Wayne Gretzky is a total Hockey Hall of Fame nerd, to the point that he would wear a disguise to walk through its exhibits and marinate in its antiquity. Considering that half the stuff there used to be in Wayne’s bedroom, I’m sure it’s a little like Elvis touring Graceland. But that doesn’t matter. Even when you’re The Great One, you want to feel that weight of history and that joy of discovery.
I’m also a Hall of Fame nerd, but in a transactional sense: I’ve long been obsessed with who gets in and who doesn’t.
Some kids grow up dreaming about scoring the winning goal in the Stanley Cup Final. I used to dream about being in the room where the Hall of Fame decisions happen, spilling scotch on hockey legends as we engage in mouth-frothing debates about who is or is not worthy of immortality. And it would be incredible … right up until the point when I learn it’s entirely arbitrary and personal. “Hey, that guy’s not getting my vote. He owes me $20 …”
The Hall of Fame is as frustrating as it is hallowed. The lack of transparency in the selection process leaves us baffled as to the criteria for enshrinement. Why did Mark Howe and Dino Ciccarelli wait 13 years? Why is Daniel Alfredsson still waiting? How did Gary Bettman get in now? Why didn’t Pat Burns get in until it was posthumously? And so on.
There are a few players eligible in 2020 who should be locks. Jarome Iginla is going to be a first-ballot guy given his 625 career goals. Marian Hossa has the numbers (1,134 points, despite starting his career during the trap years), the prestige (three Stanley Cups) and the hipster cred as one of the best 200-foot wingers of his era. The only question about Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin (eligible in 2021) is whether they’ll be featured on the same plaque. Goalies are rarely enshrined in the Hall of Fame, but Roberto Luongo will buck that trend when he’s eligible in 2022. On the women’s side, Finnish hockey legend Riikka Sallinen called it a career this year; Meredith Foster explains why she has a very strong Hall case to be the rare European women’s star to get consideration.
There are a few players in the purgatory of eligibility who have very strong cases, too. Three in particular come to mind:
Alexander Mogilny. There’s so much support for his candidacy these days, and for good reason. Mogilny’s 473 goals ranks him 53rd all time, and he was a model of consistency with a 1.04 points-per-game average. A Triple Gold Club member, and an important part of hockey history as the first Soviet defection to the NHL. He’s been knocking on the door for 11 years, and it’s time he knocked it down.
Daniel Alfredsson. Unless he’s been confined to the “Hall of Very Good,” the former Ottawa Senators captain should get the call. Alfredsson has 444 goals and 1,157 points, and he won Olympic gold and silver for Sweden as well as the Calder Trophy. But also just an awesome ambassador for the game, and the kind of individual you want representing it in the Hall.
Curtis Joseph. There have been just five goalies elected to the Hall in the past 25 years, which is absurd. CuJo, it could be argued, is the best goalie not in the Hall. (Well, male goalie, as Sweden’s Kim Martin and Canada’s Kim St-Pierre are very much Hall-worthy.) He’s fifth in career wins (454) and sixth in games played (943), but he never won a Vezina Trophy (despite being in the top four five times) or a Stanley Cup. To date, Ed Giacomin is the only Hall of Fame goalie not to have won a Cup. CuJo will probably continue to be penalized for playing on underwhelming teams, which is a shame, because he’s an all-timer in our opinion.
Then there’s Don Cherry … and that’s a conversation for another day. Or year. There’s an obvious case for Grapes as a builder, and there are many who believe he should already be in the Hall of Fame. But this decision is going to require some distance from his unceremonious dismissal from “Hockey Night in Canada” this week.
What about players who haven’t hung up the skates yet?
There are two players who aren’t in the NHL but are still playing who are going to make the Hall: Kladno’s Jaromir Jagr, the 47-year-old who might have been the NHL’s leading career scorer were it not for work stoppages and a KHL sabbatical; and Pavel Datsyuk, 41, who is playing in Russia and is very much one of the best two-centers in the history of the sport.
As for players currently in the NHL who are destined for immortality, here are the top 10 current players destined for the Hall of Fame, in order of stone-cold locks:
10. Patrice Bergeron, C, Boston Bruins. Four Selke Trophies and a seven-time finalist (so far), plus that Stanley Cup and international success. Anecdotally, he might be the most admired NHL forward outside of Crosby in his generation. The Bruins are going to end up sending a few players to the Hall from their decadelong run of contention.
9. Duncan Keith, D, Chicago Blackhawks. Tough call here between Keith, Drew Doughty and Victor Hedman, who projects to be one of the greats of his generation. But Keith had two Norris Trophies, a Conn Smythe, three Stanley Cups and two gold medals, to go along with offensive output that ranks him sixth among defensemen in points over the past 20 years.
8. Patrick Kane, RW, Chicago Blackhawks. Kane’s got the hardware, with three Stanley Cups, a Hart, a Conn Smythe, a Calder and a scoring title. He’s got 364 goals in 920 games as a 31-year-old. He’s going to finish his career as one of the most dominating American-born players in NHL history, but not one without significant baggage from earlier in his career.
7. Erik Karlsson, D, San Jose Sharks. Karlsson already has a Hall of Fame case with that run from 2011 through 2017, when he collected two Norris Trophies, was a finalist four times and had that incredible 82 points in 82 games as a defenseman. He’s seventh in NHL history among defensemen with 0.83 points per game (minimum 657 games, aka the Orr Cutoff). Undoubtedly, somebody will claim he never played defense. That person will be summarily ignored.
6. Evgeni Malkin, C, Pittsburgh Penguins. An absolute force of nature whose 1.175 points per game ranks him 14th in NHL history. Playing in the shadow of Sidney Crosby has its benefits (three Stanley Cups) and drawbacks (everyone focusing on Sidney Crosby at all times). The only things that concern us about his slam-dunk immortality are his health and the fact that some of the same people on the selection committee are the ones who inexplicably kept him off the NHL 100 list. But he’ll get in, for sure.
5. Henrik Lundqvist, G, New York Rangers. The King is sixth in career wins (453) and 11th in save percentage (.918). He won the Vezina in 2012 and was a five-time finalist. He might not have a Stanley Cup ring, but he does have a gold medal. Also, he looks like Henrik Lundqvist.
4. Zdeno Chara, D, Boston Bruins. Unless it involves a strand of his hair and an aggressive human cloning program, there will never be another Zdeno Chara. He’s 6-foot-9, a Stanley Cup champ and a Norris winner and is fourth in scoring for a defenseman (640) over the past 20 years. Luckily, the Hall of Fame has high ceilings.
3. Joe Thornton, C, San Jose Sharks. He’s 16 points from becoming the 14th player in NHL history to hit 1,500. He has a scoring title and a Hart Trophy and is generally considered to be one of the finest passers in NHL history. He just doesn’t have that elusive Stanley Cup win. Honestly, all we care about is that legendary beard getting etched on a plaque.
2. Alex Ovechkin, LW, Washington Capitals. At 34 years old, Ovechkin is within 223 goals of Wayne Gretzky’s NHL career record, which is less than his goal total from 2014-15 to 2018-19 (236). Thank the Hockey Gods that Ovechkin finally captured his Stanley Cup — and won the Conn Smythe in the process — to eliminate any possible detraction from his legendary offensive career.
1. Sidney Crosby, C, Pittsburgh Penguins. The very definition of a generational talent, from the moment they changed the draft lottery rules in anticipation of his arrival through his last stretch of a Hart Trophy, two Stanley Cups and two Conn Smythes in the span of three years. He’s sixth in NHL history in points per game (1.284), has won almost everything one can win and is a better player today than he was yesterday. He’s not just first-ballot good. He’s “waive the waiting period” good.
Then there’s Jonathan Toews, Nicklas Backstrom, Brent Burns, Patrick Marleau, Steven Stamkos, Ilya Kovalchuk and John Tavares. Then there’s Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Nathan MacKinnon and Nikita Kucherov. Then there’s the generation after that.
The Hall will be waiting. If not for their inductions, then at least for the debates about them.
May the Force be with this Ottawa Senators Jersey Foul:
This is a reference to Sheev Palpatine, aka Darth Sidious, aka Supreme Chancellor of the Galactic Republic and Emperor of the Galactic Empire. The number is a reference to command Order 66, the command that Palpatine gave to the Republic’s clone army that authorized them to hunt down the Jedi in “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.”
A brief word on Don Cherry
I’m an American. My relationship with Don Cherry is nothing like what my Canadian friends and colleagues have experienced. I knew him growing up as the guy in the loud suits clutching a dog in beer commercials, and the guy shouting “Hit somebody!” on those “Rock’em Sock’em” VHS highlight tapes my parents used to rent for me at Video Plus.
Canadians, meanwhile, invited him into their living room once a week to explain the game and make them laugh and set a conversation that they’d still be talking about at work on Monday. And it was families across every community and every demographic. Barry Melrose told me the ex-jocks back in Saskatchewan watched Cherry. Jonathan Cheechoo told me about members of his Cree First Nations tribe in Moose Factory, Ontario, crowding around the television on Saturday nights, mesmerized. Cherry spoke the sports language of a country.
So I appreciate the complicated emotions tied up with Cherry’s dismissal for Canadians. This was the poppy that broke the camel’s back.
What did Grapes in? It’s what had buoyed him years: business. The sponsors turned on him. The economics at Sportsnet changed, and not in his favor. And it was bigger than that. Don Cherry was swimming against the current on the inclusiveness and diversity that has become a cherished part of Canada’s identity. Rants about “you people” and the multicultural assemblage of young fans who watched the Raptors win the NBA title can’t coexist in the same sports town. This was the moment when it was starkly apparent that Cherry was oblivious, or willfully ignorant, to the way the world, the sport and his own city had changed.
Listen To ESPN On Ice
One of our most popular episodes to date. In the wake of Don Cherry’s firing, we spoke with our ESPN colleague Barry Melrose as well as Sean McIndoe, aka Down Goes Brown of The Athletic, about the broadcaster’s legacy. Plus, Ed Belfour joined us to discuss his Hall of Fame career and his new passion as a whiskey maker. Grab it on iTunes here.
Winners and losers of the week
Winner: That Avalanche jersey
A lot of the reaction to the Colorado Avalanche Stadium Series jersey was negative, which is weird. Look at that beauty: Great use of negative space, an echo of their traditional sweater, and I bet it looks absolutely killer in an outdoor game. We approve.
Loser: The Ilya Kovalchuk era
What a bust. Kovalchuk returned to the NHL last season with the Los Angeles Kings, claiming he was chasing the Stanley Cup before realizing he was on a team that was cratering. He had 34 points in 64 games but has been terrible this season: three goals and six assists in 17 games, including just a goal and an assist in his past 13. The Kings have effectively benched him. A trade after his $5.3 million bonus payment on Dec. 15 is likely, as long as Kovy waives his no-move. Not Rob Blake‘s finest moment.
Winner: San Jose Sharks
Hey, look who has a pulse. The Sharks won four in a row and are four points out of the wild card. They put six goals up against the Wild and Oilers, plus won closer games against the Blackhawks and Predators. Getting defenseman Radim Simek back from injury had helped, but getting a stretch at the Shark Tank helped more.
Loser: Buffalo Sabres
Two losses to the Lightning overseas after three winless games stateside. Jeff Skinner goes four games without a point, and Sabres lose four straight games. Probably not a coincidence.
Winner: Cale Makar
The Avalanche defenseman, my preseason Calder pick, has opened up a six-point lead among rookies and is scoring video game goals.
Loser: Ice cream innocence
Please tell me you saw this:
We wanted to believe in the great ice cream theft at a Carolina Hurricanes‘ game this week, especially after the team told ESPN that it hadn’t set it up. Others felt it was totally a hoax. As Sara Civian of The Athletic discovered, the truth was somewhere in between: The cone holder and the cone thief are friends, but they claim this wasn’t premeditated. Which is fine, but not as great as, say, a complete stranger swiping some dude’s soft serve.
An all-transgender hockey team played a historic scrimmage in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in a matchup that blended pro and amateur players.
The Carolina Hurricanes celebrate World Kindness Day by saying nice things about every NHL team … except one.
“Emilie Castonguay has created a buzz as one of the NHL’s rare female certified player agents because she has something that the men don’t: Alexis Lafreniere, the likely No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL draft.”
Which goal songs are the favorites among NHL stars? Ben Bishop with the best answer: “As a goalie, none of them. Check that. Dallas. I love that one. It means we scored.”
How NHL players reacted to the Don Cherry firing. Said John Tavares: “I think it is disappointing on many fronts, the comments, but certainly the way his tenure ended. There was so many good things that he did through his commitment to the game. I think everybody would wish something like this never happened.”
Hockey tl;dr (too long; didn’t read)
A good look at how individual coaches are using the coach’s challenge. Interesting to see that some first-year coaches are a little shy about asking for one. ($)
In case you missed this from your friends at ESPN
Absolutely loved doing this piece: When players synonymous with one NHL jersey end up wearing another one. Think Bobby Orr as a Chicago Blackhawk.