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Induction into the Hall of Fame is the most prestigious award any athlete can receive in any sport. If you're inducted into Cooperstown (New York), Canton (Ohio), the Hockey Hall of Fame (Toronto) or Springfield (the Basketball Hall of Fame—don't worry, I didn't know either), you feel honoured both as a professional, and on a personal level as well.
Induction into a Hall of Fame for fans, though, offers them two opportunities:
1) They're given the opportunity to reminisce about a career that most likely defined their childhood. All of the memories of their favorite Hall-bound player come flooding back and the past receives second life.
Along with that, you get to share with your children and young fans about how player X changed the game for the better, improved your team and was the reason you fell in love with the game before the Commissioner moved your favorite team to Phoenix.
2) It lets people do what they do best: Argue and fight about whether the honor is deserving or not.
The arguing is well-deserved, though—not on the part of the player, but the sport itself. After all, if people didn't argue about who was representing their favorite sport through the annals of time, then people wouldn't care and the sport would die out.
Kind of like Rock, Paper, Scissors...oh wait...
But what else do you expect? Unless the player is head and shoulders better than the rest, the argument about whether their induction is deserving or not will always stand.
Take Cam Neely for instance: Yes, he scored goals at an alarming rate and yes, he was the modern-day power forward (people say Neely defined this role, but they forget about Gordie Howe), but there are a lot of fans who feel that's not enough.
The goals-per-game stat is outstanding (396 in 726 career games) but after that, nothing else really matches up: A big qualm is that Neely wasn't a point-per-game player (although he was close with 694 in 726 games), and he didn't really hit any major milestones (500 goals, 1,000 points, 1,000 games) which is actually a testament to the impact he left on those who watched him.
Then the argument becomes: If Cam Neely can get in, then certainly someone like Pavel Bure should get in too.
That's what's nice about this year's class, though: Every single player was one of, if not the best, at what they did.
Steve Yzerman, despite Bill Clinton waffling on how to pronounce his name, broke the mould of leaders.
In saying this, he never really did anything out of the ordinary, but players such as Yzerman and Mark Messier are paired together in history as men who could simply get their teams to that next level, be it in the preseason, regular season, or playoffs.
The man won Stanley Cups, he scored goals (692) and he proved that the smaller forward could still be an effective player as the NHL began to get bigger.
The 5-foot-11 career Red Wing willed teams to win, as proven in 2002 when he won a gold medal with Team Canada at the Olympics and a Stanley Cup with the Red Wings on two deteriorating knees.
Brett Hull (a wavering citizenship aside) was simply a scoring machine. The son of Bobby and nephew of Dennis couldn't be kept from the net, as he sits fourth all time in career hat tricks with 33.
Hull finished his career with 741 goals, placing him third all-time and was also in the top 20 for points when he retired.
For a long time Hull was the face of the St Louis Blues, setting the franchise mark for them in goals with 527. From there he went on to score for the Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings and he added an assist in five games after the lockout with the Phoenix Coyotes.
Strangely enough, Luc Robitaille is the third member of the Detroit Red Wings' 2002 Cup champion team to be inducted into the Hall of Fame this class.
Joining Hull and Yzerman is the all-time leading goal scorer amongst left wingers with 668 of them. After spending most of his career with the Los Angeles Kings (he spent seasons in Detroit, Pittsburgh and New York).
Despite his travels, Robitaille always personified what it was to be an L.A. King, ranking up there in the franchise totals of goals, assists, and games played.
At that point in time, Robitaille was also winning battles for the little guy, having been drafted 171st overall in 1984.
The fourth member of the class is Brian Leetch—and Leetch is no former Red Wing, that's for sure.
After spending time with three Original Six teams though (New York, Toronto and Boston), Leetch has made his mark as one of the best offensive defensemen of his time.
The accolades for Leetch were some of the highest a player of his caliber could receive during his time: Leetch was twice a Norris trophy winner, and was a centrepiece in the Rangers 1994 Stanley Cup championship, becoming the first (and only) American-born player to win the Conn Smythe trophy.
Leetch is also one of just a handful of defensemen who have earned themselves a 100-point season and he ended his career with over 1,000 points in 1,200 career games.
As individuals, the four of them have undoubtedly earned their honors. As a team of inductees, they could possibly be one of the greatest classes to ever enter the hall: 5,419 games played, 2,348 goals scored, 3,220 assists, totalling 5,568 points.
To put those totals in perspective, they sit 119 games played, 868 assists and 290 points behind the class of 2007: Ron Francis, Mark Messier, Scott Stevens, and Al MacInnis. They did, however, score 569 goals more than that 2007 class.
People don't like to gauge a lot on paper these days, but on paper? That's one hell of a graduating class: 2009, The Grandeur Class of Goal-Scoring.
Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and an NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. If you want to get in contact with Bryan you can do so through his profile, and you can also email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also check out all of his previous work in his archives.
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