There is no doubt that we are looking at a serious turnover in the stars in the NHL. In the past several seasons, we have witnessed some of the all time greatest players ever to lace up the skates call it quits. Two of the last three years have featured incredible Hall of Fame induction classes welcomed in Toronto. The 2004 class was inducted in 07 with the likes of Ron Francis, Al MacInnis, Mark Messier and Scott Stevens. The talent in that crew was matched two seasons later when 2006 gave us Brett Hull, Brian Leetch, Luc Robitaille, and Steve Yzerman. While both of those groups will be remembered as two of the all-time great entries, the voters will have their work cut out for them more than ever in 2013, when this year's potential crew comes due.
While perusing the names of possible retirees this summer, just try and pare this list down to four. Perhaps the committee should consider a rule that would allow them defer a spot by a year or two. After all, only two players were admitted in 2008. Maybe we can cash in those vacancies when a class like this comes along. I've ranked the players in the order that I would place them on my ballot:
The good news for the other men below him is that he hasn't made up his mind yet. However, the moment he does decide to hang up the skates and bring an end to his Norris Trophy reign of terror, he will be the first automatic name on the ballot. No need to list his credentials here.
There was talk that he might be making a return to the NHL next season, but he put an end to that talk by signing with the KHL once again. Jagr finished his impressive NHL career just one point shy of 1600, which is good enough for 9th all time. He's 12th all time in goals. He has a couple of Stanley Cups on his resume to go along with 5 Art Ross Trophies, 3 Pearsons, and a Hart.
You name the trophy, I'll show you his name on it. (ok, he hasn't won the Vezina. Yet.) Niedermeyer is the definition of winner in the NHL. He's famously the only player to have won the Stanley Cup (4 times), World Junior gold, Memorial Cup, IIHF World Championship gold, the World Cup, and Olympic Gold (twice). He has also claimed the Norris and Conn Smythe.
Now here is where the debate begins…
For my money, Selanne gets the final spot on the first ballot, over a couple of long-standing American icons. Selanne kicked off his career with a rookie record 76 goal season, which may never be matched again. Assuming 2010 was his last, he will end his career with 606 goals (17th all time), and 1260 points (35th all time). His name is engraved on the Cup with Anaheim. Had he been more healthy, he could have finished in the top 10 of goal scorers.
[2013 Hall of Fame cutoff here]….
Modano clearly has the Hall of Fame reputation and credentials. He just picked the wrong season to retire. He has Selanne beat in points (1359 - 23rd all time), but falls short in goals (557 - 24th). He has been a model of consistency in his 20+ seasons, scoring at about a point a game pace for most of his career, and he got his Cup with the Stars. The one point that puts him slightly behind Selanne is the lack of a memorable, stand-out season. He has 0 personal trophies on his shelf, and never finished top 3 in goals or assists for a season.
Admittedly, Chelios is not a fan favorite here. However, as observer, it's hard to deny his contributions to the game over the past 30 or so years. 3 Stanley Cups and 3 Norris Trophies span his 1651 games played (placing him 4th all time in that category). Now if we could just get him to shake hands in the playoffs after a loss the way he does after a win…
Of course, it seems like he's been retired for 5 years now, but technically, he's never filed the papers until now. Forsberg leaves the game as one of the greatest "what might have been" stories ever. His individual stats don't stack up to the other greats, due to the host of injuries he's played through, unless you count it at a per-game basis. His 885 points in 706 games is impressive (putting in him the top 10 of all time in points per game), but not as impressive as his 171 playoff points in 151 games. He's won the Calder, Art Ross, and Hart Trophies. He also has two Olympic gold medals and two Stanley Cup rings with Colorado.
And for good measure, here are couple other names who would be considered worthy candidates in any other class:
Brind'amour is what every hockey player in the world wants to be. He sits 16th all time in games played, and is around 50th all time in goals and assists. He won the Cup with the Hurricanes, and has claimed the Selke twice. Perhaps in an extra year or two, the Hall will free up a spot for Rod.
With so many legends winding down their careers, it would be easy to overlook Tkachuk. However, there aren't too many names on the all-time goal scorers list ahead of him who aren't already inducted. Tkachuk finishes his stellar career with 538 goals, placing him 30th. In case you care, that's more than guys named Mahovlich, Trottier, Perrault, Mullen, and even Jean Beliveau. Unfortunately for Tkachuk, he spent most of his years on non-playoff teams and never got a shot at the Cup.