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Daniel Alfredsson's Career Should Leave No Doubt About Hall of Fame Candidacy

Dave Lozo@@davelozoNHL National Lead WriterDecember 3, 2014

OTTAWA - NOVEMBER 3:  Daniel Alfredsson #11 of the Ottawa Senators skates against the Boston Bruins during their NHL game at Scotia Bank Place November 3, 2007 in Kanata, Ontario.(Photo By Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)
Dave Sandford/Getty Images

Daniel Alfredsson will officially announce his retirement Thursday, ending an illustrious career that was spent almost entirely with the Ottawa Senators, save for his final season in 2013-14 with the Detroit Red Wings.

Alfredsson finishes with 447 goals and 1,157 points in 1,246 regular-season games, putting him right in the thick of Hall of Fame conversation. Those numbers should be plenty good enough to guarantee his enshrinement when first eligible in 2017.

Right?

For some reason, support for Alfredsson in the Hall of Fame ranges anywhere from tepid to chilly. Sean McIndoe of Grantland determined Alfredsson to be Hall-worthy last month but not without plenty of consternation. The Hockey News came to a similar conclusion last year, saying he would get in but not on the first try. The Hockey Writers decided Alfredsson wasn't Hall-worthy, and the word "probably" appears in this report from The Score about Alfredsson's retirement.

There's no "probably" or debate about it: Alfredsson should be an open-net tap-in for the Hall of Fame when he's first eligible in 2017.

NHL's leading scorers since 1995-96
PlayerGoalsAssistsPoints
Jaromir Jagr5518281,379
Teemu Selanne5616621.223
Joe Thornton3498651,214
Jarome Iginla5636181,181
Daniel Alfredsson4447131,157
Source: Hockey-Reference.com

Alfredsson is 51st all-time in points; of the 50 players ahead of him, 37 have been enshrined. Of the 13 players who are not in the Hall of Fame, five are sure to one day receive the call—Jaromir Jagr, Mark Recchi, Teemu Selanne, Jarome Iginla and Joe Thornton—while the other eight are in that borderline/Hall of Very Good category.

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Of the 10 players directly behind Alfredsson in career points, seven are in the Hall of Fame, while one other, Nicklas Lidstrom, will be a slam dunk next year, although the standards are understandably different for a defenseman.

Different positions, different eras, but Alfredsson’s overall body of work relative to some of the greatest to ever play the game is very impressive.

Alfredsson’s career is difficult to judge in relation to his modern-day peers, as he played through wildly different times in the NHL. In Alfredsson’s 1995-96 rookie season, Mario Lemieux led the league in points with 161; eight years later, scoring declined to the point where Martin St. Louis’ 94 points led the league in 2004-05.

So what’s the best way to view Alfredsson’s career?

There are several, but let’s start with his 1994 draft class.

Alfredsson, a sixth-round pick, is by far the leading scorer of anyone selected that year, with the New Jersey Devils’ Patrik Elias posting the second-most points at 994. Other luminaries from that class include Ryan Smyth (842 points), Milan Hejduk (805 points) and Steve Sullivan (747 points).

Of all the human beings on the surface of the Earth eligible to be drafted in 1994, none was better than Alfredsson.

When we widen the net for comparison with contemporaries, Alfredsson’s career still looks exceptional.

OTTAWA - FEBRUARY 3:  Daniel Alfredsson #11 of the Ottawa Senators controls the puck in the defensive zone as Mats Sundin #13 of the Toronto Maple Leafs pursues the play during their NHL game on February 3, 2007 at the Scotiabank Place in Ottawa, Canada.
Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images

Including all players drafted between 1989-93 and 1995-99, only four (Jagr, Iginla, Thornton, Mats Sundin) have more career points than Alfredsson, while two others (Patrick Marleau, Marian Hossa) have a chance of surpassing Alfredsson before their careers expire.

That’s 10 years of hockey players entering the league, and only four were more productive than Alfredsson in their careers.

There are two players from that time period (Peter Forsberg, Pavel Bure) who had fewer points than Alfredsson but received enshrinement because their careers were cut short by injury. A third player, Eric Lindros, will also receive strong consideration in the coming years under the same reasoning.

Alfredsson was able to play until he was 40 years old, which means you can see that as a positive (durability, longevity) or a negative (compiler).

Considering he averaged 0.86 points per game in his seven seasons aged 35 or older, he certainly wasn’t clinging to a career he should have exited long before Thursday.

Points per game since 2007-08
PlayerAgesPPG
24. John Tavares19-240.90
25. Marian Hossa29-360.89
26. Mike Ribeiro27-340.87
27. Alex Semin23-300.87
28. Daniel Alfredsson35-410.86
29. Brad Richards27-340.86
30. Rick Nash23-300.85
Source: Hockey-Reference.com (min. 300 games)

It’s clear Alfredsson was in a special class when compared to those who entered the league within a five-year radius on either side of 1994, but what about his numbers when compared to everyone in the league during his career?

Between 1995-96 and 2009-10, Alfredsson’s 992 points are fourth, trailing only Jagr, Selanne and Joe Sakic; one spot behind Alfredsson is Sundin.

Those numbers look a little less impressive when examining them through a points-per-game lens; at 0.99 per game, Alfredsson ranks 13th, which trails a lot of Hall of Famers but also the likes of Dany Heatley and Zigmund Palffy.

But that’s over a 14-year period, which allows for players like Heatley and Palffy to post more impressive numbers in shorter windows. Heatley averaged 1.06 points per game from 2001 to 2010 while Palffy was at 1.08 points per game from 1995 to 2006.

What do Alfredsson’s numbers look like when we slice out the prime cut of his career, from 2000-2010, when he had 723 points in 674 games?

Over that decade’s worth of seasons, Alfredsson ranks third in points behind Thornton and Iginla. Alfredsson’s 1.07 points per game also look a lot better, ranking him 10th behind nine surefire Hall of Fame players. The issue here is the players behind Alfredsson, excluding Iginla and Sundin, are the who’s who of Hall of Very Good candidates.

In a way, Alfredsson is the cutoff on this list, and you have to decide if he belongs with the players above or behind him. Are you more impressed by him being just 0.03 points per game behind Sakic and 0.05 points per game ahead of Iginla, or are you more turned off by his proximity to Heatley?

We'll revisit the Heatley connection later because comparables and perception are important.

Perhaps Alfredsson’s career in the postseason will clarify matters.

Before we look at his numbers, let’s get something out of the way: A player never winning the Stanley Cup isn’t a reason to exclude him from the Hall of Fame. Ask any player, coach, executive and most media folks, and he or she will tell you hockey is the ultimate team game. A player is only as good as his linemates, and that line is only as good as the other line combinations, which are only as good as the defensemen, which are only as good as the goaltender and right back on through the list. Teams win and lose games, everyone will tell you, not individual players.

Yet when it comes time to judge a player’s game, it’s about whether he won a Stanley Cup, not whether his teams won a Stanley Cup. Unless there’s video of Alfredsson intentionally shooting pucks into his own net during the 2007 Stanley Cup Final, that’s not part of the debate.

Overall in the playoffs, Alfredsson was a terrific player.

In 124 career postseason games, Alfredsson had 100 points, which ranks 85th all time. That’s not going to blow you off your porch, but a player can only play in the postseason if his team is good enough to get there. The problem for Alfredsson is his 0.81 points per game ranks 104th all time among those with at least 50 playoff games, which actually puts him behind Heatley (0.82) on the list.

If we shorten the list to those who played in at least 100 playoff games, Alfredsson ranks 53rd all time in points per game, which gives you a better idea of how consistently excellent he was in the postseason.

If we boil it down even further to compare him to his contemporaries, which is what the Hall of Fame is all about, Alfredsson’s 0.81 points per game are ninth among those to play in at least 100 playoff games between 1996 and 2014.

In his 15 trips to the postseason, Alfredsson averaged at least a point per game six times. When the Senators reached the Final in 2007, Alfredsson led everyone in goals (14) and points (22) and scored four goals in the five-game Final loss.

Perception is part of the issue when debating a player’s Hall of Fame candidacy, so what would the perception of Alfredsson be if he won a Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup in 2007 instead of finishing just short of hockey’s ultimate prize?

If that’s enough to sway your negative or lukewarm feelings about Alfredsson, then he should be a no doubt for enshrinement in 2017.

Not only does Alfredsson have a Hall of Fame resume strictly based on his NHL bona fides, but he had quite the international career as well.

It’s the Hockey Hall of Fame, not the NHL Hall of Fame.

TURIN, ITALY - FEBRUARY 24:  Daniel Alfredsson #11 of Sweden shake hands players from Czech Republic after Sweden won the semi final of the men's ice hockey match between Sweden and Czech Republic during Day 14 of the Turin 2006 Winter Olympic Games on Fe
Robert Laberge/Getty Images

Alfredsson had 13 goals and 27 points in 26 Olympic games and won gold with Sweden in 2006. He represented his country at seven World Championships, a tournament you can probably take or leave considering it’s not against the top players in the world, and had 19 goals and 46 points in 58 games.

The final consideration: Who will Alfredsson be up against when he becomes eligible in 2017?

It’s hard to say. Looking at players who also called 2013-14 their final NHL season, Selanne is at a death-and-taxes level of certainty for enshrine men. But no one else matches Alfredsson in career accomplishments, either individually or team-wise.

Martin Brodeur was a surefire lock for 2017 before joining the St. Louis Blues instead of opting for retirement, which means he won't be eligible until 2018 at the earliest. With Brodeur out of the way, it’s clear Alfredsson is the next-most viable candidate behind Selanne.

There could be stragglers in 2017, but certain players could get the Hall call before then, players like Recchi, Lindros and Sergei Fedorov. Recchi would've moonwalked into the Hall of Fame this year if not for it being such an overwhelmingly strong class and should get in next year along with Lidstrom and Chris Pronger.

And even if Lindros and Fedorov are still eligible in 2017, Alfredsson has just as strong of a case, if not stronger, than both players.

The Hall of Fame can induct as many as four players in a given year, which has been the case in all but two years since 2007. If that trend continues, it’s hard to imagine a scenario that includes Alfredsson being left out in 2017.

It’s easy to see why Alfredsson’s career may get lost in the shuffle. He never finished higher than fifth in Hart Trophy voting and only received enough votes to be in the top 20 four times. In his best statistical season, 2005-06, he finished tied for fourth in points with 103 points.

OTTAWA - DECEMBER 1: Dany Heatley #15, Jason Spezza #19 and Daniel Alfredsson #11 of the Ottawa Senators line up on the blue line during the singing of the national anthems before a game against the New York Rangers at Scotiabank Place on December 1, 2007
Andre Ringuette/Getty Images

Who did Alfredsson finish tied with that season? You guessed it: Heatley.

Yes, it’s funny how often Alfredsson’s name winds up side-by-side with Heatley’s, considering Heatley has collapsed since turning 30. But it’s important to remember Alfredsson mirrors Heatley when the latter was dominating the NHL in his 20s with 50-goal and 100-point seasons.

It’s also notable that a lot of that Heatley domination occurred when the two were teammates and frequent linemates in Ottawa and that Heatley’s sharp decline occurred not long after he left the Senators while Alfredsson continued to produce at a high level in his 30s. If Heatley didn't fall off a cliff in his 30s, the perception of being so closely tied to him wouldn't even be an issue, if it even is at all, for Alfredsson.

Alfredsson was better than a point-per-game player for a decade, excelled in the playoffs and internationally and was only surpassed in his career by the likes of Jagr, Selanne, Sundin and Sakic.

If you don’t see Alfredsson as a Hall of Fame slam dunk, should you be allowed a vote on such a thing?

Probably not.

All statistics via NHL.com and Hockey-Reference.com.

Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @DaveLozo.