Projecting the 2012 Hall of Fame class

Updated: November 14, 2011, 11:28 AM ET
By Craig Custance

TORONTO -- The group of Hall of Famers that will be inducted during tonight's ceremony is a picture of perseverance. Mark Howe retired after the 1994-95 season and didn't get the call until this summer. While he waited, he was consistent in the attitude that the decision wasn't going to define his career. But once the call finally came ...

"I know it means the world to him," his son Travis said. "It's funny because he's just a very humble guy in nature like my grandfather. He doesn't necessarily say all that much, but it was clear as day how excited he was."

Doug Gilmour stopped playing in 2003 and had to wait for his call. Likewise, Joe Nieuwendyk had to extend patience beyond the three-year waiting period.

Next year, that won't be the case. The class is absolutely loaded and has a chance to go down as one of the all-time great Hall of Fame classes.

Joe Sakic leads the eligible former stars in the Class of 2012, but it's a potential class that also includes Brendan Shanahan, Mats Sundin, Jeremy Roenick and Curtis Joseph. Factor in a player or two who might get in after a long wait (such as Eric Lindros, Dave Andreychuk, Pavel Bure orAdam Oates), and it will be one for the ages.

But is it the best? Here are my top three Hall of Fame classes:

Class of 2009: Brian Leetch, Luc Robitaille, Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull and Lou Lamoriello -- In Yzerman, you have one of the best leaders to ever wear the C and one of the three best players of his era. "When you think of the Detroit Red Wings, you probably think of two or three people," Red Wings GM Ken Holland said. "For me, it's Gordie Howe and Steve Yzerman." There's an argument to be made that Leetch is the best American defenseman to ever play, and it's hard to find more prolific scorers than Robitaille and Hull.