Two players with extremely short-term ties to the Penguins (Jarome Iginla and Marian Hossa) were announced as part of the Hockey Hall of Fame’s class of 2020, the delayed and latest class on record with no 2021 class to be announced. Who will be the next to go in?
There’s no drama at all that Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are both only retirement plus the three year waiting period away from their inductions. Hopefully that won’t be a thought for many years, so other than them who will it be?
The first era of the Penguins’ Stanley Cup champions (1991, 1992) saw seven eventual Hockey Hall of Fame players (Mario Lemieux, Bryan Trottier, Joe Mullen, Paul Coffey, Larry Murphy, Ron Francis and Mark Recchi) as well as three builders (Scotty Bowman, Bob Johnson, Craig Patrick). An eighth player in Jaromir Jagr is a certainty if he ever retires.
Until Iginla and Hossa, there have been no players of the Crosby-era Penguins to be inducted (excluding Recchi, who was gone before the Crosby led Pens won a playoff series).
So who will be the next and possibly better representation of this era of success to make it to Toronto? It doesn’t look like there’s much momentum for Bill Guerin or Gary Roberts — two contenders for the “hall of very good”.
It could be Sergei Gonchar, who has a little bit of buzz and has only been eligible for three seasons. It was presumed the path for Gonchar might have been cleared a bit after countryman Sergei Zubov got in the Hall in 2019, but Gonchar remained unelected in 2020. Last year did see two defensemen (Kevin Lowe and Doug Wilson) get in, with Wilson having only 16 more points in his NHL career than Gonchar. The case could be made that right now Gonchar has the best case of any borderline player currently eligible for the Hall. Will 2022 be his year?
As far as other Crosby contemporaries, the list looks fairly short. Phil Kessel is likely to join the pile of players like Guerin or John LeClair or Tony Amonte or Rick Tocchet that are great but not quite going to the Hall of Fame.
Which only leaves two players to consider.
The first is now suddenly not much of a consideration at all. Marc-Andre Fleury is now third all time in the NHL in wins, with a real shot to get up to second place (60 wins away). Detractors have long over-picked at Fleury’s shortcomings but he just had at least a Vezina finalist season at age 36. His durability and consistency has been very incredible. Fleury will never make the “Hall of Even Strength Save Percentage in Close Situations” but upon last check, drilling down into stats isn’t a disqualifer for the Hockey Hall of Fame.
At one point it seemed reasonable to figure it would be somewhat of a debate if Fleury would or should deserve to get this recognition, but even at this point before his career is over it is abundantly clear that is of the past. Marc-Andre Fleury will be a Hall of Famer.
That brings us to three Penguins’ of this era as HOF’ers (Crosby, Malkin, Fleury) with another two in Iginla and Hossa having the most minimal of connections. At this point, you can probably add Jim Rutherford to the mix, who doesn’t get inducted as a builder in 2019 without the Stanley Cups he managed the team to in 2016 and 2017. Will there be a sixth player?
If anyone has the case, it would be Kris Letang. Letang is fourth in the NHL among defenseman points since he joined the league in 2007-08 (with a small asterisk next to Brent Burns, who at times earlier in his career played forward, but probably not enough to majorly skew the data).
Further, how many defensemen of this era will make the Hall of Fame? Surely Zdeno Chara. It looks like Victor Hedman is well on his way. Duncan Keith was a key cog of the Chicago Cup runs and has 2 Norris wins, he’s definitely in. Erik Karlsson has two Norris wins (and two more second place finishes) but has also faded quickly via injuries. Still probably safe to assume his bright times were enough. Burns and Drew Doughty have a Norris a piece.
Beyond those names, can Letang sneak in? Or even hop players like Burns or Doughty? It would need something to happen in the future (a fourth Stanley Cup, an unlikely Norris win) for that to happen.
Either way, it’s pretty impressive and a testament to Letang that he’s had a lot of longevity in his career to continue to put up points for a very long time as defensemen have come and gone over the past 12 years. Letang finished tied-third for scoring among blueliners in 2020-21, if he maintains even close to that level of play for a few more years that would also help his future HOF cause.
Beyond that, maybe Jake Guentzel scores 40 goals for the next ten seasons and makes a case for himself. Probably unlikely, tough to have a Hall of Fame career or even project any young player in the organization will make a serious run at it.
The other consideration would be coach Mike Sullivan. Multi-time Cup winning coaches are a pretty safe bet to make it in, any additions to his resume make tipping the scales to a future induction all the easier.
That could leave the modern era of the Pens’ with three players in the Hall (Crosby, Malkin, Fleury) with at least one, if not two builders (Rutherford, Sullivan) and then two defensemen somewhat in the middle of the debate (Gonchar, Letang).