Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Six active players who could make for tricky HHOF debates someday

The Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee will meet today, and within a few hours we’ll know the identity of the Class of 2019. It’s an interesting mix this year, with only one sure thing (Hayley Wickenheiser) and only one new candidate on the men’s side who seems like a possible first-ballot pick (Patrik Elias, and that’s probably a stretch).

That could mean we get a small class this year, maybe even one that only includes Wickenheiser on the player side. Or it could leave the door open for some of the many candidates who built up a decent case but have yet to hear their name called. That would include guys like Curtis Joseph, Jeremy Roenick, Theo Fleury, Sergei Zubov, Alexander Mogilny … the list is a long one.

As you know if you’ve followed my work over the years, I love this stuff. I made the case for four candidates back in November, including longtime snubs Doug Wilson and Mike Keenan. I’ve looked at players who seemed to be falling off the radar. I’ve dug in on some individual candidacies, like Daniel Alfredsson and Marian Hossa. Back in 2016, I looked at 10 candidates who’d been passed over, five of whom have since been inducted. Honestly, I’d probably just do Hall of Fame debates every day if my editors would let me.

But one of my favorite angles to take is to look at active players who are shaping up as tough calls. I did that a few years ago, in a list that included Elias. Only two of those players are still active, and one (Roberto Luongo) seems like a safe pick now. So it’s time for an update.

Today, we’re going to look at a half-dozen players whose careers are on track to make for tricky Hall of Fame calls. We can’t predict the future, but each of these players is on pace to build a plausibly Hall-worthy resume without getting into no-doubt territory, although one or two are pretty close.

We’re looking for players who’ve been around – let’s say at least a dozen years of NHL experience – but haven’t already stamped their ticket. We know that stars like Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Zdeno Chara and Joe Thornton are already in, even if they never play another game. Those won’t be long discussions when they get to the induction committee. I want the guys who are going to cause a few arguments.

To be clear, these aren’t the only players worth talking about, and if you don’t see your favorite player listed it’s not because I don’t think he has any chance. These are just six of the guys that seem like they’d be fun to debate. And by “debate” I mean yell at each other about in the comments, and by “fun” I mean the opposite of fun. Let’s get started.

Nicklas Backstrom

Why it’s a tough one: Can you be a Hall of Famer if you were never considered the best player on your own team? Yes, because lots of guys have been, including no-doubters like Jari Kurri and Paul Coffey and more recent picks like Dave Andreychuk and Dino Ciccarelli. But fair or not, Backstrom has spent his entire career playing second-fiddle to Alexander Ovechkin, and that perception could muddy the waters.

The case for: Backstrom’s still just 31 and barely hits our 12-year cutoff, so we’re going to have to do some projecting here. But he’s one of the best playmakers of his generation – he already ranks fourth in assists among active players, ahead of names like Evgeni Malkin, Jason Spezza and Anze Kopitar who’ve been around longer. Ovechkin could go down in history as the greatest goal scorer of his generation, and Backstrom will have had a lot to do with that.

On top of that, Backstrom is a solid two-way player who’s finished as high as seventh in Selke voting, and he’s been remarkably consistent through his 12-year career, including posting 70-plus points every year since the 2013 lockout. And now that he’s got his Cup ring, any lame narratives about the Caps not knowing how to win can’t haunt him.

The case against: Assists are important but goals get the glory, and Backstrom has never been a great scorer; he might struggle to even get to 350 for his career. He’s never won an award or been a finalist, and his highest finish in post-season all-star voting was third.

Worth remembering: Other noted playmakers like Adam Oates and Doug Gilmour eventually made it in, but each had to wait and it looked iffy for a while – and they both had over 1,400 career points.

Should he get in? It’s all going to depend on where his numbers end up. He won’t hit Oates or Gilmour territory, but he won’t have to because of the era he played in. Would 1,200 be enough? I think it might, especially if he continues to get credit for solid defensive play.

Will he get in? Right now, he ranks sixth among active players in points per game, and all five ahead of him look like likely (or sure-thing) Hall of Famers. Check back in five years, but his case is tracking stronger than you non-Caps fans might think.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free seven-day trial.)

No comments:

Post a Comment