The best of all time. A living legend. A Hall of Famer.
There is a lot of hyperbole thrown around when talking about sports stars, and it often is an emotional or contentious subject when debating who is the best at a given position.
With that in mind, when looking at current players in the NHL that might be in this discussion, it is best to use the most selective criteria, that of the Hockey Hall of Fame: “Playing ability, sportsmanship, character and their contribution to the team or teams and to the game of hockey in general.”
While the selection criteria seem rather short, there are some unwritten rules that can be observed when looking at who has been inducted.
First, a player has to be an impact player or star. You won’t find many fourth-liners in the Hall of Fame. You have to score a lot of goals or win some major awards to be in the Hall.
Second, a lengthy career at a high level is a plus. You might find players like Cam Neely or Pavel Bure who had careers cut short by injury, but that is the exception, rather than the rule.
Third, while it isn’t explicitly stated, the Hockey Hall of Fame is an NHL club. There are token inductees who primarily played outside the NHL, but they are few and far between. Play in lower leagues or in Europe is generally discounted. International play falls into this category as well, although competitions like the Olympics after 2002 or the 1972 Summit Series are considered more favorably.
Fourth, you have to be respected. This is essentially a popularity contest, and someone who is considered to play hockey “the right way” or is judged to be a good guy by his peers is more likely to get in than another player if all other factors are equal.
Fifth, playing in a big market helps. Most of the inductees are from Original Six teams, which is only to be expected given their history. But playing in an Original Six market or another big hockey market (Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Edmonton or Vancouver for example) is an asset in getting media attention and therefore being more popular when it comes time to vote.
Six, winning trumps all. You can be the biggest jerk off the ice, play on small-market teams and be considered one of the dirtiest players in the league...but if you win, you’ll get in. You could call this the Chris Pronger rule. Or the Mark Messier rule if you prefer.
With all this in mind, let's look at who might potentially make the Hall of Fame from each NHL team’s 2012-13 roster.