The Hockey Hall of Fame announced its class of 2016 yesterday, with Eric Lindros, Sergei Makarov, Rogie Vachon and Pat Quinn receiving the game’s ultimate honour.
These announcements always make for a fun debate. And that extends to future classes; we’re already seeing some attention turn to 2017 and beyond, when we’ll have a mix of holdovers from this year’s vote, recently retired sure-things like Teemu Selanne and Martin Brodeur, and some tougher cases like Daniel Alfredsson and Saku Koivu.
But today, let’s look ahead even further. Let’s look at the five players nearing the end of their careers who could make for the toughest calls among active players when they become eligible for Hall of Fame consideration.
Let’s set a couple of ground rules. First, we’ll focus on players who are 36 or older, since drawing the line there should limit us to players who truly are almost done. Note that that limit means we can hold off on a few contentious names, like the Sedin twins and Henrik Zetterberg.
And we're also going to exclude active players who are already shoe-ins. That list might be controversial in its own right, but we're going to go ahead and award early Hall passes to:
- Jaromir Jagr: Because come on.
- Zdeno Chara: While he only has one Norris, his seven post-season all-star nods and a Stanley Cup win as a captain will be more than enough to get him in.
- Jarome Iginla: Scoring 600+ goals means guaranteed entry (unless you're Dave Andreychuk).
- Marian Hossa: I took an in-depth look at the argument for Hossa last season, and concluded that his case was strong but not a slam dunk. I heard from several respected hockey people who thought he was a sure thing, and he's since added another Stanley Cup ring, so let's say he's in.
- Joe Thornton: Every player ahead of him on the career points list is already in, with the exception of Selanne (who isn't eligible). And his playoff run this year seems to have put a few dents in that "can't win the big one" narrative that's followed him through his career. Maybe voters pull a Mark Recchi and make him wait, but surely we can all agree he gets in eventually, right?
With those five off the board, here are the five active players that look like they'll make for the toughest HHOF calls.
The longtime Devil's status for next year isn't known yet. He'll technically become a free agent on Friday, but all indications are he'll be back in New Jersey or not at all.
The case for: He's an extremely well-respected veteran with two Cup rings. He's also crossed a pair of major milestones, cracking both the 400-goal and 1,000-point marks during the 2014-15 season.
The case against: While he did reach both milestones, it was only barely, and he didn't add much to his career totals last season due to injury. Plenty of players with better career numbers haven't made it in, and that remains true even if you adjust for era. Realistically, Elias was always very good but was never viewed as one of the game's very best – his 2000-01 season was the only one in which he made a postseason all-star team or cracked the top-10 in Hart voting.
My vote: This feels like one of those Hall-of-Very-Good cases. He's a no for me.
Prediction: Elias is a tough call who always seems to split the vote. One factor that could work in his favour: he played his entire career for one team, and for some reason that seems to help. As the all-time leading scorer for one of the more successful franchises in recent league history, he'll have an entire fan base (and more than a few media) pushing his candidacy hard. But unless he comes back and has a big year or two, I don't think he gets in.