The National Hockey League added four new members to its exclusive club Tuesday, selecting Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull, Brian Leetch and Luc Robitaille as part of the 2009 Hall of Fame class.
The four greats will be honoured with a ceremony at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto on Nov. 9.
Lou Lamoriello, CEO, president and general manager of the New Jersey Devils, was named to the Hall of Fame as a builder.
There were five forwards in their first year of eligibility who combined for more than 3,200 regular-season goals in their illustrious careers: Yzerman, Hull, Robitaille, Dave Andreychuk and Alexander Mogilny.
The Hall's selection committee is made up of 18 members. In addition to players, referees and builders of the game may also be honoured. Up to five can be nominated for induction in any given year, with no more than four players entering.
Captain Red Wing
All four players were offensive engines for their teams, who entered the NHL in the early-to-mid 1980s in a era of firewagon hockey, survived the clutch-and-grab years of the late 1990s and early 2000s and stayed on one year after the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season.
Next to legend Gordie Howe, no player was more revered, or loved, in Hockeytown than Yzerman.
Drafted fourth overall by the Detroit Red Wings in 1983, Yzerman boasts an NHL resume few players of any generation could match.
"It is a tremendous honour to receive this news," Yzerman said during a conference call.
Yzerman, who was born in Cranbrook, B.C., and grew up in Nepean, Ont., ranks sixth in NHL scoring with 682 goals, 1,063 assists and 1,745 points.
Numbers aside, Yzerman spent all of his remarkable 22 seasons with Detroit, rejuvenating the Wings by leading them to three Stanley Cup titles, including back-to-back championships in 1997 and 1998.
He retired in 2006 as the longest-serving captain of any major sports team (19 years) in North American history.
His best post-season performance came in 1998, when he scored 24 points to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
Now the team's vice-president and alternate governor, Yzerman also played a key role in Canada erasing 50 years of frustration by winning the gold medal during the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games.
A bad knee forced Yzerman to miss 30 games of that season, and he rested after the Olympics to prepare for a playoff run.
A limping Yzerman nonetheless finished second in playoff scoring with 23 points, four behind Colorado's Peter Forsberg. Despite enduring constant pain, Yzerman added four assists in the Stanley Cup final to help the Wings topple the Carolina Hurricanes.
"My knee had been bugging me right from training camp, and it was getting to a point where we kind of had to make a decision on whether I was going to continue playing or not," recalls Yzerman.
"I really didn't end up playing until the playoffs, and really, all I did was play the games. I didn't practice much and kind of got through the games. I couldn't move very well, but I really relied on my linemates [Brendan Shanahan and Sergei Fedorov] a lot."
Yzerman was joined by two of his fellow inductees on that Cup-winning squad, as Robitaille and Hull were both members of the Red Wings when they hoisted the trophy back in 2002.
The 2001-02 Wings are one of only three Cup-winning teams to have at least three members inducted into the Hall of Fame in the same year. They join the 1943-44 Montreal Canadiens, who had Toe Blake, Elmer Lach, Butch Bouchard, and Kenny Reardon inducted in 1966, and the 1925-26 Montreal Maroons, who saw Punch Broadbent, Nels Stewart, and Reg Noble enterin 1962.
As executive director of Hockey Canada, Yzerman could also experience a thrilling three-month period if Canada reclaims its gold medal at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games.
The Golden Brett
Hull piled up 741 career goals, behind only Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe, with four NHL teams. He added 650 assists for 1,391 points, currently 21st overall.
His best individual season came during 1990-91 as a member of the St. Louis Blues, when he scored 86 goals — surpassed only by Gretzky's 92 goals.
The legendary sniper won two Stanley Cups during his career, but his most memorable moment came during the 1999 final against the Buffalo Sabres.
Hull scored in triple overtime of Game 6 to clinch the Dallas Stars' first Stanley Cup title. The goal was not without controversy, however, as Hull's right foot was in the crease while scoring on Sabres goaltender Dominik Hasek.
Although players weren't permitted in the crease at that time, officials allowed the goal to stand.
"It's a great honour, it's really unfathomable," said Hull, now the Dallas Stars' executive vice-president and alternate governor, told the Dallas Morning News.
"I mean, when you're a kid, you dream about someday playing in the NHL or someday winning the Stanley Cup, but you just don't think about this, so it's hard to prepare yourself."
Hull, who was born in Belleville, Ont., but holds a dual U.S.-Canadian citizenship, joins his father, Bobby, in the Hall of Fame — the top father-son duo in league history.
"It is hard to put into words what this means to me, especially since I'm joining my father in the Hockey Hall of Fame," said Hull.
"Simply getting to the NHL was a challenge for me."
First American-born MVP
Leetch was a smooth-skating defenceman whose combination of passing and scoring ability made him one of the best defencemen of the 1990s.
Leetch, inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame eight months ago alongside Hull, amassed 247 goals and 781 assists for 1,028 points, ranking him fifth among all defenceman.
He spent the bulk of his 18-year career with the New York Rangers, where he helped end the team's 54-year Stanley Cup drought in 1994.
A Calder Cup winner as the top rookie and two-time Norris Trophy honouree, Leetch performed sensationally during the 1994 post-season. He scored 11 goals and 34 points to win the Conn Smythe Trophy, becoming the first non-Canadian to capture the award.
He still remains the only American-born player to win the playoff MVP trophy.
"I am humbled and excited by this honour, particularly since for me it is difficult to think of myself as a member of the Hall of Fame," said Leetch.
No left-winger has ever scored more NHL goals or points than Robitaille. Selected in the ninth round (171st overall) of the 1984 draft by the Los Angeles Kings, the Montreal native ranks 10th in goals with 668 and is 19th in points with 1,394.
He also had three seasons of over 50 goals and four with over 100 points. While Robitaille starred with the Kings for the first eight seasons of his career, he didn't fulfil his ultimate dream of winning the Stanley Cup until he played with fellow Hall of Famer Yzerman and the Red Wings in 2002.
"My goal was always just to play in the NHL and I never dreamed of anything beyond that," said Robitaille. "To be honoured in the same room as The Rocket, Guy Lafleur and Wayne Gretzky is a tremendous honour."
After 19 seasons with stops in L.A., Pittsburgh, New York (Rangers) and Detroit, Robitaille retired in 2006 with the Kings, who promptly retired his No. 20 jersey.
New Jersey resurgence
The New Jersey Devils were mired in mediocrity for years before building a powerhouse squad. From 1995 to 2003, Lamoriello put together teams that won three Stanley Cups during that stretch.
Lamoriello has been involved in the game for more than 40 years at both the college and pro levels.
"This award is completely unexpected," he said. "Over my career, I have been fortunate to have been associated with great players and coaches, and this award recognizes their contributions to my career."
Still waiting from past years are stars like Doug Gilmour, Pavel Bure, Dino Ciccarelli and Phil Housley.
Players must be retired for three years to enter the Hall of Fame unless they receive a special exemption.