.

MacInnis also played 23 NHL seasons and trails only Hockey Hall of Fame members Ray Bourque and Paul Coffey in regular-season goals, assists and points by defencemen.

The native of Inverness, N.S., known for his booming slapshot, was playoff MVP when he helped Calgary win the Stanley Cup in 1989, he was the NHL's top defenceman in 1999 and he was a valuable blue-line contributor in Canada's 2002 Olympic triumph.

MacInnis, 43, is vice-president of hockey operations for the St. Louis Blues.

Oates played 19 NHL seasons and is sixth on the all-time assists list and 15th in points. He's considered one of the most creative playmakers in the modern NHL era. Only Gretzky picked up more assists during the 1990s than did Oates. Former teammate Brett Hull owes Oates plenty of credit for his 70-goals-plus seasons.

Oates, 44, never won the Stanley Cup, but the Torontonian had a top-notch career after entering the big league as an undrafted college grad. A six-time finalist for most gentlemanly player, he was respected around the league for both his skill level and his clean play.

Stevens, a hardrock defenceman, captained the New Jersey Devils win three NHL championships, including 2000 when he was named playoff MVP.

He didn't pile up the points like MacInnis, but this stay-at-home defenceman could hit like few other blue-liners during his 22-year career. He was the first player to have his number retired by the Devils.

The native of Kitchener, Ont., is 43 now.

Larionov, along with Hall of Famer 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.

After skating on the famed Russian KLM line with Vladimir Krutov and Sergei Makarov, winning two gold Olympic medals, Larionov earned three Stanley Cup rings with Detroit.

"The Professor" is 46 now and is a wine merchant.

Some might question the inclusion of Lemieux in this exalted group of possible new Hall members, but he's just become eligible and he has a claim to fame: the native of Buckingham, Que., is one of only four players in NHL history to win the Stanley Cup with three different teams. He was playoff MVP in 1995 with New Jersey and was noted for playing his best hockey in the post-season.

Lemieux also had a reputation as one of the league's dirtiest players and an ESPN poll rated him as the most hated player of all time, which probably means he won't be selected.

He's 41 now and he's president of the ECHL Phoenix Roadrunners.

So, Messier is in, and Francis, MacInnis, Oates, Stevens and Larionov are the prime candidates for the three remaining spots - if the committee goes the max and opts for all first-time eligible players.

It'd be a surprise if they selected an oldtimer previously passed over rather than one of the all-star candidates up for the first time this year.

The committee can also select a maximum of two to enter the builder category and one referee or linesman. But the maximum number allowed in any one year in all categories combined is five.

Whichever way it shakes down, a worthy candidate will have to wait at least another year.

Good luck, gentlemen.

Jim Gregory, senior vice-president of hockey operations for the NHL, chairs the committee, which includes NHL director of operations Colin Campbell and former coaches Scotty Bowman and Pat Quinn.

Longtime NHL executives Harry Sinden, Bill Torrey and Emile Francis vote Thursday, as do former players Serge Savard, Lanny McDonald and Peter Stastny.

Former goalie John Davidson was named to the committee when he was a broadcaster and has stayed on since becoming president of the St. Louis Blues. Other committee members who are writers or broadcasters are Dick Irvin, Yvon Pedneault, Michael Farber, Mike Emrich and Eric Duhatschek.

Rounding out the group are Ed Chynoweth, the longtime Western Canada junior hockey executive and Edmonton Ice owner, and Swiss resident Jan-Ake Edvinsson, longtime general secretary of the IIHF.


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