The 2012 inductees of the Hockey Hall of Fame could be as interesting as any in recent history.
Certainly Joe Sakic will go in, and one would have to think that Brendan Shanahan and Jeremy Roenick have pretty good odds of being voted in. Pavel Bure should absolutely be listed among the game's greatest of all time.
But what about Mats Sundin? Eric Lindros? Adam Oates? Will deserving players who have already been eligible for a few years, such as Steve Larmer and Dave Andreychuk, finally get a call?
It is an ageless debate regarding who the greatest players in the history of the game have been, and where contemporary players fit into the mix.
When considering players that are already retired, it's also worth thinking about some guys that are still on the ice. Without question, there are some of the finest players in the history of the game still actively playing, and many are still alive in the playoffs (perhaps for the last time).
What follows are the names of nine players that are a lock for the Hockey Hall of Fame when they hang up their skates.
This shouldn't surprise anyone. Brodeur has 105 regular-season wins—more than Patrick Roy, who is in second of all time. He also owns the career record for shutouts (119) and has a few championship rings to show for his efforts.
First ballot, no doubt.
If 1,142 regular-season points from a defenseman isn't enough, how about seven Norris Trophies, one Conn Smythe, 11 All-Star Games and four Stanley Cup rings. If
there was a Mount Rushmore for NHL defensemen, Lidstrom's face would be carved into it already. He's in the conversation for best ever at the position.
Selanne was going into the Hall of Fame before having another strong season, but reaching 1,400 career points is just another layer of concrete on the argument.
He's been better than a point-per-game player for over 1,300 games and currently ranks 12th in the league's history in goals scored (663). He has won the Calder, Masterton and Rocket Richard Trophies as well as a Stanley Cup ring.
Jagr took a couple years away from the NHL and came back to play effectively for the Philadelphia Flyers this season. He has 665 regular-season goals on his resume, which ranks 11th in the league's history (just in front of Selanne).
His 1,653 points are eighth in history as well, and he's received plenty of individual hardware for his efforts. Jagr has won the Hart Trophy once, the Art Ross five times and the Ted Lindsay Award three times. He has two Stanley Cup rings, and should already have his speech written.
A six-time All-Star and one of the more respected players of his generation, Iginla punched his ticket for the Hall when he scored his 500th goal this past season.
Hopefully at some point before his playing days end he'll find a way to add a Stanley Cup ring to his collection of individual honors.
Pronger won both the Hart and the Norris in 1999-2000 while with the St. Louis Blues, and later led the Anaheim Ducks to the Stanley Cup. He has been one of the more physical defensemen of his generation and has been a great leader in a surprising number of cities (five).
Add to those individual achievements 698 points as a defenseman and he'll certainly receive an invitation to the Hall some day.
Hossa has put up 904 points in 978 games in the NHL, and is a couple healthy weeks away from passing 1,000 points and a couple healthy seasons from approaching 500 goals.
He has played in the All-Star game five times, the Stanley Cup Finals on three occasions and won a ring with Chicago. If/when he reaches 500 goals, one of the best all-around forwards of his era will be a lock for the Hall.
Datsyuk's individual numbers are deceptive. He's scored only 240 goals, but he's posted 718 points in 732 games through the end of the 2011-12 regular season.
Add to being a point-per-game player his three Selke Trophies and four Lady Byng Trophies, as well as two Stanley Cup rings, and you have one of the best all-around forwards of the last 15 years wearing a Red Wings sweater.
Yes, Toews doesn't turn 24 until the end of April and yes, he's only played in 361 regular-season games with the Chicago Blackhawks. But the important part to remember when considering Toews for the Hockey Hall of Fame is that it isn't the NHL Hall of Fame.
Toews is the youngest player ever to be inducted into the IIHF's Triple Gold Club, winning gold at the World Championships and Winter Olympics as well as adding a Stanley Cup championship—all before his 23rd birthday.
What's more impressive is that he didn't just win every tournament, but he's been individually honored in almost every one of them; he was the Most Outstanding Forward at the World Juniors (where he also won gold), the World Championships and the Olympics, and won the Conn Smythe while leading the Blackhawks to the Cup (as their youngest captain ever).
Because Toews has been the best player on the best team throughout his young career, he's on course to be in the Hall of Fame.