Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Giroux? Burns? Kessel? Revisiting some of the toughest HHOF calls among active players

It’s Hockey Hall of Fame time, with the class of 2022 being honored all week leading up to Monday’s big induction gala. Roberto Luongo, Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Daniel Alfredsson and Riikka Sallinen are all worthy honorees in the player category, and the Hall is finally recognizing Herb Carnegie as a builder. It’s a great chance to look back and reflect on some true greats.

It’s also a chance to look ahead, and try to figure out which players might join Luongo and friends in the Hall some day. That sort of debate is half the fun when it comes to a hall of fame, and I’ve never turned down an opportunity to weigh in. One of my favorite pieces to write each year around this time is the one where I take a look at some active players and try to figure out if they’re on a HHOF path.

I’m going to do it again this year, but with a twist. Rather than coming up with new names, I’m going to revisit a half-dozen players that I’ve looked at over the years. Each of them was a borderline call at the time, and each is still active today. We’ll look at where their case stood a few years ago, what’s happened since, and whether they’re trending up or down. Then we’ll head down to the comment section, where you will yell at me about my wrong opinions and be mad that I didn’t include your favorite non-active player in a post that is only about active players.

As an added bonus, I’m also going to enlist some impartial help. Paul Pidutti has developed a model to produce “a comprehensive measure of HHOF worthiness” for players, based on a variety of factors including stats, honors, international play, longevity and peak. He’s been tweeting his player cards from his Twitter account at @AdjustedHockey and his web site at includes a detailed explanation of how the system works. No model is perfect, obviously, but it’s fun to be able to look at a case from a different angle, and Paul has graciously agreed to check in on our six candidates and share what his numbers say.

Phil Kessel

The last time we looked: At the end of the 2018-19 season, Kessel’s last with the Penguins.

The case at the time: Kessel had two Cup rings and a Masterton, had been robbed of a Conn Smythe, plus he was on pace to “cruise by the 1,000-point mark, maybe by a decent amount”. He was also just three years away from breaking the ironman record held by Doug Jarvis.

My verdict back then: I didn’t see him making the cut, partly because I couldn’t see anyone on the HHOF committee really going to bat for him. I did write that “if he can keep scoring near a point-per-game rate for a few more years, he’ll make it interesting”.

What’s changed since: Kessel spent the last three seasons in Arizona, which was great for his poker game but didn’t exactly boost his visibility. His numbers have been OK, but he hasn’t had the sort of late-career boost you might hope for. He still hasn’t hit that 1,000-point plateau and might not get there this season, and 500 goals is no longer in the realm of possibility.

That said, Kessel’s case has two things working for it. First, he’s on the Golden Knights now, and they look like a legitimate Cup contender, so another long playoff run could resurface his case. More importantly, he did indeed break that ironman record, although it belonged to Keith Yandle instead of Jarvis by the time Kessel got there. He’s about to become the only NHL player to ever hit the 1,000 consecutive game mark, which is pretty ridiculous for anyone, let alone a guy who spent his whole career being told he was an out-of-shape schlub.

Which way the case is trending: The ironman record gives him a signature accomplishment to build his candidacy around. But the offensive numbers have slowed more than we’d hoped, and at 35 we can’t pencil him in for much more production like we could a few years ago. Even with the record, I think his chances have dipped.

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