The Hockey Hall of Fame welcomes its latest class on Monday, and with that induction comes the usual handwringing and debate over the worthiness of the honorees. Did Paul Kariya play enough games? Did Dave Andreychuk play too many games? Was Mark Recchi’s medical degree the tipping point for him?
The problem is that the Hockey Hall of Fame is not restricted to the best of the best, the true immortals, the players whose legacies are whispered in hushed tones among puckheads. It’s too often the “Hall of Very Good,” or worse, the “Hall of Guys Whom The Selection Committee Generally Likes As People And Hence Will Do Them A Solid.”
It doesn’t have to be this way. There’s a simple four-quadrant test one can apply to prospective Hall of Fame candidates to see if they have the stuff of legends, and here it is:
1. Individual production: This encompasses their stats and their statistic records, within the context of the player’s era.
2. On-ice impact: What did that individual performance mean for the player’s teams and teammates? “Winning” is sort of a nebulous concept, but there are ways to explore this impact — postseason scoring, scoring rates in team wins, impact on teammates via WOWY stats — that can help quantify it.
3. Prestige: Could this player be considered among the Top 3 in his position at any time during his career? This is where awards and accolades come in, as well as comparisons with his peers.
4. Cultural impact: The “fame” aspect of the equation, but also the most subjective one. Did this player revolutionize his position or cause others to emulate him? Was he considered a star? Was there something transcendent about this player?
We’ve taken this test and applied it to a few dozen still-active players, putting them into four categories — The Locks, The Likely, The Close and the Long-Shots — depending on how many quadrants they can check off. Keep in mind the Hall of Fame evaluates players not only for NHL performances, but internationally too.
Now, applying this test, which active NHL stars can expect to waltz into the Hall, and which ones don’t have what it takes to be immortal?
Who makes our Hall? Who falls short? Here’s how 41 current players fared …
Locks (four quadrants)
Zdeno Chara, Defenseman
What else could you possibly say about a 6-foot-9 man mountain who is considered a once-in-a-lifetime combination of size, prowess and accomplishment? He has one Norris Trophy, but was a six-time finalist to go along with his Stanley Cup with the Bruins. Chara could have been a sideshow; instead, he’s an immortal.
Sidney Crosby, Center
There was definitely a time when we were all worried that Sid’s career might get cut short because of health concerns, but then he won a Hart, two Stanley Cups and two Conn Smythes in the span of three years — and they’re already etching his plaque, probably. The greatest player of his generation, full stop.
Pavel Datsyuk, Center
Datsyuk’s an interesting one. Currently playing out the string in the KHL, he never hit 1,000 points in the NHL, finishing with 918 but with a 0.96 points-per-game average, which led the Detroit Red Wings from 1999 to now. But as a defensive player, he’s a standard-bearer: He has three consecutive Selke Trophy wins, and is a six-time finalist. Quadrant 1 is a concern, but he’s a four-quad guy in my book, and in the books of the countless players he influenced.
Jarome Iginla, Right Wing
Everything you’d want in a Hall of Famer: Postseason hardware, five gold medals internationally (including an assist on Sidney Crosby’s Golden Goal in 2010), 625 career goals and a legacy in hockey that shatters cultural norms. On top of that, he is one of the NHL’s great ambassadors.
Patrick Kane, Right Wing
Kane, 28, is currently third all-time in points per game (1.02) for American players. His career stats project to be in line with Hall of Famers like Jari Kurri and Bryan Trottier. He has regular-season and playoff MVP trophies to his credit, and is the Blackhawks’ leading playoff scorer (109 points in 111 games) during their dynastic run to three Stanley Cups from 2010-15, as well as the face of that franchise (for whatever that’s worth).
Erik Karlsson, Defenseman
Since 2005, no defenseman comes close to Karlsson’s 0.83 points per game, which places him No. 32 among all scorers with at least 500 games played. It places him No. 8 all time, between Hall of Famers Brian Leetch (0.85) and Phil Housley (0.81). He has two Norris Trophies, has won silver in the Olympics and World Juniors, and has rewritten the rules for offensive defensemen. Oh, and he’s 27.
Henrik Lundqvist, Goalie
We assume he’s already an inductee in the Handsome Man Hall of Fame. As for hockey, he has the stats (ninth in career wins, seventh in career save percentage), a Vezina Trophy (and finished in the top six in voting 10 times), and he backstopped the Swedes to Olympic gold and silver. Undeniably one of the best of all time. His beard, we mean.
Roberto Luongo, Goalie
There are a few holes in this resume, namely a Stanley Cup and a Vezina, but he was in the crease when Canada won Olympic gold in 2010. He’s fourth in NHL career wins (454), ninth in save percentage (.919) and has finished among the Vezina top four five times. And he’s third behind Lundqvist (378) and Ryan Miller (327) in quality starts (321) since 1999, despite playing for some atrocious teams.
Jaromir Jagr, Right Wing
The formal deification of Hockey Gods is essentially why we have a Hall of Fame. We will pray at the altar of Jags and bestow gifts upon it. Mostly bottles of conditioner and poker chips, but gifts nonetheless.
Evgeni Malkin, Center
Can a player who didn’t make the cut for the NHL’s Top 100 best players of all time be a lock for the Hall of Fame? Darn right he can. Malkin plays in Crosby’s shadow, but still won a Hart and a Conn Smythe, as also has two top-three finishes for MVP. His 1.18 points per game ranks him 14th, between Hall of Famers Dale Hawerchuk and Pat Lafontaine. Is he the influential star that Crosby or Ovechkin is? Nope. So that quadrant is the only wobbly one.
Alex Ovechkin, Left Wing
If Ovechkin retired tomorrow, he’d be No. 22 all time in goals scored (571), nestled between several Hall of Famers; he’d have six goal-scoring titles, three player-of-the-year awards, three MVP awards and a point-scoring title. He would not have played for a championship, but not for lack of trying: Since 2008, he’s tied with Phil Kessel for ninth in playoff points per game (60 games or more), at 0.93. He’s a transcendent talent, and a sure Hall of Famer.
Look, I have a few hills to die on as a hockey pundit, and one of them is that the Sedin Twins absolutely, without deliberation or apprehension, must enter the Hall of Fame as a single entity. They’re unique to sports history, and when weighed as a combinational of Twin Magic, they hit secure all four quadrants like an Allen wrench secures the screws on a Poang from IKEA. If “clutch” is your issue, consider that Henrik was over a point per win in 40-win Canucks seasons seven times, while Daniel was six times.
Joe Thornton, Center
The only possible knock on Thornton is in Category 2, seeing as how the San Jose Sharks have never won a Cup, while his postseason (and Olympic) performances have been maligned. Fun fact: In the nine seasons in which his teams had 40 wins, Thornton averaged better than a point per win. The only other player to do that in recent NHL history: Hall of Famer Sergei Fedorov.
Likely, Maybe: Three Quads
Patrice Bergeron, Center
Bergeron is one of those players who is a hair away from being four quadrant. He’s going to retire one day as one of the most accomplished defensive centers in NHL history — already he has four Selke trophies and eight top-five finishes. He’s a model in the faceoff circle for subsequent generations. But as Guy Carbonneau will tell you, generational defense and postseason success sometimes aren’t enough. (And as Rod Brind’Amour will tell you, sometimes 1,184 points aren’t enough either.)
Sergei Bobrovsky, Goalie
Too soon? Sure. But this is a projection, not only of Bobrovsky’s prowess but of the Blue Jackets’ status as a burgeoning contender. If he wins 30 games a season for the next five years, he starts leap-frogging other goalies in the career wins standings. His career .920 save percentage is fifth all-time, and he has collected two Vezinas. We can’t give him the “fame” quotient quite yet. It would help if his team won a playoff series or if Russia had medaled in Sochi.
Drew Doughty, Defenseman
Were it up to the Canadian media, Doughty would be in already. There’s no denying he’s a possession monster with two Stanley Cups, a Norris Trophy and three top-three finishes for the award. His 0.53 points per game since 2005 places him No. 28 among defensemen. But will he end up with enough points to warrant induction? He has 372 at age 27. Or does he get the Scott Niedermayer “offensive genius restricted by a defensive system” pass?
Marian Hossa, Right Wing
Oh, he’s got the numbers: 525 career goals and 1,134 career points. Oh, he’s clutch: 89 points in 110 playoff games during his five trips to the Stanley Cup Finals, as well as 28 points in 19 Olympic games. Oh, he’s appreciated as one of the best two-way forwards of the past 20 years. But he has finished in the top three for an award once — the Calder. Does he have that transcendent quality that puts the Fame in Hall of Fame? It’s debatable.
Duncan Keith, Defenseman
Keith is an indelible part of the Blackhawks’ three Stanley Cup wins, along with being an undeniable two-way standout — his 519 points are the most for any defenseman since 2005. He won the Norris twice and the Conn Smythe once … but falls short in the “fame” quadrant, not only among his more-praised peers but among his more popular teammates.
Carey Price, Goalie
He has one remarkable season in which he won the Hart and the Vezina, along with four other top-5 finishes for top goalie. He has won in the Olympics and world juniors. He has the eighth best all-time save percentage (.919) and, given that he’s still only 30, will finish with an impressive win total. His 299 quality starts since 2007 put him third in the NHL during that span. But he hasn’t done what Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy and Dominik Hasek all have — backstop a team to the Stanley Cup Final, let alone win it.
Steven Stamkos, Center
He’s a career point-per-game player (607 in 601 games), including 328 goals with two goal-scoring titles. While Stamkos is certainly in line to be the next Eric Lindros/Kariya/Pavel Bure “making the most out of limited games”-type player, if his injuries continue, he still needs that extra bit of prestige to become a lock — like, for example, his name on the Cup.
Jonathan Toews, Center
It’s entirely possible that Toews makes the Hall of Famer despite never getting north of 80 points in a season. He has all the other intangibles — no other player has lived off the “leadership” narrative since Mark Messier retired— but he’s 27th in points among active players. Still, as any Hawks fan will tell you, that’s because he’s playing a role. As does Bergeron, who is No. 22.
Close, but no Hall (Two quads
Nicklas Backstrom, Center
The Washington Capitals center will have a strong stats case by the end of his career, given that he has 740 points in 749 games at age 29. In the past five seasons, only Crosby has scored more points at center. While the Capitals haven’t played for a championship since 1998, it’s not for lack of Backstrom’s contribution: Since his career began in 2007, the Capitals have won 50 games in four different seasons — and Backstrom has averaged over 1.00 points per game in those wins. But he has never come close to winning a major award or the Stanley Cup, and couldn’t be considered a star player while being dwarfed by his peers and Ovechkin.
Brent Burns, Defenseman
Oh, this is a tricky one. The 32-year-old defenseman won the Norris last season and was a finalist in the previous season. He also has 506 points in 893 games, which would have put him third since 2003 … except he wasn’t a defensemen for all of that time. Sneaky!
Patrick Marleau, Center
Marleau is going to finish with a goal total that’s commiserate with several Hall of Famers — depending on the next two seasons, he could crack the Top 30 all time. While he’s been maligned for his playoff performances (120 points in 177 games), he also has six seasons in which the Sharks won 40 games and he averaged over 1.00 points per game in those wins. But he doesn’t measure up to his peers, or Hall of Fame standards, when it comes to prestige or impact on the position. An excellent player statistically who never finished in the top five for any major award other than the Lady Byng.
Connor McDavid, Center
Yes, this is a huuuuuuuuge leap of faith. But he won the MVP, player of the year and a scoring title at 20 years old, and the general consensus is that he has other worldly talent. Yes, ultimately his candidacy will depend on health and the fortunes of his team and a variety of factors. But as of now, he’s a phenom with a 100-point MVP season and a career 1.17 points per game average who might be the best player in the world.
Jonathan Quick, Goalie
The 31-year-old goalie has stats that are all over the map (.916 save percentage for 15th all-time, 46th in career wins with 269) but almost single-handedly won the Kings their first Cup with a Conn Smythe-winning .946 save percentage. He’s been nominated for the Vezina twice but didn’t win, and was the goalie for Team USA’s Sochi meltdown. An intriguing, Osgood-ian debate.
P.K. Subban, Defenseman
Subban is fourth among defensemen since 2005 with a points-per-game average of 0.64, and has a Norris Trophy and a third-place finish for the award. He’s building a strong postseason case, as we saw with the Predators last season, but doesn’t have much in the way of international experience. (Thanks, Hockey Canada.) Very close to being a three-quad guy, but for now his candidacy rests highly on that FAME component.
John Tavares, Center
A slow, steady building case for the Islanders star, who is 16th since 2005 in points per game (0.92) and is a two-time Hart Trophy finalist. His body of work in clutch situations portends good things — 22 points in 24 playoff games, some impressive international accomplishments — but his Quadrant 4 case still needs to be made.
Shea Weber, Defenseman
One of the most renowned reputations in hockey, thanks to his physical intimidation and his sound-barrier threatening shot, but for all his sterling numbers (496 points, 0.58 points per game) and international success (two Olympic goals, world junior gold), there are questions about how effective he was when his partners have been players like Roman Josi and Ryan Suter.
Henrik Zetterberg, Center
The essential question from Red Wings fans will be “why Datsyuk and not Zetterberg?” The short answer is that Datsyuk is a superior all-around player whose impact on the game supplements his lack of dominating stats. Although Zetterberg’s Conn Smythe is a highlight.
So you’re saying there’s a chance (one quad)
Jamie Benn, Left Wing
Building a stats case, but not much else.
Jeff Carter, Center
Not likely to hit 500 goals, but was one Justin Williams away from winning the Conn Smythe in helping the Kings to a second Stanley Cup.
Corey Crawford, Goalie
Ryan Getzlaf, Center
His 821 career points are respectable but unspectacular, and he was a one-time Hart finalist. He also has averaged over a point-per-game in the six seasons in which the Ducks have won 40 games. It’s incredible that he has never won the Mark Messier Leadership Award, despite passing the hair mandate.
Claude Giroux, Center/Wing
Remember that minute when he was the best player in the world, or considered as such by his coach?
Ilya Kovalchuk, Left Wing
Currently in the KHL, but with an NHL return possible next season, the 34-year-old sniper has 417 career goals. Alas, he doesn’t have the postseason hardware or experience to really make a Hall of Fame case. Also, we doubt his “retirement” gambit plays well with the selection committee.
Auston Matthews, Center
He’s a sensation, and already considered to be one of the most talented American-born players to ever hit the NHL. Check back in, like, three years.
Rick Nash, Left Wing
Could end up with 500 goals. Would be in the Hall of Fame for inexplicable scoring droughts.
Corey Perry, Right Wing
Eric Staal, Center
He’s 10th among active players in points (855) and ninth in goals (358) but hasn’t been a top-four finisher for an award since 2006.
Ryan Suter, Defenseman
An effective, minutes gobbling defenseman who makes his teammates better and has flirted with Norris love. The very model of “good, not great.” And this isn’t the Hall of Good.