Fans, media members, coaches, and executives in the hockey world like to toss out the tag future Hall of Famer when referring to players, but just how many of the league's current players are actually deserving of the recognition? The way most people discuss the notion, you would think half of the stars in the NHL are bound for the Hockey Hall of Fame, but it's worth noting that in the league's 100-year history, only 271 players have been inducted, several of which are non-NHL players. That's less than three players per season, which would leave several big-name players out of the Hall.
Players yet to be inducted into the Hall of Fame include Paul Kariya, Theo Fleury, Mark Recchi, and Bernie Nicholls, all of which not only had dominant seasons, but were consistent All-Stars throughout their careers. Every year there's an ongoing debate about which players should or shouldn't make the list, and that's not going to change anytime soon. You can easily pick a group of current sure-fire Hall of Famers (hint: winning a Stanley Cup helps), but chances are you'll upset quite a few fan bases by discrediting the achievements of their team's star player. So, without further ado, let's do both.
15 Will: Sidney Crosby
Let's get the most obvious one out of the way. Sidney Crosby could retire right now and he would be a first-ballot Hockey Hall of Fame inductee. There's absolutely zero chance he doesn't become a member of hockey's most prestigious group; the only question is whether or not he's considered the greatest of all-time when he does retire?
His resume speaks for itself. The Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia native is a two-time Stanley Cup winner, two-time Hart Trophy winner as the league's MVP (likely three after this season) and even led the league in goal scoring in 2009-10, a year after most proclaimed he was more of a playmaker than a finisher. Factor in his ever-improving defensive play and the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, in which he scored arguably the second or third biggest goal in Canadian history, and Sid's inclusion is an absolute no-brainer.
14 Won't: Marc-Andre Fleury
Let's start with a case for why former number one overall goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury might be considered for the Hall when he retires. The 32-year-old, like Crosby, has won two Stanley Cups, is a two-time NHL All-Star, and has an Olympic gold medal. He was even named the Penguins in-house MVP in 2011, which is impressive given the talent on that team.
However, as good as Fleury has been at times - he led the league in shutouts in 2014-15 with ten and has a career save percentage of .912, which is equal to Martin Brodeur - he has never won a Vezina Trophy as the league's top goaltender. In fact, the closest he ever came was in 2011-12 when he finished seventh in voting. And his second Stanley Cup? Though he was strong in the regular season, he eventually lost his job to rookie sensation Matt Murray, who is the heir to the net in Pittsburgh. Fleury might find himself on the expansion Las Vegas team next season, where wins - and awards - will be tough to come by.
13 Will: Carey Price
Though Fleury, above, led the league in shutouts in 2014-15, his overall numbers didn't even come close to those of Carey Price, who was the runaway Vezina winner with 27 of a possible 30 first place votes. Price was downright dominant that year, also taking home the Hart Memorial Trophy as the league's best player, receiving 139 of a possible 157 first place votes. Unless you're name is José Théodore, chances are very high you're a Hall of Famer if you win both the Vezina and Hart in the same year.
Price is far from a one-year wonder, however. Prior to winning the Vezina, he finished top-ten in voting in four of the previous seven seasons. He has had some blips early in his career, but he has been far-and-away the league's best goaltender for the past two-plus seasons and would have likely won his second consecutive Vezina last year had he not been injured after just 12 games. He's already 49th all-time in wins and he doesn't turn 30 until next season. He's a Hall of Famer without a Stanley Cup, but he'll leave no doubt whatsoever should he win one in Montreal.
12 Won't: Anze Kopitar
Sometimes winning a Stanley Cup isn't enough to earn a star player a spot in the Hall. Sometimes winning two Stanley Cups isn't enough, either. Sure, Anze Kopitar has a pretty impressive resume and is coming off of the best season of his career in which he won both the Lady Byng and Selke Trophy as the league's most gentlemanly and effective player and the league's top defensive forward. He even led the Kings in playoff scoring during both of their Stanley Cup runs.
Yet, as good as he is, he's never been a top-five player in the league in any given season. Last year, at his best, he was eighth in Hart Trophy voting. Moreover, he has only scored 30-plus goals in two of his first ten seasons and there's zero chance he does so this year as he's having the worst year of his career with just 30 points through 44 games. Kopitar is still just 29-years-old so he has a few more years to state his case, but the Kings appear to be on a downward trajectory and his chances to improve his resume seem limited.
11 Will: Patrick Kane
Stanley Cups - Patrick Kane has three - and awards - Calder, Hart, Pearson, Art Ross, and Conn Smythe - aside, sometimes a player deserves Hall of Fame talk simply based on the way he plays the game. The American winger revitalized a starving fanbase in Chicago with a dominant rookie season in which he scored 72 points in 82 games and has been a consistent point producer every season. But it's not just the points; it's how he gets them, making defenders look absolutely silly on a nightly basis with his swift skating and silky-smooth dangles.
But maybe that's not enough for the voters. If not, they need only look at the numbers; through 709 career games to date, Kane has 712 points. He also has 121 points in 123 playoff games. By the end of his career, it's likely he's remembered as the most skilled (notice skilled and not best) American forward of all-time.
10 Won't: Henrik Lundqvist
Everything about being a goaltender is unfair. You have to face 100 mile per hour shots on a nightly basis and when you're team is winning, you get a small share of the credit; when your team is awful, you get the bulk of the blame. And if your team is unable to win a Stanley Cup - or at the very least come close - then chances are you're not going to be remembered as fondly.
Henrik Lundqvist has been a very, very good goaltender for more than a decade. He won a Vezina Trophy in 2011-12 and has more consistent year-over-year numbers than anyone in the league. That said, fairly or unfairly, his playoff success is going to come into question when it's time to be considered for the HOF. He did get his team to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2013-14, but sports an overall record of 55-59, including a disastrous first-round performance last year. He hasn't been himself this year either, leading many to believe the 34-year-old's best days are behind him. Prior to the inexplicable inclusion of Rogie Vachon in the 2016 class, the only goalies to be voted into the HOF since 2003 were Grant Fuhr, Patrick Roy, Ed Belfour, and Dominik Hasek. Lundqvist is good, but doesn't match up with any of those netminders.
9 Will: Drew Doughty
Drew Doughty has been one of the league's most dominant defenseman since his second year in the league when he recorded a career-high 59 points and finished third in Norris Trophy voting. Since then, he has finished top ten in voting in five of the following six seasons, including last year when he won the trophy for the first time.
Doughty has been an integral part of both of the Kings' Stanley Cup wins and has 51 points in 81 career playoff games. More than that, he's one of the best drivers of possession among all defensemen, which is impressive since he's constantly among the league's top minute eaters. He was also Canada's best defenseman at the 2014 Olympics, scoring a team-leading four goals in six games en route to winning a gold medal. At just 27-years-old, the London, Ontario native is still in his prime with plenty of time left to build upon his already impressive resume.
8 Won't: Patrick Marleau
If it was titled the "Hockey Hall of Consistency, San Jose Sharks winger Patrick Marleau might head the class as soon as he's eligible. The 37-year-old has missed just 30 games throughout his 19-year-career and, excluding the lockout-shortened year and his rookie season, hasn't scored fewer than 40 points in a season. He has 1,062 points in 1,461 career games and is just two goals away from 500.
Yet, as consistent as he's been, he has never been a top 10 player in the league. Even while playing alongside Joe Thornton during his prime, Marleau was only able to reach a career-high of 44 goals in a single season. He finished ninth in Hart voting that year and eighth in Selke voting, owing to his ability on the defensive end. Most importantly, Marleau is the poster boy of the Sharks playoff failures for much of the 2000s; in 171 career games he has just 116 points.
7 Will: Jonathan Toews
Did we mention the HOF voters like Stanley Cups? While they're not the sole determining factor as to whether a player is a Hall of Famer or not, they certainly tip the scales of balance in favor of a bubble player. Toews has captained the Chicago Blackhawks to three championships and, like Kopitar, has a Selke Trophy to his name as the league's best defensive forward.
The reason Toews is and Kopitar isn't a Hall of Famer, however, is in part due to the one award Toews has that Kopitar doesn't: a Conn Smythe Trophy. And don't discredit that he won it in 2010, leading the Blackhawks to their first Stanley Cup in 49 years. Rightly or wrongly, he's also going to receive more votes based on perceived leadership qualities. His point production is nothing to scoff at, however; Toews has 592 points in 687 career games to date. If the 28-year-old can reach 1,000 points, he'll cement his HOF status.
6 Won't: Rick Nash
The former first overall pick has been a consistent scorer throughout his 14-year NHL career, notching 407 goals in 959 games. But it has always felt like Rick Nash had more to offer. He won the Rocket Richard Trophy for most goals with 41 as a 19-year-old in 2003-04 with the Columbus Blue Jackets, but failed to reach that number again until 2014-15 when he scored 42 as a member of the New York Rangers. Nash finished seventh in Hart voting that year, but it was the first time he had received any votes since 2009.
Nash has a very real chance to crack 500 career goals - and 600 if he plays late enough into his career - but he hasn't won a Stanley Cup and has been on the decline in the past two seasons. Some think of 500 goals as a benchmark for the HOF, but there's some precedent: Jeremy Roenick scored 513 over the course of his career but has yet to be inducted.
5 Will: Erik Karlsson
If you've ever watched an Ottawa Senators game, chances are you only did so to see Erik Karlsson play. But you would have also noticed the Swedish defenseman plays roughly half of the game and seemingly always has the puck on his stick. In just his eighth season in the league, Karlsson has already won the Norris Trophy twice and finished top 10 in Hart Trophy voting three times. Last season, he led the entire league (not just defensemen) in assists with 66 and had 82 points in 82 games.
Karlsson is 10th all-time in points per game among defensemen, which is even more impressive than it sounds when you consider the low-scoring era he's playing in. The next highest-scoring active defenseman is P.K. Subban, who ranks 28th all-time. Should he maintain that pace for the next few seasons and potentially add another Norris or Stanley Cup, Karlsson is a sure-fire Hall of Famer.
4 Won't: Phil Kessel
As much as we love him and his nonchalant approach to the game and life in general, Phil "The Thrill" Kessel is no Hall of Famer. The regular season numbers are relatively impressive (625 points in 798 career games) and the playoff totals are even more so (43 points in 46 games), but Kessel is a complementary piece to a winning franchise, not the go-to star, as was proved during his time in Toronto.
Aside from the fact his defensive play leaves a lot to be desired, Kessel isn't quite the dominant goal scorer he was thought be be when he scored 36 as a third-year pro in 2008-09. He has yet to score 40 in a single season and is unlikely to do so going forward.
3 Will: Alex Ovechkin
Another no-brainer. While we focused heavily on Stanley Cups for earlier players, there are a select few where it really doesn't matter. Alexander Ovechkin is one of those players. The Great 8 has 549 career goals, six Rocket Richard trophies, and three Hart trophies as the league's top player. He topped 50 goals in seven seasons, including his rookie year.
He's already 28th all-time in goals and will likely enter the top 25 by the end of this season. More importantly, he's sixth all time in goals per game, one spot ahead of some guy named Wayne Gretzky, who we hear was quite good at playing hockey. Two of the players ahead of Ovechkin played fewer than 350 games and the other three are Pavel Bure, Mario Lemieux, and Mike Bossy. Given those other three played in higher-scoring eras, you could easily make the argument that Ovechkin is the greatest goal scorer of all-time.
2 Won't: Patrice Bergeron
Patrice Bergeron is the man in Boston. The Bruins captain is the heart and soul of the franchise; he once played through a Stanley Cup Finals game with a broken rib, separated shoulder, and torn cartilage and muscle tissue. But despite his impressive defensive play (he has won three Selke Trophies) and faceoff ability, he's always been an overrated player.
He brings the intangibles that many HOF voters seem to overvalue, but his career numbers simply don't warrant HOF entry. Bergeron has 642 points in 869 games and is currently having the worst season of his 13-year career. His 23 goals in 95 playoff games won't help his case much either. A couple more Stanley Cups would bump him into Jonathan Toews territory, but that seems unlikely given the current state of the Bruins.
1 Will: Evgeni Malkin
Though he was omitted from the NHL 100 list recently released during All-Star Weekend, Evgeni Malkin is a sure-fire Hall of Famer - and a top-100 all-time player, for the record. Geno won the Calder Trophy in 2006-07 with 85 points as a 20-year-old and captured his first of two Art Ross trophies two seasons later, recording 113 points in 82 games. In 2011-12, Malkin won the Art Ross, the Hart, and the Lester B. Pearson as the league's MVP as voted by the players.
Let's not forget that Malkin was the Conn Smythe winner during the Penguins Stanley Cup win in 2009, the first Russian to win the award. He was absolutely dominant in those playoffs, recording 36 points in 24 games, including three game-winning goals. He has 129 points in 124 playoff games, which is good enough for 22nd all-time in points per game, ahead of notable Hall of Famers Denis Savard and Doug Gilmour.