The Hockey Hall of Fame announced its class of 2015 yesterday, and it’s a big one. The Hall will welcome seven new members this winter: five players and two inductees in the builder’s category.
The big name is Nicklas Lidstrom, the seven-time Norris Trophy winner who’d been considered an absolute first-ballot lock since well before he retired. He’ll be joined by former teammate Sergei Fedorov, who also gets in on the first try. Fedorov wasn’t quite a slam dunk, but he was close, and certainly deserves the honor.
Two other picks will cause at least a little bit of discussion, although for very different reasons. Phil Housley finally gets the call after waiting since 2006. He’s the fourth-highest-scoring defenseman of all time and had nearly 400 points more than the next-highest-scoring blueliner who wasn’t in, but his defensive shortcomings had hurt his candidacy — he’ll be one of a very small group of HOF defensemen with a minus rating over the course of his career.
And then there’s Chris Pronger. On merit, there’s no doubt Pronger belongs in the Hall — he was arguably the best non-Lidstrom defenseman of his era, and is the only blueliner since Bobby Orr to win the MVP. He’s also technically still an active player, despite suffering a career-ending injury in 2011, and that’s where this gets messy. He’s still under contract, and was even traded just a few days ago. But the Hall had already ruled him eligible months ago, so he was going to get in.
The Hall also welcomed three other inductees: builders Bill Hay and Peter Karmanos Jr., and longtime Team USA defenseman (and gold-medal winner) Angela Ruggiero, who becomes the fourth woman honored.
The seven honorees will be inducted in November. In the meantime, it’s time to start picking through the snubs and near misses as we try to figure out who has the inside track on the class of 2016. There aren’t any especially impressive candidates coming into the pool next year, which opens up the field for some players who missed the cut this time.
Here are 10 players who were passed over this year who may have the best case for induction in 2016.
Eligible since: 2014
The numbers: 577 goals and 1,533 points over a 22-year career. He won three Cups, played in seven All-Star Games, and was a second-team All-Star once.
The case for: The 1,533-point total ranks 12th all time, and everyone else in the top 25 is either already in or will go in on the first ballot as soon as they’re eligible (Teemu Selanne and Jaromir Jagr). Offensive production has always been the key criteria for induction, so seeing a guy with Recchi’s massive career totals left out seems bizarre.
The case against: Recchi is the classic example of a player who was good for a long time but was never really considered elite. He was very good in the early ’90s, and was a consistent producer well into his forties, but he was never in the conversation for best player in the league, or even close to it.
If I had a vote: If we were picking between guys with a high peak vs. guys who were very good for a long time, I’d take the peak over longevity. But Recchi’s top years were pretty good, and there does come a point when a guy’s career numbers get so high that he has to get in. I think Recchi is right around that zone, so while I don’t mind seeing him wait a bit, he’d get my vote to go in eventually.
Bottom line: Everyone seems to assume Recchi will get in someday. Maybe next year is the year.
Eligible since: 2009
The numbers: 640 goals, 1,338 points, two All-Star Games.
The case for: He scored the 14th-most goals in NHL history, and every eligible player ahead of him was a slam dunk. In fact, other than Recchi, Andreychuk has over 100 more goals than any other eligible player. That’s stunning, and feels like it should be enough to get him in on its own. He’s also one of the few players to have lifted the Stanley Cup as a captain, having done so in 2004 as the veteran leader on an otherwise young Lightning team.
The case against: Along with Recchi, Andreychuk is the poster child for the “long career, big totals, good but never great” class of player. He played in an All-Star Game only twice and never got significant votes for any major award, and it’s fair to say that nobody ever dragged their kids to the rink to see Andreychuk play. He also racked up most of those goals playing in the high-flying ’80s and early ’90s (although that’s not as big a factor as you might think; on an era-adjusted basis he still ranks 18th all time).
If I had a vote: I’ve lobbied for Andreychuk’s name to be featured more prominently in the HOF discussion; that he rarely generates any sort of buzz is baffling to me. That said, I’m not sure I’d vote for him, for the same reason I wouldn’t have voted for Dino Ciccarelli and would at least hesitate on Recchi.
Bottom line: It doesn’t seem like Andreychuk will ever get in, and if that’s the case, that record of 640 goals for a non-Hall-of-Famer will probably stand forever.