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Early picks for the Hall of Fame Class of 2019

There is one mortal lock for the Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 2019. It’s a player that never won the Stanley Cup. Heck, it’s a player that never spent a minute in the NHL.

It’s Hayley Wickenheiser, the Canadian women’s hockey icon who is in her first year of eligibility. She has four Olympic gold medals, with 18 goals in 26 games, and seven golds at IIHF world championships. A star in every sense of the word, and an absolute legend.

Beyond that, a somewhat pedestrian group of first-year eligible players has opened the door for some holdovers to potentially get the call.

Here’s a look at the odds for the Class of 2019. Who gets in?

Near lock: Daniel Alfredsson, right wing (third year of eligibility)

Given the lack of sure things among the (male) first-year candidates for the Hall of Fame, one assumes it’s going to be Alfie’s turn. The long-serving captain of the Ottawa Senators (with a career-capping stop with the Detroit Red Wings) had 444 goals (No. 62 all time) and 1,157 points (No. 51 all time). He won the Calder Trophy, although no other individual hardware, and won Olympic gold and silver for Sweden. It was a surprise when he didn’t make it in this season; perhaps the executive committee wanted to save him for 2019, when he could be catnip to Ottawa fans looking to spend induction weekend celebrating the franchise’s most popular player and one of the game’s greatest ambassadors during his playing days.

If he doesn’t get in for the Class of 2019, one wonders if he’s destined for the Hall of Very Good But Not Great.

5-1: Defensemen Sergei Gonchar (second year), Kevin Lowe (18th year), Doug Wilson (23rd year), Sergei Zubov (seventh year)

It’s been three straight classes without a defenseman, so one assumes the selection committee might give one of those holdovers some love. Lowe got a full endorsement from former teammate Wayne Gretzky at the 2018 Hall of Fame induction, as the player he felt most deserved to be in the Hall that wasn’t. He was the backbone of six Stanley Cup championship teams, including five with the dynastic Oilers who have already produced six Hall of Famers.

Zubov’s points-per-game rate was 0.72, putting him on par with the legendary Nicklas Lidstrom. Dallas Stars fans and the analytics community have been waging a multiple-front offensive to get him in the Hall, and his case has been building. He also has two Stanley Cup wins. Gonchar played 1,301 games and amassed 811 points, which is 17th all-time for defensemen.

But if it’s offense we’re talking about, Wilson ranks eighth in NHL history with 0.81 points per game. He also has something none of the other defensemen here have: a Norris Trophy to his name. But after 23 years, what could change to get him in?

In asking around the red carpet at the Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony this year, there seems to be some momentum for both of these long-standing candidates and offensive dynamos. Mogilny had two of the best offensive seasons of the last 25 years, with 76 goals in 1992-93 and 55 goals in 1995-96. While those two seasons are by far his best, he finished with a stellar 1.04 points-per-game average (38th all time, in a career that included playing in the Trap Era) in 990 career games over 16 seasons. He’s also a Triple Gold Club member, and there are only 28 of them in history. Just as important to anything he did on the ice, he was the first Soviet defection to the NHL, a landmark moment in hockey history.

Roenick is a difficult one to gauge. His 513 career goals rank him 40th all time, although it’s a number that doesn’t guarantee enshrinement; just ask Pat Verbeek (522) and Pierre Turgeon (515) about that. His 0.892 points-per-game average puts him right with Hall of Famer Joe Nieuwendyk. No awards. No Stanley Cups. No gold medals internationally. As a player, he’s borderline. As a personality … well, they call it the Hall of Fame for a reason. Few players have had more cultural impact than Roenick in his prime.

12-1: Curtis Joseph, goalie (seventh year)

Like Mogilny and Roenick, there’s been an uptick in chatter about CuJo this year. He’s truly one of the most challenging cases of stats vs. impact: Fifth in career wins (454), sixth in games played (943), but he never won a Vezina Trophy (despite being in the top four five times) nor a Stanley Cup. To date, Ed Giacomin is the only Hall of Fame goalie not to have won a Cup. Then again, there’s another reason for that: Goalies rarely make the Hall of Fame. Martin Brodeur is just the seventh goalie to get inducted since 1990. It’s hard to imagine Joseph clearing that type of bar.

20-1: Rod Brind’Amour, center (sixth year); Theo Fleury, right wing (13th year); Boris Mikhailov, right wing (35th year); Chris Osgood, goalie (fifth year)

Worthy candidates, each of whom has a unique angle to their bid for immortality: Brind’Amour’s two-way center prowess, Fleury’s endearing offensive flourish, the Soviet top-line dominance of Mikhailov and the postseason heroics of Osgood. Alas, none of them seem like the total package for the Hall.

The only freshman candidates worthy of consideration, and none of them look like first-ballot guys. Of the three, Boyle has the most compelling case: 605 points in 1,093 games. From 1998-2018, only Nicklas Lidstrom, Gonchar and Zdeno Chara had more points than Boyle among defensemen. He has a Stanley Cup and an Olympic gold, but no individual titles.

Elias has two Stanley Cups to his credit, and had 1,025 points in 1,240 games from 1995-2016 with the New Jersey Devils. That puts him 13th in points in the NHL during that span, and 14th in points per game. Internationally, Elias had 33 points in 40 games. He’s generally considered one of the NHL’s most underrated talents in recent history, although ask Sergei Zubov how far that gets you with the Hall of Fame.

Lecavalier certainly has the most star power of the three. He played 1,212 games, primarily with the Lightning (1998-2013) before finishing up with the Philadelphia Flyers and Los Angeles Kings. He had 949 points, including 421 goals, putting him 16th in goals-per-game average during his career. He won the goal-scoring title in 2006-07 with 52 tallies, as well as the Stanley Cup in 2004. A star player, and a consistent one, but a first-ballot Hall of Famer he is not.

30-1: Keith Tkachuk, left wing (sixth year); Pierre Turgeon, center (ninth year)

Oh, they’ve got numbers: Tkackuk’s 538 goals are the 32nd most in NHL history, and there’s no Hall of Fame eligible player with more points than Turgeon (1,327) that isn’t already enshrined. The Hall doesn’t always shy away from stat compilers — we see you, Dino Ciccarelli — but these two haven’t had any buzz for their candidacies in quite a while.

40-1: The field

There are goal-scorers (Peter Bondra, Pat Verbeek) and all-around performers (Dale Hunter) and a few other newbies that populate the field. Then there’s former Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, who absolutely dominated his position for a span of five years and won two Vezinas and a Conn Smythe before disappearing from the public eye.

There’s also Brad Richards, in his first year of eligibility, with two Stanley Cups and a Conn Smythe to his credit. Finally, there’s Canadian hockey icon Paul Henderson, still trying to prove that one goal in 1972 could earn one an even higher level of immortality than it already has.

Best guess at the Hall of Fame Class of 2019

Hayley Wickenheiser, Daniel Alfredsson, Sergei Gonchar, Jim Rutherford (builder), Don Cherry (builder)

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