TORONTO -- Two names should be automatic, and then it will get real interesting -- as it always does when the selection committee for the Hockey Hall of Fame gathers in Toronto -- when this year’s inductees are announced on Tuesday.
Joe Sakic will require very little time for the 18-member committee to sign off on. He’s hockey royalty, with 1,641 points (625 goals, 1,016 assists) -- ninth all-time -- two Stanley Cups and an Olympic gold medal.
Like the great Jean Beliveau, Sakic matched his incredible skill on the ice with his class and character off it. Slam-dunk HHOFer in his first year of eligibility.
"I talk about Joe a lot whenever I’m speaking," Marc Crawford, who coached Sakic in Quebec and Colorado, told ESPN.com on Monday. "The one thing I say always sticks out for me was just how he was a great example of how to work and how to be that high-end, elite professional.
"He saw the game extremely well, he had great, great vision," added Crawford, who won a Cup with Sakic in 1996. "He definitely was the total package. And what a great guy, he’s such a genuine person. Just a quality, quality superstar."
Brendan Shanahan, who was a rival of Sakic’s in those delicious Detroit-Colorado games of the mid- to late-1990s, should almost surely join Burnaby Joe as a Hall of Fame selection Tuesday, his 656 goals ranking 13th all-time. But he was so much more than just a goal-scorer, of course.
"He was one of the premier power forwards of his era," Red Wings GM Ken Holland said Monday. "He also was one of the premier scoring wingers: big, strong, hard and a big one-timer. He could also drop his gloves with the toughest fighters in the game. He gave our team a lot of things, a lot of respect, a lot of toughness, a lot of skill, a lot of size."
The Wings traded for Shanahan early in the 1996-97 season and Holland feels he was key ingredient in Detroit finally getting over the hump and winning Cups in 1997, ’98 and 2002.
"As I reflect back, the three people that Scotty Bowman got -- Brendan Shanahan, Slava Fetisov and Igor Larionov -- they really put us over the top," Holland said. "Shanny brought us skill and toughness. I remember when we played Colorado in those playoff series, he dropped this gloves with Adam Foote. Shanny was one of the final missing pieces for us to be able to become a championship team."
So let’s agree the committee on Tuesday must include Sakic and Shanahan without much thought. Iit takes 14 of 18 votes from the committee to be selected.
Of that group, I would argue Sundin has the best Hall of Fame case, his 1,349 career points (564-785) putting him 27th all-time. While he did win Olympic gold with Sweden in 2006 (remember, this is the Hockey Hall of Fame, not the NHL Hall of Fame), the case against Sundin is that he never led the Toronto Maple Leafs to a Stanley Cup.
My guess is that if Sundin doesn’t get the call Tuesday, he’ll get it at some point over the next decade. Some great players are made to wait; just look at Dale Hawerchuk, Glenn Anderson or Doug Gilmour, all of whom finally got in after several years of being passed over.
J.R.’s numbers are below Sundin’s, his 1,216 points (513-703) not jumping off the page as much as others. But he brought more to the table than offense, a physical player in his heyday and an important generational player for USA Hockey during a time when Americans were still trying to cement their place among the world’s elite in the game. Those intangibles can’t be ignored. Again, he might have to wait a few years but could get in at some point.
Of course, the pool of players the committee can choose this year from is not limited to first-year eligibles.
Pavel Bure, Dave Andreychuk, Eric Lindros, Steve Larmer, Doug Wilson, Kevin Lowe, Adam Oates, Tom Barrasso and Mike Richter are among a long list of former NHL stars who once again deserve consideration after being passed over in other years of eligibility.
Of that group, to me it’s been far overdue for both Bure and Andreychuk. The Russian Rocket was the most electrifying player in the world in his prime, the best goal-scorer there was, a two-time 60-goal scorer who also tallied 58- and 59-goal seasons. Yes, injuries limited the body of work, but in my book he’s a surefire Hall of Famer. And with Larionov in just his second year on the HHOF selection committee, you have to imagine that voice should come in handy at some point.
Andreychuk, to me, should be in as well. His 640 goals are just behind Shanahan on the all-time list. I also give him merit points for the way in which he transformed himself from one of the league’s top scorers to later in his career a gritty, checking forward who led by example.
I’m on record several times believing Lindros should be in. I know I’m in the minority on that one. But he was the best player in the world for a short but definite period and that counts for a lot on my Hall of Fame meter. Oates continues to get passed over despite his 1,420 career points, which put him 16th all-time. That’s heady company.
Wilson and Lowe were both dominant defensemen in their day who for whatever reason haven’t wowed the committee enough over the years. To me they’re both HHOFers.
And I’ve always felt Larmer was wrongfully overlooked. He was a big-time power forward of his time, a five-time 40-goal scorer who was out of this world in the 1991 Canada Cup.
And because it’s the Hockey Hall of Fame and not the NHL Hall of Fame, we should always keep in mind former Soviet greats who haven’t got in. To me that starts with Boris Mikhailov, a mega 1970s star in Russia who won eight IIHF world titles and two Olympics gold medals. Sergei Makarov also deserves consideration, a member of the famed KLM line on those powerhouse 1980s Soviet national teams. He played in the NHL as well, although his best hockey was before he came over.
If I had my way on Tuesday, it would be Sakic and Shanahan with Bure and either Andreychuk or Lindros in the players’ category (a maximum of four men’s players can be elected).
There were no women elected last year (a maximum of two female players can be elected every year), but I’m hoping former Canadian star blue-liner Geraldine Heaney gets the call Tuesday.
In the builders’ category, can the committee finally make up for a horrendous blunder two years ago and put in the late Pat Burns? I also believe former Flyers and Rangers coach Fred Shero has long deserved to be in.
Regardless of the committee’s decisions Tuesday, expect the usual debate. That’s what makes the Hockey Hall of Fame such a fun topic.