The Hockey Hall of Fame announced its class of 2015 yesterday, and it’s a big one. The Hall will welcome seven new members this winter: five players and two inductees in the builder’s category.
The big name is Nicklas Lidstrom, the seven-time Norris Trophy winner who’d been considered an absolute first-ballot lock since well before he retired. He’ll be joined by former teammate Sergei Fedorov, who also gets in on the first try. Fedorov wasn’t quite a slam dunk, but he was close, and certainly deserves the honor.
Two other picks will cause at least a little bit of discussion, although for very different reasons. Phil Housley finally gets the call after waiting since 2006. He’s the fourth-highest-scoring defenseman of all time and had nearly 400 points more than the next-highest-scoring blueliner who wasn’t in, but his defensive shortcomings had hurt his candidacy — he’ll be one of a very small group of HOF defensemen with a minus rating over the course of his career.1
Wait, isn’t plus/minus a useless stat? Well, yes, mostly, because there’s so much noise and randomness involved that it doesn’t tell you anything unless you’re working with a massive sample size. Like, say, a 20-year career.
And then there’s Chris Pronger. On merit, there’s no doubt Pronger belongs in the Hall — he was arguably the best non-Lidstrom defenseman of his era, and is the only blueliner since Bobby Orr to win the MVP. He’s also technically still an active player, despite suffering a career-ending injury in 2011, and that’s where this gets messy. He’s still under contract, and was even traded just a few days ago. But the Hall had already ruled him eligible months ago, so he was going to get in.
The Hall also welcomed three other inductees: builders Bill Hay and Peter Karmanos Jr., and longtime Team USA defenseman (and gold-medal winner) Angela Ruggiero, who becomes the fourth woman honored.
The seven honorees will be inducted in November. In the meantime, it’s time to start picking through the snubs and near misses as we try to figure out who has the inside track on the class of 2016. There aren’t any especially impressive candidates coming into the pool next year,2 which opens up the field for some players who missed the cut this time.
Probably at least in part due to the 2013 lockout; no superstar player was going to want to end his career by playing a half-season.
Here are 10 players who were passed over this year who may have the best case for induction in 2016.
Eligible since: 2014
The numbers: 577 goals and 1,533 points over a 22-year career. He won three Cups, played in seven All-Star Games, and was a second-team All-Star once.3
This is where we remind you that “All-Star” has two meanings in the NHL: You can be an All-Star by being picked to play in the midseason game, or by being named to one of the two All-Star teams honored after each season. The latter is far more impressive.
The case for: The 1,533-point total ranks 12th all time, and everyone else in the top 25 is either already in or will go in on the first ballot as soon as they’re eligible (Teemu Selanne and Jaromir Jagr). Offensive production has always been the key criteria for induction, so seeing a guy with Recchi’s massive career totals left out seems bizarre.
The case against: Recchi is the classic example of a player who was good for a long time but was never really considered elite. He was very good in the early ’90s, and was a consistent producer well into his forties, but he was never in the conversation for best player in the league, or even close to it.
If I had a vote: If we were picking between guys with a high peak vs. guys who were very good for a long time, I’d take the peak over longevity. But Recchi’s top years were pretty good, and there does come a point when a guy’s career numbers get so high that he has to get in. I think Recchi is right around that zone, so while I don’t mind seeing him wait a bit, he’d get my vote to go in eventually.
Bottom line: Everyone seems to assume Recchi will get in someday. Maybe next year is the year.
Eligible since: 2009
The numbers: 640 goals, 1,338 points, two All-Star Games.
The case for: He scored the 14th-most goals in NHL history, and every eligible player ahead of him was a slam dunk. In fact, other than Recchi, Andreychuk has over 100 more goals than any other eligible player. That’s stunning, and feels like it should be enough to get him in on its own. He’s also one of the few players to have lifted the Stanley Cup as a captain, having done so in 2004 as the veteran leader on an otherwise young Lightning team.
The case against: Along with Recchi, Andreychuk is the poster child for the “long career, big totals, good but never great” class of player. He played in an All-Star Game only twice and never got significant votes for any major award, and it’s fair to say that nobody ever dragged their kids to the rink to see Andreychuk play. He also racked up most of those goals playing in the high-flying ’80s and early ’90s (although that’s not as big a factor as you might think; on an era-adjusted basis he still ranks 18th all time).
If I had a vote: I’ve lobbied for Andreychuk’s name to be featured more prominently in the HOF discussion; that he rarely generates any sort of buzz is baffling to me. That said, I’m not sure I’d vote for him, for the same reason I wouldn’t have voted for Dino Ciccarelli and would at least hesitate on Recchi.
Bottom line: It doesn’t seem like Andreychuk will ever get in, and if that’s the case, that record of 640 goals for a non-Hall-of-Famer will probably stand forever.4
But if he ever does get in, understand that I’m taking 100 percent of the credit.
Eligible since: 2000
The numbers: Just 134 goals and 384 points in 424 NHL games, but hold that thought.
The case for: Say it with me, everyone: “It’s the Hockey Hall of Fame, not the NHL Hall of Fame.” Makarov had a dominant career in the Soviet Union before coming over to North America in 1989 and winning the rookie of the year award with the Calgary Flames at the age of 31.5 Other Soviet greats have already been inducted based more on their international career than any NHL stardom, including Vladislav Tretiak, Igor Larionov, and Viacheslav Fetisov.
Which resulted in the league changing the rules to put an age limit on the honor.
The case against: While it’s not the NHL Hall of Fame, it’s pretty strongly tilted in that direction. Makarov has his backers,6 but there doesn’t seem to be much of a groundswell of support for him.
Veteran sportswriter Steve Simmons has been pushing his case for years.
If I had a vote: I never saw Makarov play overseas — to me he’s always been the guy from the 1987 Canada Cup who was just pretty good in the NHL — so I’ll defer to those who did.
Bottom line: It doesn’t seem like his case has much momentum, although international players are notoriously hard to predict.
Eligible since: 2012
The numbers: 513 goals, 1,216 points, nine All-Star Games.
The case for: Roenick has the career numbers to merit consideration, and, as all those All-Star appearances would indicate, he really was considered one of the best players of his generation for a long time. The fact that he was one of the league’s most entertaining players on and off the ice can’t hurt either.
The case against: While he had a career, Roenick’s peak as an elite player was relatively short, and maybe not as good as you remember it — he had three straight 100-point seasons by the age of 24, but never got past 80 after that. He also never won anything — no Cups and no awards, and he got Hart votes in only two seasons.
If I had a vote: He’s a no, although a close one.
Bottom line: It feels like one more elite season could have tipped the scales here, and in that sense maybe the league’s dumb 1994 lockout, which wiped out half a season right in his prime, ended up costing him.
Eligible since: 1998
The numbers: 441 goals, 1,012 points, and a Calder win as rookie of the year in 1983. He is one of the NHL’s iron men, with 884 consecutive games played.
The case for: Larmer’s numbers don’t seem impressive, but that’s because injuries ended his career when he was only 33. More importantly, he was an excellent defender, and was considered one of the league’s better two-way players.
The case against: He was an All-Star only twice, and never won any major awards after his rookie year.
If I had a vote: Nope. The iron man streak is nice, but not something that should prominently factor into a Hall of Fame discussion. Maybe his case would look different if he would have stayed healthy, but this isn’t a Cam Neely or Pavel Bure situation in which a dominant player has his career cut short.
Bottom line: His name still comes up, and some hockey people are adamant that he should be in. But the fact that he’s been up for consideration for this long without getting the call gives you a pretty good idea of his future chances.
Eligible since: 2006
The numbers: 455 goals and 1,088 points. Just one second-team All-Star pick, but seven All-Star Game selections.
The case for: His stats are right on the borderline of what it takes to get into the discussion, although they’re less impressive when you factor for era. He overcame a ton just to get to and stay in the NHL, from his tiny stature (he was listed at just 5-foot-6) to more than a few personal hardships.
The case against: The offensive numbers just aren’t quite there; he falls into that same category as guys like Alexander Mogilny and Pierre Turgeon, who needed one or two more big years to make a strong case.
If I had a vote: I’d really, really want to vote for him. But I couldn’t.
Bottom line: Hall of Famer or not, he was fun as hell to watch, and the man knew how to celebrate a goal.
Eligible since: 2013
The numbers: 538 goals and 1,065 points. Five All-Star Games and two second-team All-Star selections.
The case for: By cracking the 500-goal and 1,000-point marks, he checks two boxes that often get you moved to the front of the line. At his best, he was one of the game’s top power forwards, and unlike many guys who play his style, he managed to stay healthy well into his late thirties.
The case against: There are plenty of guys with similar goal and/or point totals who aren’t in the Hall, many of whom got there in fewer games.
If I had a vote: You have to draw a line somewhere. I draw it pretty much right at Keith Tkachuk: Everyone who’s better than him gets in. Unfortunately for him, he just barely fails that test.
Bottom line: Tkachuk is American, which either gives him a huge Joey Mullen–style boost or makes him a victim of the Hall’s well-documented pro-Canadian conspiracy, depending on your perspective.
Eligible since: 2013
The numbers: 402 goals, 989 points (in 989 games). He was a first-team All-Star three times and made the second team twice. He was the runner-up for the Hart Trophy in 1997 and won the Lady Byng twice. He played in seven All-Star Games.
The case for: As all those postseason All-Star selections would indicate, he was absolutely considered one of the best players in the league for the first decade or so of his career. In his nine years with the Ducks, he scored at roughly a 1.1 points-per-game pace, which is excellent for the dead puck era. He also lost almost an entire season in his prime due to injuries and a contract dispute.
The case against: His career numbers don’t look great, thanks to injuries (mostly concussions) that effectively ended his run as a top star by his early thirties.
If I had a vote: I really thought this was a clear no, but when you type all those numbers and honors out … man, he has a decent case. Can’t you at least make a very strong argument that he was better than Cam Neely? I think I might be a “yes” on Paul Kariya. I did not see that coming.
Bottom line: The Hall has always had a tough time with guys whose careers were cut short by injury. It felt like the induction of Neely opened the door for Pavel Bure, which probably helped Peter Forsberg. There’s one other guy for whom this is important, and we’ll get to him in a minute.
Eligible since: 2014
The numbers: 401 career wins and three Stanley Cups. There are others, but those are the biggies.
The case for: He’s tied for 10th all time in wins, and everyone ahead of him is either in or will be, with one exception. That exception is Curtis Joseph, who ranks fourth, but Joseph never won a Cup. Osgood won three, so if you believe that a goalie can have an innate ability to be a winner, Osgood is your guy.
The case against: Osgood was never really considered a great goalie, and was certainly never in the discussion as the best in the league. That said, he was better than you remember — he won two Jenningses, and was a second-team All-Star and Vezina runner-up once. But on balance, he was a good goaltender who played most of his career for a great team in Detroit, and racked up the wins because of it. And, as any stats guy will tell you, wins are a bad way of judging goaltenders.
If I had a vote: He played in the dead puck era and had a save percentage over .910 just four times in 17 seasons. Nope.
Bottom line: For the record, I wouldn’t vote for Joseph either, but I’d put him in ahead of Osgood on my ballot.
Eligible since: 2010
The numbers: 372 goals, 865 points in 760 games. He won the Hart Trophy in 1995, was a postseason All-Star twice, and played in six All-Star Games.
The case for: Over and over on this list, we’ve mentioned guys who were very good but were never among the very best. Lindros unquestionably was; at his peak, he was one of the most dominant players the league had ever seen. There had never been a player who combined his physical dominance with his offensive ability — yes, I’m including Mark Messier — and it created a force that often seemed unstoppable.
Obviously, that didn’t last. Injuries (especially concussions) eventually conspired to ruin his career, and his legendary feuds with Flyers management didn’t help matters. But even with several uninspiring years tacked on to the end of his career, he still averaged well over a point per game in the dead puck era. And he has that Hart Trophy — with Fedorov now in, no eligible player in the last 60 years has been named MVP and hasn’t made the Hall of Fame, except for Lindros.7
Although Jose Theodore will break that streak once he’s eligible.
The case against: His career numbers aren’t great because of all those injuries. But again, guys like Neely, Bure, and Forsberg had the same problem, and they were all (rightfully) inducted. Lindros at his peak was better than any of those guys, so a lack of big numbers on its own can’t be the main problem. Are voters remembering all the holdouts and sniping with management? Maybe. Remember, the Hockey Hall of Fame is voted on by a committee of former players, managers, and media, so there’s room to hold grudges. Luckily, for purposes of this exercise, we don’t have to.
If I had a vote: He’s an easy yes. It’s silly that he’s not in yet.
Bottom line: There seems to have been a shift in public sentiment over the years, perhaps aided by how much we now know about concussions, and the betting here is that Lindros will get in soon — probably next year. That’s great, but he should have been in a long time ago.