Chris Osgood and Nicklas Lidstrom (Getty Images)
With the 2014 Hall of Fame class in the books and a thin crop of first-year eligible players coming up in 2015, some guys who've been waiting to get into the Hall might finally get their shot. Here are five players you can expect to hear a lot of buzz about for the 2015 Hall of Fame.
The 2014 Hall of Fame class is now in the books, with Mike Modano, Peter Forsberg, Dominik Hasek and Rob Blake filling out the four player slots this year. So now it’s time to look ahead to 2015, and who might receive one of hockey’s highest honours next November.
It's a rather light class of first-year eligible players, but Detroit Red Wings legend Nicklas Lidstrom is an easy slam dunk first-ballot choice. No one will argue against the four-time Stanley Cup winner's seven Norris trophies, his Conn Smythe Trophy or his Olympic gold medal.
Ditto for Lidstrom's former teammate, Sergei Fedorov, who won three Stanley Cups in Detroit and tore up the league in an unforgettable 1994 season, winning the Hart, Pearson and Selke trophies. Fedorov would win another Selke in 1996, and still holds the record for most goals and points scored in the NHL by a Russian-born player.
But the pool of eligible players drops off considerably after Lidstrom and Fedorov, meaning some who have been overlooked in past years might have a shot at cracking the Hall's four-player limit in 2015.
Here are some candidates who could make noise in the 2015 discussion.
1. Chris Osgood
Former Detroit Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood has long been the Rodney Dangerfield of the NHL. He can't get no respect, even with his three Stanley Cup rings (two as a starter), 401 career NHL wins and two Jennings trophies. He's also one of the few goaltenders to score an NHL goal – a feat he accomplished against the Hartford Whalers on March 6, 1996.
The goal against Hartford was actually Osgood's second in his career, after scoring with the Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western League in 1991.
Osgood also played for the St. Louis Blues and New York Islanders, and sits 10th in all-time career wins by a goalie, one spot above 2014 inductee Dominik Hasek. Of the nine goalies with more wins than Osgood, one is Martin Brodeur (not eligible for induction) and the other is Curtis Joseph (fourth overall with 454 wins).
Osgood’s regular season numbers weren't great, but his best work came in the playoffs. His 74 post-season wins put him 8th all-time, ahead of Jacques Plante and behind Mike Vernon.
Hasek got the nod in 2014 over Osgood, but Osgood could easily make it a trio of Red Wings getting into the Hall in 2015.
2. Phil Housley
Phil Housley's individual numbers put him among the best skaters the United States has ever produced, but he lacks the hardware to make him a sure-fire Hall of Famer. That’s why he’s languished on the 'close, but not close enough' list of Hall of Fame candidates for almost a decade.
Housley ranks fourth all-time among NHL defencemen in points (1232), fifth in assists (894) and fourth in goals (338), and tops all three categories among American-born defenders. His 1,495 NHL regular season games puts him third all-time among American NHLers, behind only Mike Modano and leader Chris Chelios. Those 1,495 games also give Housley the dubious record for most games played without winning a Stanley Cup.
The closest he came to a championship was in 1998, when his Washington Capitals were swept in the Stanley Cup final by the Detroit Red Wings.
The well-traveled Housley started his career with the Buffalo Sabres and also had stints with the Winnipeg Jets, St. Louis Blues, Calgary Flames, New Jersey Devils, Washington Capitals, Chicago Blackhawks and Toronto Maple Leafs.
3. Brian Rafalski
While we’re on the subject of American defencemen – and keeping with the Red Wing-heavy content so far – it’s hard to dismiss Brian Rafalski, who will be eligible for Hall of Fame induction in 2015.
Rafalski is, in some respects, the anti-Phil Housley, having racked up plenty of awards in just 11 NHL seasons. Rafalski won two Stanley Cups with the New Jersey Devils (2000 and 2003) and another with the Red Wings (2008). He was named to the NHL all-rookie team in 1999-2000, played for three U.S. Olympic teams and earned best defenceman honours and an all-star selection at the 2010 Games in Vancouver.
Rafalski finished his NHL career with 79 goals, 515 points and a plus-178 rating in 833 career regular season games. He had another 29 goals and 100 points to go with a plus-42 rating in 165 playoff games.
Despite his many NHL accomplishments, the 5-foot-10 Rafalski was seen as undersized when he was young, and went undrafted at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He played four years of college hockey and another four years in European leagues before singing as a free agent with the Devils at the age of 26.
Rafalski was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame earlier this year.
4. Eric Lindros
Plenty of ink and pixels have been spent arguing over whether Eric Lindros belongs in the Hall of Fame. Lindros was the most dominant force in the game for a brief period. But his dominance was cut short by concussions, and his legacy marred by a series of contentions fights with team management.
Lindros was a titan in junior and a force of nature with the Philadelphia Flyers' 'Legion of Doom' line in the mid to late '90s, before concussions began to erode the big-bodied center's punishing style of play.
Lindros was tabbed as a generational talent coming up through junior, and he used that clout to twice orchestrate trades to teams he wanted to play for.
First, Lindros refused to sign with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds when they picked him in the Ontario League draft. The Greyhounds ultimately traded him to the Oshawa Generals.
Then, Lindros famously refused to play for the Quebec Nordiques when they took him first overall in the 1991 draft. He was traded to Philadelphia for a king's ransom of assets, including Peter Forsberg, Ron Hextall, Chris Simon, Mike Ricci, Kerry Huffman, Steve Duchesne, two first-round picks and $15-million in cash. After two decades, the Lindros trade remains one of the largest deals in NHL history.
After dominating for a time in Philadelphia, Lindros suffered a disastrous concussion on a headshot from New Jersey Devils defenceman Scott Stevens – a concussion that would essentially mark the end of his heyday.
Lindros publicly sparred with general manager Bobby Clarke while recovering from the concussion, and missed a whole season demanding a trade to the Toronto Maple Leafs. The next year he was dealt to the New York Rangers, where he played three seasons before signing with the Leafs following the 2004-05 lockout.
In 760 career games with the Flyers, Rangers, Maple Leafs and Dallas Stars, Lindros scored 372 goals and 865 points while notching 1,398 penalty minutes. He had another 24 goals and 57 points in 53 career playoff games, almost entirely with the Flyers, and added 122 penalty minutes along the way.
His best statistical season was in 1995-96, when he scored 47 goals and 115 points while notching 163 penalty minutes.
He never won a Stanley Cup.
5. Chris Pronger
The exact wording of the Hall of Fame's eligibility restriction reads like this: "Must have concluded their career as an active player for a minimum of three playing seasons."
Chris Pronger's last game was on Nov. 19, 2011 against Winnipeg – three years ago as of Wednesday, and more than three years ago as of the time the selection committee sits down to chat about 2015. Pronger is still drawing a paycheck with the Philadelphia Flyers, but he's now also an employee with the Department of Player Safety. Every indication is his career is done, even if he hasn't held a press conference to announce it. And, according to what Hall of Fame president and CEO Jeff Denomme told ESPN last year, Pronger will technically be eligible in 2015.
Chris Pronger was everything you could ever want in an NHL defenceman: big, strong, smart, and nastier than a starving hyena. He played dirty because he played to win no matter the cost, and teams have been trying to find his like again in the draft for years. Top picks like Victor Hedman, Erik Johnson and Aaron Ekblad have all been compared to Pronger early in their careers, but as we’ve seen, this guy was one-of-a-kind.
Pronger was drafted second overall by the Hartford Whalers in 1993 and won a Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007. He captured the Hart and Norris trophies in 1999-2000 and won Olympic gold medals with Team Canada in 2002 and 2010.
He also put up some impressive numbers – including some gaudy penalty minutes – in a career spent playing for the Whalers, Ducks, St. Louis Blues, Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers. The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Dryden, Ont. native racked up 157 goals, 698 points and 1,590 penalty minutes in 1,167 career regular season games. He added 26 goals, 121 points and 326 penalty minutes in 173 playoff games.
He remained effective in the NHL right up until his concussion. Just watch him crush Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews in the 2010 playoffs.
Pronger may be the most worthy candidate on this list, but how awkward would it be for the league to have a Hall of Fame player still drawing an NHL paycheck?
For the sake of optics, the league may wait at least until 2017, when Pronger's contract expires with the Philadelphia Flyers.