A maximum of four men will have their place in history cemented when the Hockey Hall of Fame class of 2015 is announced in Toronto on Monday afternoon (4 p.m. ET). It won’t take the 17-member selection committee long to agree on the first three.
UPDATE: The new enshrinees will be players Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Pronger, Sergei Fedorov, Phil Housley, and Angela Ruggiero with Carolina Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos Jr. and Bill Hay, the first NCAA graduate to skate in the NHL—he went on to become President and CEO of the Calgary Flames as well as the Hall's chairman—in the Builder category.
Nicklas Lidstrom’s worthiness is beyond debate. The legendary defenseman won four Stanley Cups during his 20-year career, including in 2008 when he became the first European to captain a Cup winner. He also won seven Norris trophies, second all-time only to Bobby Orr, and one Conn Smythe Trophy. He’s one of only 26 players to claim membership in the Triple Gold Club, having won Olympic gold in 2006 and a world championship in 1991 for Sweden.
Lidstrom was almost certain to be joined by long-time Red Wings teammate Sergei Fedorov, a rare player who was as effective on defense as he was at center. He did most of his damage up front, scoring 483 goals, with 1,179 points, to rank 49th all time in both categories. He also won four Stanley Cups along with the 1994 Hart Trophy and a pair of Selkes.
Chris Pronger was the third lock, although his candidacy is not without controversy. To be eligible for admission, an individual must be retired for three seasons. Pronger is technically still active—his playing rights were even traded on Saturday by the Flyers to the Coyotes—but his career was ended by injury in 2011. Special consideration was offered by the Hall to Pronger, and to future players like him who remain on the books due to salary cap implications.
The decision rankled some. On the merits, though, Pronger’s election is a no-brainer. Like Lidstrom, Pronger is a member of the Triple Gold Club, having won the Stanley Cup in 2007 with the Ducks, a world championship with Canada in 1997 and Olympic gold medals in ’02 and ’10. He also won the Hart and Norris trophies in 2000. Beyond the hardware, Pronger is remembered as one of the most dominant defeneman of his generation, a player who could bend the course of a game with his physicality and raise a team to another level by force of will.
That left one spot in the player category to be claimed. Phil Housley is the the highest scoring American-born defenseman in NHL history with 1,232 points. But his lack of postseason success (one trip to the Stanley Cup Final during his 21 seasons in the league) and defensive deficiencies (career mark of –53) will no doubt inspire some debate. Mark Recchi, a three-time Cup winner who scored more than 1,500 career points, got consideration. So did Paul Kariya, Jeremy Roenick, Chris Osgood and legendary Russian forward Sergei Makarov.
But for this year anyway that’s where their candidacies should end. After five consecutive snubs, the fourth spot should belong to Eric Lindros.
Longevity is often mentioned as an obstacle to his election but that’s a false measuring stick for separating the legends from those who were merely great. Lindros played 760 NHL games, which is more than Hall of Famers Ken Dryden (397), Bobby Orr (657), Peter Forsberg (706), Cam Neely (726) and Mike Bossy (752). Each of those players was inducted because of his ability to impact the game despite a relatively brief résumé. Lindros did no less.
From his debut in 1992 through 2002, Lindros was more than just a dominant figure in the game. He was arguably the most perfect player in NHL history, a never-matched blend of breathtaking skill, enviable stature and brute force. He epitomized the game for his generation. As the leader of Philadelphia’s formidable Legion of Doom, he carved a path of destruction through the league, his 1.31 points-per-game average trailing only Mario Lemieux (1.99) and Jaromir Jagr (1.42) over that decade-long span. His effectiveness dwindled only after a series of concussions and other injuries took their toll.
No, he never won the Stanley Cup, but he won the Hart Trophy in 1995, and was a top-10 finisher in the MVP voting on four other occasions—an amazing feat considering that he averaged just 64 games-played in those seasons.
Anyone else with such credits would have been enshrined in his first year of eligibility, or at worst in his second. But some in the hockey establishment have insisted on punishing Lindros for his refusal at the age of 18 to report to the Quebec Nordiques—the team that drafted him first in 1991—his sparring with Flyers GM Bobby Clarke and his unwillingness to conform to other expected standards of behavior.
It’s time now to move beyond such pettiness. Lindros was more than just one of the greats. He helped define an era.
It’s time to let him in.
The draft numbers game
• Defensemen dominated the 2015 NHL Draft with 73 selected (34.6%) followed by 51 centers (24.2%), 34 left wings (16.1%), 29 right wings (13.7%) and 24 goalies (11.4%).
• According to birthplace, 79 Canadians were drafted, followed by 55 Americans, 19 Swedes, 17 Russians, 13 Finns, 11 Czechs, five Slovakians, four Swiss, three Latvians and one each from Belarus, China, Germany, Netherlands and Ukraine.
• Dylan Strome, taken third by Arizona, is one of 23 draftees in this year’s crop with a family member who played or is currently playing in the NHL.
• Here's a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at how Edmonton’s dramatic draft-day trades came together. Some very cool inside info.
• Carey Price has won just about everything in hockey aside from the Stanley Cup. The time for the Canadiens to help him make that happen is now.
• I can’t stop watching Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome doing the wave.
• Here’s hoping that top 2016 draft prospect Auston Mathews has a Plan B.
• So, which team won the annual game of goalie musical chairs?
• This is why it is easier to trade faceless picks than already drafted prospects.