The recent 2020 Hockey Hall of Fame (HHOF) Class induction announcement caused a stir because of who was and was not included. I thought it would be interesting to dive into who are the best eligible players by position not in the Hall. There are several straight forward selections, like Pierre Turgeon (center), and some that go against the grain. Key factors included standard and advanced metrics, hardware (Stanley Cups, All-Star selections, and individual trophies), and contributions to the game.
Each table is ordered by total career points and only contains fellow NHLers who played during a similar era and of like positions (forwards compared to forwards, etc). Therefore, the missing ranked players in each table are only active players, dissimilar positions, or from a different era. I wanted to give historical context by showing how the players rank by career points but compare apples to apples in the position sections.
Also, I included the “next best” or second most deserving player for each position so my thought process was evident. This allowed me to give attention to a few less-heralded players too.
Center – Pierre Turgeon
Turgeon has been my favorite player since I started getting into hockey when I was 13, over 25 years ago. Even though I grew up in New England, I went against the grain and followed another Original Six team, the Montreal Canadiens. Turgeon was the Habs’ captain and leading scorer, so it was easy to enjoy watching him play.
I know all the reasons why detractors have rationalized Turgeon’s absence from the HHOF: no Cups, no major trophies, didn’t “stand out” during his era, and other qualitative conclusions that don’t hold up under scrutiny. However, both standard and advanced metrics show that he belongs in the HHOF.
Below is a table of the highest-scoring players of all time, ranked by points. Those with an asterisk are already in the Hall. Everyone ranked above Mike Modano has already been inducted, so Turgeon is the highest-scoring eligible player currently not in the HHOF. He scored more points-per-game than anyone on the list and scored eleven fewer points than Dave Andreychuk in four fewer seasons. He played the same position in the same era as Mats Sundin and scored just 22 fewer points in 50 fewer games.
Table 1. Standard and Advanced Scoring Metrics in Turgeon’s Era
|Player Name||Seasons||Games||Points||Pts Rank||PPG||PS||GC/A|
As listed in Table 2 below, many of Turgeon’s nearest Hall compatriots did not earn much in the way of hardware either. With the exception of Fedorov, no player in this range won a Cup, made an All-Star Team, and won an individual performance trophy.
Modano only made one NHL All-Star Team, Andreychuk and Mike Gartner made zero. Andreychuk never finished higher than 11th in voting for an individual trophy and didn’t win a Cup until his penultimate season (in 2004 with the Tampa Bay Lightning).
Table 2. Hardware for Players in Turgeon’s Era
|Player Name||Seasons||AS Team||Cups||Trophies|
|Brendan Shanahan*||1987-2009||1994, 2000, 2002||1997, 1998, 2002||none|
|Mats Sundin*||1990-2009||2002, 2004||none||none|
|Pierre Turgeon||1987-2007||none||none||Byng, 1993|
|Jarome Iginla*||1996-2017||2002, 2004, 2008, 2009||none||Pearson, Richard, 2002; Richard, Ross, 2004|
|Rod Brind’Amour||1989-2010||none||2006||Selke, 2006, 2007|
|Sergei Fedorov*||1990-2009||1994||1997, 1998, 2002||Hart, Pearson, Selke, 1994; Selke, 1996|
|Daniel Alfredsson||1995-2014||2006||none||Calder, 1996|
|Marian Hossa*||1997-2017||2009||2010, 2013, 2015||none|
Sundin stands out as the highest ever scoring Swede but was never named the best at anything, evident by his lack of trophies. Shanahan made multiple All-Star Teams but also never won an individual trophy. The hardware issue is secondary to scoring when the Hall voting committee considers forwards. Turgeon has the same or better career scoring data than inducted players of his era and deserves to be among them.
Next Best: Jeremy Roenick
As for Roenick, he’s behind Turgeon in the offensive categories above and doesn’t have the career hardware to boot. He is the 4th highest scoring American of all time and the highest-scoring player not in the HHOF. Over his twenty season career, he scored 1,216 points in 1,363 games for five different teams.
He’s 45th on the all-time career scoring list and 37th in adjusted goals created. Of the 90 players with at least 1,000 career points, Roenick ranks 27th in shooting percentage (15.64%). He deserves to be inducted, but not before Turgeon.
Left Wing – Keith Tkachuk
Tkachuk is the highest-scoring left winger and American winger not in the HHOF. He was the prototypical NHL power forward for ten seasons with the Winnipeg Jets/Phoenix Coyotes organization. He scored 50 goals twice and racked up over 200 penalty minutes three times, accomplishing both in 1996-97, arguably his best season. But his physically aggressive style of play took its toll on his body after that season, and he never played over 80 games again.
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While he scored over 500 career goals, his other career numbers are not as strong. Tkachuk is just 68th in career points, 73rd in points-per-game, and 79th in point shares. He never made a Cup Final or won an individual trophy, though he was voted twice to the Second All-Star Team.
To his credit, Tkachuk has created one of the most recognizable hockey families in the league, with two of his sons in the NHL, Matthew of the Calgary Flames and Brady of the Ottawa Senators; both are flourishing. Ultimately, I think “Walt” should receive the call for his contributions to the game and his early career dominance.
Next Best: Brian Propp
Propp may have had the most NHL playoff success without ever winning a Cup. He is the all-time highest-scoring left winger in NHL postseason history and made it to five Stanley Cup Finals. He was a scoring legend with the Philadelphia Flyers during the 1980s, averaging 1.12 points-per-game during his prime from 1981-1986.
In 1982, he led the NHL with 12 game-winning goals, a Flyers record that stands today. In 1999, the WHL legend was named to its all-time team, with 511 points in 213 games over three seasons with the Brandon Wheat Kings.
Currently, Propp is 13th in career points by a left-winger; the only retired and eligible non-inductees ahead of him are Tkachuk, Ray Whitney, and Brian Bellows. However, he ranks 5th all-time in career left-wing points-per-game behind Hall of Famers Bobby Hull, Michel Goulet, Paul Kariya, and future HHOFer Alex Ovechkin. If Propp’s later seasons were not beset by injuries, there’s little doubt that he would have racked up enough scoring to be inducted.
Right Wing – Alexander Mogilny
Mogilny was the first USSR defector to play in the NHL. Drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the 5th round of the 1988 NHL Draft, he stirred up controversy by defecting to the US during the 1989 World Junior Championships in Stockholm, Sweden. In order to not raise the alarm, Mogilny, who was the Soviet Team captain, had to work with the Buffalo Sabres and the US State Department in a clandestine manner to secure his political asylum.
Since he was an officer in the Soviet Army at the time, the USSR government charged him with desertion. He’s long since made amends with Russia and has served as team president of his hometown KHL club, Amur Khabarovsk, from 2013 through today.
In his quest for Hall of Fame induction, it helps that Mogilny was also one of the best players of his day, although he did play in a high-scoring era. He tallied 473 goals in his 16-season career, but his adjusted goals created was only 418.35. Despite finishing his career ranked 78th in career points, he is ahead of anyone in this article in points-per-game with 1.04, ranked 33rd in the top 100 career scoring leaders.
A shooting wizard, Mogilny tied for the NHL-lead in goals scored with Teemu Selanne (76) in 1992-93. He was not without hardware either. He was a Second Team All-Star twice (1993 and 1996), won the Cup in 2000 with the New Jersey Devils, and was awarded the Lady Byng Trophy in 2003.
Skill-wise, his former teams and teammates have heaped praise on the explosive winger. Former teammate, Sabres captain, and HHOF Class of 2003 Inductee, Pat LaFontaine said in 2016 about Mogilny:
I’ve been lucky to play with some great players in my career, but I put Alex as the best player that I had a chance to see and play with talent-wise.
Mogilny was among the most injured players of his time, rarely playing more than 70 games per season. He had the skill to be one of the top-scoring players ever, if we’re to believe one of the greats himself (LaFontaine). It seems short-sighted not to induct an elite talent with historical career scoring averages and the background story that paved the way for so many future Soviet/Russian defectors to arrive in the NHL.
Next Best: Theo Fleury
Fleury is another player who had the talent to produce more than he did and has also created an HHOF-worthy legacy off the ice in his post-playing days. In his 15-season career, Fleury scored 1,088 points in 1,084 games. Of the top 100 career scoring leaders, Fleury ranks 39th in points-per-game (1.00). His adjusted goals created (430.95) is more than Mogilny’s and 2018 HHOF inductee Paul Kariya.
His work off the ice is bittersweet because, although he is champion for valuable causes, it is the result of his career-ending affliction. Fleury is an abuse survivor and recovering alcoholic/drug addict which plagued him to an unimaginable extent. In a 2018 interview with the Global News, he expressed that it wasn’t his addictions that ended his playing career:
My mental health took me out of the game. And now I’m trying to do something better to improve, you know, the quality of people’s lives who have experienced trauma and helping other people.
In his post-NHL career, Fleury has raised awareness for other trauma survivors as well as persevered through his own recovery. His statistics speak for themselves and his post-hockey contributions to society make him a Hall-worthy candidate.
Defenseman – Sergei Gonchar
It’s a little harder to judge defensemen on HHOF worthiness because of how the position has changed over time and the lack of historical tools available to measure the core responsibilities. The primary job of a defender is to limit the number of dangerous shots his goalie faces, but much of the available data doesn’t go back far enough to help us differentiate between the type of shots. Also, today’s NHL values offensive blueliners more than the traditional defensive defenders, so it’s imperative to consider the player’s era when considering their HHOF worthiness.
Sergei Gonchar was a high-quality, all-around blueliner who has the hardware, career scoring, and defensive prowess that should see him inducted sooner than later. He was a two-time Second Team NHL All-Star who won the 2009 Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He ranks 17th in career scoring by a defenseman and 37th in defensive point shares. Arguably, his finest season was 2006-07 when he led the NHL for being on the ice for the most power-play goals (37) and total goals for (151).
Table 3. Standard and Advanced Scoring Metrics in Gonchar’s Era
|Player Name||Seasons||Games||Points||Pts Rank||PPG||DPS|
With the exception of Gary Suter and Doug Wilson, everyone ranked above Gonchar in career points is already in the HHOF. Also, after factoring in the era in which he played, his adjusted points are 9th all-time (896). He’s not as elite defensively as Scott Stevens or Chris Chelios, but he scored more per game than they did. Nor was he an elite scorer like Brian Leetch but he was better in his own zone. Gonchar was close to induction this season and I suspect that his call is not far off.
Next Best: Brad McCrimmon
Tragically killed in a fatal 2011 plane crash that claimed the lives of an entire KHL club (Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, for which he was an assistant coach), McCrimmon received my vote because he has the highest defensive point shares of anyone not in the Hall. He was one of the best stay-at-home defensemen in the history of the NHL, ranked 11th all-time in career defensive point shares. Also, he scored 403 points in 1,222 games and racked up 1,416 penalty minutes. He accumulated a career plus-minus of +448. No other NHLer with at least 1,200 games played and 400 points scored has such a high career plus-minus amount.
Table 4. DPS of players in McCrimmon’s Era
McCrimmon and 2020 HHOF inductee Kevin Lowe were known as quality defensive defenders in their day. Lowe played in 3% more games (1,235) than McCrimmon, but McCrimmon’s defensive point shares, which is a cumulative stat, is 25% higher than Lowe’s (62.5).
Despite receiving the nickname “Beast” for his brash and direct nature, he was one of the most creative and intelligent players of his era. In a September 2011 interview with The Hockey News, former teammate Jim Peplinski appreciated McCrimmon’s mental acuity:
Beast was a quiet individual who in my opinion had a very deep and thorough understanding of the game, one that in initial conversations with him sometimes would be hidden. I took great pride and pleasure and a lot of appreciation in talking to Brad about parts of the game that he saw in a way that I certainly didn’t and many others didn’t.
His leadership and elite defensive ability while playing in an era full of legends should stamp McCrimmon’s ticket to the Hall.
Goalie – John Vanbiesbrouck
“Beezer” accumulated some fairly impressive hardware during his 20-season NHL career. He made two NHL All-Star Teams, made the 1996 Cup Final, and won the 1984 Vezina Trophy. He had four seasons during which he put up numbers that would challenge for the Vezina today.
Tuuka Rask is a front-runner for the 2020 Vezina, and his goals saved above average (the number of actual goals saved compared to the league’s average save percentage) was 22.51. Not only did Vanbiesbrouck have a higher number in four different seasons, but in 1993-94, he had a goals saved above average of 55.62.
Table 5. Adjusted Goals Against Average for Vanbiesbrouck/Joseph’s Era
A Cup championship eluded Vanbiesbrouck, who was left unprotected by the New York Rangers in the 1993 Expansion Draft, the summer before the Rangers won their first Cup in 54 years in 1994. He made the Cup Final in 1996 but he and the Florida Panthers were swept by the Colorado Avalanche.
Next Best: Curtis Joseph
One of Beezer’s nearest competitors for HHOF induction is Curtis Joseph, or CuJo, as he is affectionately called. Vanbiesbrouck’s career goals saved above average ranked 46th in the NHL (2.80), but Joseph ranked 83rd with a 2.94. The two are closer in their goalie point shares numbers, with Joseph (167.17, ranked 9th all-time) edging out Vanbiesbrouck (152.75, 12th).
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Comparing the two careers, Vanbiesbrouck was ranked more frequently in the top 10 for various stats. He appeared seven times in the NHL Top 10 for adjusted goals against, nine times in goalie point shares, and seven times in goals saved above average. Joseph had two, five, and five in those categories, respectively. What’s even more telling is that Joseph never had a season of over 19 goals saved above average.
While not perfect measures of performance, these advanced stats provide quality comparable numbers that permit us to tease out a goalie’s productivity from his team’s. It’s for these reasons that I think Vanbiesbrouck deserves a Hall induction before Joseph.
Attention: NHL Hall of Fame Voting Committee
As the application and understanding of advanced metrics in the NHL continue to grow, so will the HHOF induction support for players on its cusp. Several of the players in this article retired when statistical modeling was in its infancy.
With more data available now versus when they retired, players like Turgeon and Fleury will have a better chance to receive the call to the Hall. Factoring in his era, Gonchar rises from the top 20 in career points to the top 10 in adjusted career points. Feeling that Vanbiesbrouck deserves induction more than CuJo is a lot easier when you compare their GSAA numbers.
I’ll be surprised if half of these players aren’t inducted into the Hall within the next three to five years, but they’re all certainly deserving.