NHL Hall of Famers: Power Ranking the Players Up for Induction in 2011
Each year, the Hockey Hall of Fame opens its doors for induction, and retired greats are honored for their accomplishments and contributions to the game. According to the Hockey Hall of Fame's website, eligible players are judged by their "playing ability, sportsmanship, character and their contribution to the team or teams and to the game of hockey in general."
According to the criteria, it seems that a player's place in the Hall of Fame isn't determined simply by what awards they've won or what numbers they've put up, but rather what kind of lasting impression they left on the hockey world. For this reason, many players who have had statistically outstanding careers have been left on the outside looking in, especially those who failed to win a Stanley Cup.
There have been some recent inductions that have caused debates within the hockey community and some omissions that have been downright mind-boggling, but that's the beauty of the Hall of Fame. The selection committee, comprised of former players, coaches and members of the media, determine who makes the cut and who doesn't, so the lasting impression each player left on the members of the committee is often the determining factor of a player's induction.
With that being said, I believe a player should meet one of two criteria in order to be considered a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. First of all, a player who is among the top five players in the world for at least a three-year period, should be a Hall of Famer. The second reason for which a player should be considered a Hall of Famer is if they produce at an All-Star level for a long period of time, such as the case of Mike Gartner.
Since the induction process is largely subjective, it's impossible to predict who will and won't make it come induction time, but here are the top 10 players eligible for induction in 2011.
The Hall of Fame is an exclusive club, one that honors the great and frequently excludes the very good. Over the course of the last four decades, there have been a host of extremely talented and accomplished players who have been passed over for induction, and there is only room for 10 players on this list.
With that being said, there are some players that were left off of this list that were particularly difficult to omit, but for one reason or another do not appear to be likely candidates for the Hall of Fame.
For example, Boris Mikhailov, one of the greatest European players of all time, is not enshrined in Toronto. However, he was inducted as a member of the International Ice Hockey Federation's Hall of Fame, largely due to the fact that North Americans weren't able to see him play on a regular basis.
Others like Pierre Turgeon and Steve Larmer were stars in the NHL at one time or another, but never quite reached the level of greatness required to gain entry to the Hall of Fame. Neither was a key cog in a Stanley Cup team (Larmer was, at the tail end of his career when he won with New York), and both were overshadowed by other offensive stars of their generations.
So, without further ado, here are the top 10 players eligible for induction in 2011.
10. Phil Housley
Out of all the great American-born defensemen the NHL has seen over the years, Phil Housley has the most points. After being drafted sixth overall by Buffalo in 1982, Housley quietly became one of the best offensive defensemen in the game, though he regularly played on mediocre teams.
Unfortunately, Housley holds another record, as he played the most NHL games without ever capturing a Stanley Cup, which may explain why he has yet to be enshrined in Hockey's Hall.
During the 1980s and early 1990s, Housley was an offensive machine for the Sabres and Winnipeg Jets, culminating with a 97-point season in 1992-1993. Defensively, Housley wasn't as sound as some of his contemporaries,but his numbers speak for themselves. His level of offensive production from the blue line is virtually unprecedented.
Though his production in the regular season was the stuff of legends, he had very few legitimate chances at a Stanley Cup during his 20 seasons. His only two deep playoff runs came during his rookie season with the Sabres, and in 1998 with the Capitals before being swept in the Finals by Detroit.
Housley was a trailblazer for American-born defensemen, as he was the first in a long line of offensive rearguards from the United States. Internationally, he was also a part of Team USA's World Cup victory in 1996, but that was the greatest team success Housley would experience.
Ultimately, Housley's outstanding regular season numbers were overshadowed by his lack of postseason experience and more defensively-sound peers. While he is among the best Americans ever to play in the NHL, it's likely that Housley will be passed over again in 2011.
9. Tom Barrasso
During the 1990s, there were few goaltenders as clutch as Pittsburgh's Tom Barrasso, who led the Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992. He developed a reputation as a big-game goaltender, though his play in the regular season was inconsistent during the later stages of his career.
As a hot-shot prospect out of the Boston area, Barrasso was drafted fifth overall by Buffalo in the 1983 NHL draft. From there, Barrasso skyrocketed to stardom, winning the Calder and Vezina trophies in his rookie season. He put together a few outstanding seasons with the Sabres before being dealt to Pittsburgh in 1988.
With the Penguins, Barrasso established himself as one of the best American-born goaltenders of all time, helping his team capture the first two Stanley Cups in franchise history. He also became the first American to win 300 games, though he never played 70 games in a single season.
In terms of his playing abilities, the knock on Barrasso has been that he was simply a very good goalie on a great team, which may or may not be true. However, the largest obstacle Barrasso must overcome in order to be inducted may be his reputation amongst members of the hockey community. While he was considered an outstanding netminder, Barrasso was not considered a great teammate and did not exactly endear himself to the media, especially in Pittsburgh.
While his credentials speak for themselves, the selection committee is a group of former players, coaches, executives, and yes, members of the media, so Barrasso's behavior off the ice will likely hurt his chances at being inducted.
8. Kevin Lowe
The Edmonton Oilers of the 1980s were one of the greatest hockey teams ever assembled, which is why six of its members have already been inducted as members of the Hockey Hall of Fame. However, there may be room for one more, as Kevin Lowe still remains on the list of players up for induction.
Lowe was not the offensive threat that Paul Coffey was from the blue line, nor did he possess any superhuman skills, like the passing of Wayne Gretzky or the speed of Glenn Anderson. Instead, Lowe played a very solid defensive game, which allowed his more offensively talented teammates to roam about the ice as they pleased. In fact, the QMJHL named its award for the league's best defensive rearguard after Lowe, illustrating his legacy as a stay-at-home defenseman.
A seven-time NHL All-Star, Lowe was considered a key cog in the Oilers' dynasty, and helped Edmonton capture the 1990 Cup after Gretzky's departure. Along with many of his former Oiler teammates, Lowe helped the New York Rangers end their 54-year Stanley Cup drought in 1994, though he played a supporting role.
If Lowe isn't inducted as a player, there's a reasonable chance he'll earn his way into the Hall of Fame as a builder, for his contributions to the game. Since his retirement as a player, Lowe has been in charge of the Oilers in a number of capacities, including head coach, general manager and now as President of Hockey Operations.
More importantly, Lowe was a key member of Team Canada's management team for their wins at the 2002 Olympics and 2004 World Cup of Hockey, cementing his status as one of the most respected executives in the game, except in the eyes of Brian Burke.
While Lowe's offensive numbers are low for a Hall of Fame defenseman, he was a key component of a truly great team. The only question remaining is whether Lowe as an individual was great enough to merit induction as a player.
7. Mike Richter
While Ryan Miller has been hailed by many as the best American goaltender of all time since his performance at the 2010 Winter Olympics, Mike Richter did what even Miller wasn't capable of. Prior to the NHL's participation in the Olympic Games, beginning in 1998, the World Cup of Hockey (though previously known as the Canada Cup) was the premier international event for professional hockey players.
Though he had a fantastic NHL career, Richter's crown achievements as a player may have come wearing Team USA colors, as he helped usher in a new era of American hockey. In 1996, Richter led his American squad to one of the biggest upsets in recent international hockey history, as the United States defeated Team Canada for the World Cup of Hockey. It was the first major international victory for the nation since the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics, and Richter was named the tournament's most valuable player.
Two years earlier, Richter led the New York Rangers to their first Stanley Cup in 54 years, putting on a show-stopping performance against Vancouver in the Stanley Cup Finals along the way. Richter's track record in big games speaks for itself, and he was a winner on both the NHL and international stages.
Later in his career, Richter battled a series of serious injuries, but not before putting on one more memorable performance for his country. At the 2002 Olympics, Richter led the United States to the gold medal game on home soil, helping deliver the nation's first Olympic hockey medal since 1980.
Richter was an obvious choice for induction into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame, but he has yet to receive the call from Toronto. While his NHL career was very good, Richter may end up being left out, because many of the defining moments of his career came while playing for his country.
6. Pavel Bure
In his prime, there was no player as electrifying as the Pavel Bure. Dubbed the "Russian Rocket" by fans and media for his breathtaking speed, Bure was the most exciting player in the game during the early 1990s. Like many great Russians before him, Bure had exceptional skating and puck-handling abilities, but unlike many of his countrymen, he was not afraid to take the puck into high-traffic areas of the ice in order to score.
After winning the Calder Trophy in 1992, Bure posted two consecutive 60-goal seasons for the Canucks, culminating with a birth in the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals. Though Bure was plagued by injuries for the next few seasons, he rebounded after being dealt to Florida in 1998, by winning the Rocket Richard in 2000 and 2001.
Internationally, Bure was equally as dynamic. At the 1998 Olympic semifinals against Finland, Bure set an Olympic record by scoring five goals to lift Russia to the gold medal game. Though the Russians settled for the silver medal, Bure was named the tournament's best forward, after scoring nine goals in six games.
If being one of the best players in the world during a given time period is a way of measuring a player's worthiness as a Hall of Famer, Bure passes that test. He led the NHL in goals on three separate occasions, and demonstrated a level of skill that few others in the game's history have possessed.
Ultimately, Bure's inability to stay healthy has severely impacted his chances at making the Hall of Fame. Though he only played 12 seasons, Bure was among the best forwards in the world for much of his career, so it's possible he'll find a way to be inducted eventually.
5. Adam Oates
During the late 1980s and 1990s, there were few playmakers as productive as Adam Oates in the NHL. Oates helped form one of the deadliest offensive partnerships in hockey history when he was traded to the St. Louis Blues in 1989. From there, Oates teamed up with Hall of Fame sniper Brett Hull, and together they terrorized goaltenders for two and a half seasons in St. Louis.
Oates posted over 100 points in each of his two full seasons as a member of the Blues, and helped winger Brett Hull score 86 goals and capture the 1991 Hart Trophy. After an ugly contract dispute, Oates was dealt to Boston, where he continued to produce at an astounding rate. In 1992-1993, Oates put up 142 points and then 112 the following year.
By the time Oates was traded to Washington midway through the 1996-1997 season, he had established himself as one of the premier set-up men in the league. As a Capital, Oates helped Peter Bondra lead the NHL in goals in 1997-1998 and was among the team's best players during Washington's Cinderella run to the 1998 Stanley Cup Finals.
Ultimately, Oates' inability to win a Stanley Cup, or be selected for any meaningful international team, will probably be what keeps him out of the Hall of Fame. Though Oates was a big part of two Stanley Cup Finalists, he was never the best player on a good, let alone great, team. He ranks sixth all time in career assists, and may go down as the player with the most points not in the Hall of Fame, but the lack of team success he experienced will probably leave him a few votes short come selection time.
4. Doug Gilmour
As most hockey fans know, since 1967, the Toronto Maple Leafs have failed to win a Stanley Cup. During that time, the Maple Leafs have had some of the game's finest players, many of which were close to returning the Cup to Toronto. Not many have come as close as Doug Gilmour, who delivered a virtuoso performance during the 1993 Stanley Cup playoffs.
The 1992-1993 season would serve as a defining moment in Gilmour's career, as he posted 127 points during the regular season, and another 35 in 21 playoff games. In the 1993 Conference Finals, the Leafs lost in heartbreaking fashion to the Kings on home ice, despite Gilmour's best efforts. That year, Gilmour won the Selke Trophy as the league's best defensive forward, and was second in league MVP voting.
While Gilmour never quite could get Toronto to the Stanley Cup Finals, he was an essential piece of the Calgary Flames 1989 Stanley Cup championship. In fact, it was Gilmour who potted the Stanley Cup-winning goal against Montreal, lifting Calgary to their only Cup in franchise history.
Internationally, Gilmour was an instrumental part of Team Canada's 1987 Canada Cup-winning squad, helping his country defeat the Soviet Union in the finals.
Ultimately, Gilmour appears to have the credentials of a Hall of Fame player. He has won at both the NHL and international level, he's won a major NHL award, and his numbers (over 1400 points) are good enough, but he's been passed over five times. Gilmour was a fan favorite and a widely respected two-way forward, so one has to believe that there's still hope for 'Killer yet.
3. Eric Lindros
If the Hall of Fame opens its doors to the greatest players of each era, there is no way that Eric Lindros should not be inducted within the next three years.
Lindros entered the National Hockey League as the most highly touted prospect since Mario Lemieux, and did not disappoint early on. From 1992-1993 to 2001-2002, Lindros averaged over a point per game each season, highlighted by two 100-point seasons. While he struggled with injuries for much of his career, there is no denying what Lindros accomplished when healthy.
In 1994-1995, as a 22-year-old, Lindros captured the Hart Trophy as league MVP, cementing his status as an NHL superstar. From there, Lindros posted a series of impressive offensive seasons, but injuries derailed his career. To make matters worse, after leading Philadelphia to the 1997 Stanley Cup Finals, Lindros' relationship with the Flyers began to sour quickly.
Though he continued to be the heart of the Flyers' offense, he consistently butted heads with general manager Bobby Clarke until he was finally traded to the New York Rangers in 2001. The following year, Lindros helped Team Canada capture the gold medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics, though he played a supporting role on a stacked team. Eventually, Lindros' series of serious concussions began to take their toll on the big man and ultimately forced him to retire in 2007.
A seven-time All-Star, Lindros was, at one point, the most dominant forward in the game, which must count for something. Unfortunately for Lindros, he is one of the most polarizing figures in the game's recent history, as he was public enemy No. 1 in Quebec for much of his career, which won't help his case for the Hall of Fame. However, if one is judging Lindros on his career and accomplishments alone, if Cam Neely is in the Hall of Fame, so too should Lindros.
2. Ed Belfour
Ed Belfour has won almost everything and anything one could want in a goaltender's career. As a rookie in 1990-1991, Belfour captured the Calder and Vezina trophies, announcing his arrival to the hockey world. From there, Belfour became a mainstay in the Blackhawks' crease, and would help Chicago reach the 1992 Stanley Cup Finals.
Part of what made Belfour such an outstanding goaltender was how competitive he was on and off the ice. This competitive fire lead him to quarrel with his backup goaltenders on more than one occasion, which forced Chicago to trade a young goaltender named Dominik Hasek to Buffalo in 1992. Belfour would go on to win another Vezina Trophy with Chicago in 1993, but was dealt to San Jose in 1997 after a lengthy contract dispute.
Belfour's brief stint with the Sharks ended that season, and he began the next chapter of his illustrious career with the Dallas Stars. As a Star, Belfour helped Dallas win the 1999 Stanley Cup, beating his former backup Hasek's Sabres in the Finals.
After winning the Cup, Belfour led the Stars back to the Finals the following season, though Dallas was bested by New Jersey in six games. Belfour then proceeded to take the reigns as Toronto's starting goaltender in 2002 and helped the Leafs come within a game of the Conference Finals in 2004.
Internationally, Belfour was a member of some of Canada's best teams, as he won the 1991 Canada Cup and the 2002 Olympic gold medal, though he served as a backup for both tournaments.
While Belfour has had well-documented problems with the law, his greatness as an NHL goaltender is unquestionable, as he managed to help teams reach new heights wherever he went. He was twice named the league's best goaltender and backstopped a Stanley Cup-winning team, so it's hard to imagine how Belfour won't be inducted in his first year of eligibility.
1. Joe Nieuwendyk
It's tough to see how the Hall of Fame's selection committee passed over Joe Nieuwendyk in his first year of eligibility, especially considering that only one player was inducted last year. Nieuwendyk, like Belfour, has all the credentials to be enshrined in Hockey's Hall, so one has to believe he'll be inducted in 2011.
As a rookie in 1987-1988, Nieuwendyk took the league by storm, tallying 92 points en route to winning the Calder Trophy. The following season, Nieuwendyk helped Calgary to their only Stanley Cup in franchise history, putting up 10 goals in 22 postseason games.
After a couple of 50-goal seasons in the early 1990s, Nieuwendyk was dealt by the Flames to Dallas in exchange for Jarome Iginla. The trade worked out perfectly for both sides, as Calgary found their franchise player in Iginla, and Nieuwendyk went on to lead Dallas to the 1999 Stanley Cup. During the 1999 playoffs, Nieuwendyk notched 11 goals, including six game-winners, earning the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP along the way.
During the later stages of his career, Nieuwendyk was still an offensive force, and he helped New Jersey capture the 2003 Stanley Cup. Though his regular season numbers declined steadily following his time in Dallas, he still managed to break 50 points in each of his final two full seasons.
Nieuwendyk also performed well when called upon by his country, as he scored the tying goal late in the pivotal final round robin game against the Czech Republic at the 2002 Olympics, before eventually winning the gold medal.
While Nieuwendyk was never among the top five players in the game, he consistently demonstrated a level of excellence over the course of his career that few have matched. Nieuwendyk hit all the meaningful statistical plateaus that players are generally judged upon, as he's a member of the 500-goal and 1000-point clubs. More importantly, he was a winner at every level, helping three different teams win the Stanley Cup and was the most valuable player on Dallas' championship team in 1999.
Over the course of his 21-year career, Nieuwendyk won everything a hockey player could dream of, and it's time he's recognized as a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.