Joe Sakic and Brendan Shanahan can be linked in many ways with respect to their long hockey careers.
They were first round picks who entered the NHL as teens after terrific junior careers and experience. Both Sakic and Shanahan soon racked up individual stats and accolades in the NHL, and when Shanahan came over to the Western Conference in 1996-97 with the Detroit Red Wings, they found themselves in their prime years on opposite sides of one of the most heated rivalries in recent league history.
There would be three meetings between the Avalanche and Red Wings from that date on, including a 2002 playoff series that came just a few months after the two players deliriously fell to the ice together in Salt Lake City after Sakic clinched a gold medal for Canada in the Olympic final with a late goal.
All-star captains in 2007 in the twilight of their careers, they are now part of the NHL firmanent in different capacities — Shanahan as league disciplinarian and Sakic in Colorado's front office.
On Tuesday, they could very well be linked as among the select few named to the 2012 Hockey Hall of Fame class. Those selected will be inducted on Nov. 12 in Toronto.
In addition to NHL players, there could likely be names proferred from the builder and women's lists, as none came from those latter two categories in the 2011 group.
With apologies to Olaf Kolzig, Claude Lemieux, Gary Roberts and Michael Peca, the following are probably the five strongest first-year candidates with respect to the NHL ballot. You can vote on them, unofficially, HERE:
- 943 GP (5th all time)
- 454 W (4th)
- 51 SO (Tied for 22nd)
Pro: Finished with over 20 wins in a season a dozen times, with six seasons over 30. Near the top in save percentage with a St. Louis team that gave up a ton of shots. Very respectable shutout total, decent goals-against (2.79) and save percentage (.906) given the quality of some of his teams.
Con: Hockey's a team game but in an era when the top goalies helped vault teams to championships, Joseph's teams never reached the Cup final, and the conference final just once.
- 513 goals (37th)
- 1,216 pts (T 40th)
- 184 PPG (22nd)
- 92 GWG (T 11th)
- 28 SHG (T 24th)
Pro: One of the most precocious players ever, racking up 130 goals by the time he was 21. Fourth all-time in points among American players. Accurate shooter who scored over 50 twice, over 40 two other times, and past 30 three more occasions. Finished with over 100 points in three consecutive seasons. Colourful ambassador for the game.
Con: For whatever reasons, wasn't the same player after the first lockout. Never notched more than 80 points after age of 25. Was a second line forward for much of the back half of his career.
- 1,641 points (9th)
- 625 G (15th)
- 1,016 A (11th) 3
- 2 SHG (T 14th)
- 86 GWG (18th)
- 84 playoff goals (7th)
- 188 playoff points (8th)
Pro: Complete centre who went over 100 points six times, including as a 37-year-old. Won the Hart and Pearson trophies in 2001. Scored over 30 goals nine times, over 40 on five occasions, over 50 twice. Clutch in big games, helped Colorado to two Stanley Cups, leading the league in points both times, including a dazzling 34 in 21 games for the Conn Smythe in 1996. Scored eight playoff overtime goals, most ever. Member of the Triple Gold club (Cup, worlds, Olympics), with a world junior title as well.
- 1,354 points (25th)
- 656 G (13th)
- 237 PPG (6th)
- 109 GWG (4th)
- 3 Stanley Cups
Pro: Scored over 30 goals a dozen times, over 40 in six seasons, and twice hit the 50-goal mark. Helped define power forward, with clutch goals and toughness. In addition, could kill penalties. Detroit didn't win a Cup until he arrived, then won three in the next seven years. Triple gold club member.
Con: Just a single 100-point season in his lengthy career. Was generally speaking more of a second all-star type than a first for much of his career.
- 564 goals (T 21st)
- 1,349 points (27th)
- 96 GWG (7th)
- 31 SHG (T 18th)
Pro: All-around player who was a model of consistency, with 13 seasons over 30 goals and a pair of years over 40. Over 80 points six times, highlighted by 114-point season. Scored as many goals as former teammate and inductee Joe Nieuwendyk in two fewer seasons player, with over 200 more points as well.
Con: Among the best during his era, but rarely mentioned in the truly elite or transcendent. Hurt by lack of team success in playoffs.
There a host of players with a debatable case who've been eligible for at least one year. Last year provided cause for hope as each of Doug Gilmour, Mark Howe and Nieuwendyk waited more than one year before getting the welcome call, with Howe eligible for over a decade.
Here are arguably the top five cases, and the strongest pleas to be made on their behalf:
Pavel Bure, F: In a career shortened by injury, racked up 437 goals in 702 games for one of the best goals-per-game averages of all, and better than enshrinee Cam Neely.
The Russian Rocket hit the 60-goal mark twice and was over 50 three other times. Other than Tim Kerr and Bernie Nicholls, hard to think of anyone with that kind of sniping ability not in the Hall.
Phil Housley, D: One of the top U.S. players ever and a teen phenom.
Yes he had his defensive issues but the Hall is full of guys who only excelled offensively. Began his career with 11 consecutive seasons with at least 62 points. Finished with over 1,232 points, fourth among defencemen (the other three are in), and 37th among all players. Ranks 19th all-time in assists, more than Hall denizens Brian Leetch, Dale Hawerchuk and Denis Savard.
Eric Lindros, F: There are just three eligible Hart Memorial winners not in the Hall of Fame, and he's the only eligible modern MVP missing.
He still ended up averaging over a point per game in his career (865 in 760) despite the last few tough seasons he endured. Dominant player for six or seven seasons and was playing more than even up with men while an 18-year-old at the 1991 Canada Cup.
Adam Oates, F: It is debatable whether Brett Hull would have made the Hall without him, and many forget that his 97-assist season with Bruins came with Cam Neely injured for all but 13 games.
Here's the strongest argument: Retired in 2003-04 sixth all-time with 1,079 assists. He's still sixth. He will be sixth for at least six more years, probably longer, as the next NHLer on the list with a prayer of passing him is Joe Thornton (754).
Rogie Vachon, G: How would Rogie's career be viewed if went from an average team to a Cup winner instead of vice versa? Recorded 32 shutouts over six seasons for a so-so Los Angeles club in the 1970s after a stellar Cup final with Montreal in 1969.
Won a Canada Cup and was top 15 in shutouts when he retired with 51. Of the goalies from his particular era, only Tony Esposito, Bernie Parent and Ed Giacomin had more shutouts than that, and they're all in the Hall.