With the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Class of 2015 celebrating its induction on Monday night, it’s a good time to look ahead to what the Class of 2016 might look like. Safe to say, it won’t boast anything close to the star power of this year’s group: Nick Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov, Chris Pronger, Phil Housley, Angela Ruggiero and builders Bill Hay and Peter Karmanos Jr.
The crop of players eligible for the first time to be elected easily ranks as the weakest in recent memory. But with names like Jason Arnott, Roman Hamrlik, Milan Hejduk, Ziggy Palffy, Vaclav Prospal and Jose Theodore topping the ballot, there’s a good chance for some long-running, and often divisive, candidates to finally get the votes they need for enshrinement.
First among those is Eric Lindros. The top pick in the 1991 draft was perhaps the most physically gifted player of all-time, and certainly one of the most mesmerizing. A 6' 4", 240-pound center who could overwhelm defenders with his size or blow by them with the skating ability of a much smaller man, he was built to play the game like no one before him. And early on, he made the most of those gifts. He finished in the top-10 in Hart Trophy voting in five of his first eight seasons (despite averaging just 62 games played), winning the MVP nod in 1995. And while injuries diminished his effectiveness as his career played out, he still scored 865 points in 760 games.
His perceived sense of entitlement rubbed a lot of people the wrong way over the years, but that won’t overshadow Lindros’s accomplishments forever. Neither should his injury history. Both Peter Forsberg and Cam Neely were admitted despite having their careers shortened, and neither of those players at their best ever dominated the game quite the same way that Lindros did in his prime. He belongs on his own merits, but in a thin class he’s the best possible choice.
Paul Kariya is another player who made an impact despite having his potential curtailed by injury problems. He scored 402 goals and 989 points—exactly one per game—and can make a case for being a standout of his era. Kariya was named to five All-Star teams, earning three First Team nods. He was a top-10 finisher in Hart balloting three times in his first five seasons, including being the runner-up in 1997. He won the Lady Byng twice (1996, ’97) and finished in the top-10 five times. Injuries, mainly concussions, prevented him from adding to his haul, but it’s significant as-is ... and maybe enough to secure the votes.
Sergei Makarov, the 1990 Calder Trophy winner, scored 134 goals and 384 points in 424 NHL games, but his late-in-life NHL stint is just a coda for his Hall-worthy career. He led the Soviet league in scoring nine times, was named to the its All-Star team 10 times and was the Soviet MVP on three occasions. He also was part of eight World Champions, two Olympic gold-medal winners and was one of two wingers voted to the IIHF’s Centennial All-Star Team. Players who spent the majority of their careers overseas often are overlooked, but with his former linemate Igor Larionov now a member of the selection committee, this is likely to be his best chance ever to earn the blue jacket.
Keith Tkachuk and Jeremy Roenick are intertwined as members of USA Hockey’s Greatest Generation and, likely, in the eyes of Hall voters as well. Both topped 500 goals and 1,000 points, both were regular All-Star Game participants and both starred for Team USA internationally, including helping the Americans win the 1996 World Cup. They’ll certainly have support, but neither was the sort of impact player who was in the running for major awards, let alone actually won one.
Dave Andreychuk and his 640 goals—14th-most all-time—will get another look, but there’s an abiding sense that he was simply a very good player for a very long time (1,639 NHL games). Beyond that, there’s nothing else that really stands out about his career. He never once finished among the top-10 vote-getters for a major award and just twice played in the All-Star Game (basically, one more than Zemgus Girgensons). A good player, but not one that put butts in seats.
Chris Osgood and Curtis Joseph are the two most interesting netminders on the list. Osgood recorded 401 wins, good enough to rank in the top-10 all-time until Roberto Luongo passed him earlier this season. He won two Jennings Awards and backstopped the Red Wings to a pair of Stanley Cups but was largely viewed as support to Detroit’s galaxy of stars. Joseph is fourth on the all-time list with 454 wins and was a Vezina Trophy finalist three times, but never won a major award. Neither did he enjoy team success the way Osgood did. Both will have support on the committee, but will be hard pressed to make the cut.
Other names that will be in the mix include Theoren Fleury (remarkable for his diminutive size, but his numbers fall short), Mark Recchi (the Canadian version of Tkachuk/Roenick; good but not elite) and Alexander Mogilny (maybe it’s Russian bias ... or maybe leading the league in goal scoring for only one year isn’t that big a deal).
Several women deserve serious consideration, including Cassie Campbell-Pascall, Manon Rheaume, Nancy Drolet and Danielle Goyette.
And finally, it’s time for Don Cherry. Given the lack of star power in that class, 2016 is the perfect time to recognize his many contributions as a coach, a broadcaster and an influential voice who continues to shape perceptions of the game.