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Hockey's Hall beckons

Just don't sit around by the phone. The call you're hoping for isn't coming.

Anderson, one of the most prolific scorers of his era with 498 goals and 1,099 points, has been rejected several times by the voters of hockey's Hall of Fame. And his next chance, which comes today at the annual meeting of the Hall's Selection Committee, won't be the charm.

After wading through several shallow pools, the committee has a deep group from which to select the Class of 2007. Among the first-year eligible players are some of the finest players of the last quarter-century: Mark Messier, Ron Francis, Scott Stevens, Igor Larionov, Al MacInnis, Adam Oates and Claude Lemieux. The 18 members of the Hall's Selection Committee -- including's own Michael Farber -- eventually will get around to adding most, if not all, of those players. But with just four spots open to players this time around, frustrated wannabes like Anderson face at least one more year of fishing out their wallet if they want admission to the Hall.

Under a more equitable system, at least six players would get the nod on their first go-round. Faced with narrowing that group down, today's meeting should be fairly contentious. So let's make it easy on them.

It's safe to start sizing Messier up for one of those blue jackets. He's a sure thing, Smooth Jimmy Apollo's lock of the year. In fact, he should have garnered serious consideration for waiving the three-year waiting period. Moose retired as the NHL's second all-time leading scorer, his 1,887 points trailing only Wayne Gretzky after that remarkable 25-year career. He played a pivotal role in each of the six Stanley Cups he earned and was a four-time first-team All-Star. He twice won the Hart and Lester Pearson Trophies and was the Conn Smythe recipient in 1984, the year of Edmonton's first championship. In fact, he was at his best during the playoffs, scoring 295 points in 236 games, and earning the distinction as the only player to captain two different teams to a Cup.

Of course, his legend looms larger than any collection of hardware. Messier is the definition of a Hall of Famer, a combination of power, character, skill and willpower almost impossible to fit into one man. His is a display you'd want to take your kids to see.

Francis' image was considerably more subdued, primarily as a result of spending much of his career with the low-wattage Whalers and Hurricanes, but he was only slightly less effective than Messier. After a 23-year career, his resume includes a fourth-place standing on the all-time points list (1,798, including 549 goals) and third in games played. He won two Cups, three Lady Byng Trophies, the Selke and the King Clancy.

He's not a slam dunk, but there's almost no chance Francis is overlooked.

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In his own way, MacInnis was the most feared player of his generation thanks to his legendary slap shot that is regarded as one of the hardest -- and most accurate -- of all time. Over his 22-year NHL career, he amassed 340 goals and 934 assists -- both good for third on the all-time among defensemen. He won the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe in 1989, and a Norris Trophy in 1999. He was a first or second-team All-Star six times.

Big Mac was a player who demanded your attention every time he stepped on the ice. His career pretty much demands induction today.

The final nod won't be easy, and should come down to two players: Stevens and Larionov.

Stevens will be remembered as the core of a New Jersey Devils defense that was among the most formidable of all time. His ferocious hitting was the stuff of highlight reels -- bone-crunchers on Eric Lindros and Paul Kariya still get regular play. He was a key contributor to three Stanley Cups for the Devils, won the Conn Smythe in 2000 and was twice a first-team All-Star. And while he's remembered primarily for his physical play, he was also a gifted offensive player, eight times scoring at least 50 points.

Larionov's NHL numbers (169 goals and 644 points in 921 games) won't carry the day -- but then he didn't come to the NHL until he was 28. Although he went on to win three Stanley Cups in Detroit, the Professor earned his place in the Hall with the legendary Central Red Army, and the Soviet national team that won four World Championships and two Olympic Golds. As the center of the famed KLM line, he was Europe's best player of the 1980s.

I'd make the final call to Larionov because, like Messier, he's the definition of a Hall-worthy player: someone who changed the course of the game with his presence.

Of course, the final spot could just as appropriately go to Stevens. Or Oates. Ask Brett Hull or Cam Neely if he belongs. With a class this deep, the committee is sure to make four worthy picks.

Even if it means Anderson keeps waiting for a call.