Hockey Hall of Famer Power Rankings: Who would be 1st pick to start team today?

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Welcome to our Hockey Hall of Fame power rankings. This list goes back to the 1997 class, Mario Lemieux’s induction year.   

The crux of this list is simple. Which of these awesome players you select first to start a new team in 2014?

Who would star in today's NHL, based on the style of play, the skills that are emphasized and the size of modern day players? With the new rules, the speed of the game? In their prime, with their injury history acknowledged. 

We had to make a few adjustments. We had to strike Igor Larionov and Valeri Kharlamov from the list. Larionov does not have a large enough ‘in-prime’ sample size. Also we never saw Kharlamov – who was considered one of the greatest international players ever – play against a lot of NHL competition.

We also did not include players exclusively from the ‘Original Six’ era, because the challenges for these teams were different.

Clearly we rated centers and defensemen higher than wingers. Then again, we had more to choose from. Below are our Hockey Hall of Fame power rankings – from the 1997 class through the 2014 class.

Here are the 45 players inducted since 1997 that we're including, ranked based on whether you’d build a team around them. Enjoy, then argue. Because you’ll probably argue ... 

1.    Wayne Gretzky (1999): When starting your franchise, it’s hard to argue with the Great One. Gretzky is the NHL’s leader in goals, assists and points. He’s the best player of the modern era. He could skate, pass, and had an accurate – though softish – shot.

2.    Mario Lemieux (1997): The only argument against ‘Le Magnifique’ could involve his injury history. But there are few players who combined his overall package of raw skills. He could play in every era and thrive.

3.    Ray Bourque (2004): When you’re starting a team, you want a minute-crunching defenseman who can play in all segments of the game. Bourque totally qualifies for this. His Stanley Cup glory came later in his career, but that shouldn’t be held against arguably the second best blueliner in NHL history.

4.    Mark Messier (2007): The ‘Moose’ showed an ability to play as the top dog on the Rangers and early 90s Oilers. He was the prototypical power forward center of the 80s, and became a skilled first liner in the 90s as players got bigger and stronger.

5.    Patrick Roy (2006): Are there any goalies who had the type of bravado, gusto, success levels and leadership that Roy had? No. Would the Avalanche have won two Stanley Cups without Roy? No. Would the Canadiens? No. Best. Goalie. Ever.  

6.    Steve Yzerman (2009): Stevie Y took a lot of praise for changing his game and becoming more of a two-way player. But that shouldn’t hide that his 155 points in 1988-89 are the highest in NHL history by a player not named Gretzky or Lemieux.

7.    Peter Forsberg (2014): How high would you rate a guy who played less than 1,000 games, but gave you 708 games of awesomeness at center? We would put him in our top-10. Forsberg was the best center in the NHL during his prime.

8.    Dominik Hasek (2014): The ‘Dominator’ was the best regular season goalie in the NHL during a time when defense ruled. Game-stealing goalies are rare, and he was one of them.

9.  Scott Niedermayer (2013): The slick-skating blueliner may not have had the greatest of stats of all time. But he was just always excellent and consistent. He could chip in offensively, and was strong in his end. Niedermayer was the perfect defenseman for the post-lockout NHL. When he retired, it felt like he could have played another five years.

10.   Joe Sakic (2012): If you wanted a player who would put up close to 100 points per-year, Sakic was your guy. Great wrist shot, solid on both ends. Just pure consistency year-in, year-out.

11. Ron Francis (2007): Francis gave consistent production throughout his entire career, and showed remarkable longevity, playing in 1,731 games. He would be the perfect center for today’s world.

12.  Bryan Trottier (1997): The Islanders center was a consistent force down the middle. He could score as well as pass, scoring 50 goals one season and 79 assists in another. Cup winner with the Islanders and the Penguins.

13. Jari Kurri (2001): The first winger on our list – Kurri thrived both as Gretzky’s trigger-man, and without him. He turned himself into a solid, two-way player without the Great One, notching 1,251 NHL games in the process and 601 goals, though 474 of which were scored with Edmonton. He also did play some center.  

14. Peter Stastny (1998): The European Wayne Gretzky may not have tasted Stanley Cup glory, but man, was he good – coming over to North America as a 24-year-old and playing 977 NHL games. He’s still the standard many Eastern Europeans strive for.

15. Mike Modano (2014): One of the most naturally talented players in NHL history, Modano, like Yzerman, made a commitment to defense. His numbers went down, but without his 200-foot nature, there’s no way the Stars wouldn’t have won a Stanley Cup in 1999.

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 14: 2014 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Mike Modano takes part in a media opportunity at the Hockey Hall of Fame on November 14, 2014 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 14: 2014 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Mike Modano takes part in a media opportunity at the Hockey Hall of Fame on November 14, 2014 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

16. Scott Stevens (2007): In pre-rule change NHL, was there another defenseman you wanted patrolling your blueline? Stevens was big, scary and mobile. Nobody could change a series with a single – then legal – bodycheck like Stevens.

17. Brett Hull (2009): Hull was a one-dimensional winger … but what a dimension it was. His ability to simply just score goals was surpassed by just Gretzky and Lemieux.

18. Brian Leetch (2009): The Rangers blueliner excelled when he was on good teams – he’s the last defenseman to have over 100 points. But when the Rangers were bad, his numbers fell – such as his minus-36 season. He also had trouble adjusting to being the alpha dog when Messier left for Vancouver.

19. Dale Hawerchuk (2001): Sadly, Hawerchuk’s prolificacy was marred by the fact that he played on some bad teams. His minus-92 is a strike against him, but 1,409 points in 1188 games cannot be ignored.

20. Adam Oates (2012): The slick passing Oates carved out an NHL career simply by finding the open man. Sadly, this led to him being known as more of a wingman than a guy who drove the action.

21. Denis Savard (2000): Savard was the best player on some OK Chicago teams – keeping that franchise relevant during some lean years, before the arrival of Jeremy Roenick. When he went to the Canadiens he got his Cup.

22. Al MacInnis (2007): Big shot, big size, mobile. Think Shea Weber without the nastiness. MacInnis would be a solid cornerstone in today’s game.

23. Pavel Bure (2012): The ‘Russian Rocket’ was probably the most dynamic talent on this list. He’s one of a small few players on this list to guide a team to a Stanley Cup Final appearance – seemingly on his own. Sadly, his career flamed out fast in just 702 games. If his knees held up, who knows what he would have accomplished.

24. Joe Nieuwendyk (2011): Shifty two-way scoring center. Without him, there’s no way the 1999 Dallas Stars win the Stanley Cup. Of course he did win the Conn Smythe Trophy that year. Another center who could play in multi-situations.  

25. Pat LaFontaine (2003): Yet another ‘Candle in the Wind’ player. LaFontaine was a dynamic center for Buffalo whose career was cut short by concussions. In today’s NHL, his lack of size probably would matter less than when he played.

26. Mats Sundin (2012): The big Swedish center played in the hyper offensive era, the defensive era, and the post 2004 lockout era. He excelled at all – his one strike was never winning a Stanly Cup or a major trophy, mostly because he played in Toronto during a down stretch for the Leafs.

27. Doug Gilmour (2011): Smooth center had a bit of a rough side as well. Could play in any situation for any team in any era and any conference. His career may have been somewhat marred by the fact he played for seven teams.

28. Chris Chelios (2013): Chelios was another ‘dead puck’ relic who shifted his game perfectly when offense gave way to defense. His longevity was something to marvel at playing until he was 48 years old. Chelios played well in the ‘live puck’ era, but his speed just may not be enough for today’s day and age.

29. Paul Coffey (2004): Offensive dynamo and second-highest scoring defenseman in NHL history. His game was hurt by the league’s defensive shift, but would be perfect for today’s more free-flowing systems.

30. Rod Langway (2002): Was a true defensive anchor on the blueline at a time when offense was starting to become all the rage in the NHL. May have been too big and clunky for today’s game though.

31. Luc Robitaille (2009): The left-winger came out of nowhere with 84 points as a rookie and never stopped scoring. His hand-eye coordination was some of the best the league had ever seen. His skating became good enough to play in any era.

32. Cam Neely (2005): The Bruins and Canucks forward didn’t just go around you, he went through you. A true scorer for the ages whose knees couldn’t hold up. We put him behind Bure – whose numbers were similar – just because the latter was better skilled for the post ’04 NHL lockout world.

33. Mike Gartner (2001): Classic compiler, but a tough one to defend. He was the fastest player in the NHL and scored maybe the quietest 700 goals in league history. His legacy was also harmed by lack of postseason success.

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 08: Brendan Shanahan, who will enter the Hockey Hall of Fame on November11, is honored prior to the game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the New Jersey Devils at the Air Canada Centre on November 8, 2013 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 08: Brendan Shanahan, who will enter the Hockey Hall of Fame on November11, is honored prior to the game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the New Jersey Devils at the Air Canada Centre on November 8, 2013 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)


 Brendan Shanahan (2013): One of the rare power forwards with a super skilled side – still hard to see how he and Mike Keenan never got along – Shanahan helped make the 2004 rule changes, and benefited from them. Still, was never ‘the guy’ on a winning team. Was more just an ancillary part.

35. Michel Goulet (1998): Quebec winger formed a formidable duo with Stastny. Good size, speed and four straight years of scoring 50 goals or more.

36. Larry Murphy (2004): Longevity describes this defenseman. He changed the way he played once he got to Detroit, going from a positionally sound offensive defenseman to a defensive shutdown duo with Nicklas Lidstrom. That being said, Murphy’s lack of skating ability would do him in with the new rules. He may have been a nice piece in the old NHL, but not the new NHL.

37. Mark Howe (2011): Gordie’s son didn’t start playing in the NHL until he was 24 years old. But he became a three-time All-Star, and someone many thought should have joined the Hall before 2011. Fast, smooth skater, good offensive instincts. He would be an excellent blueliner in today’s day and age.

38. Glenn Anderson (2008): He only knew one direction – forward – and one speed – all out. This made him a perfect winger for Messier. Anderson never proved he could score without his famous Edmonton running mates, but the skill was obviously there, though he’d probably need a top-end center to excel the way he did in Edmonton.

39. Dino Cicarelli (2010): Every team needs a guy like Dino. With such an emphasis on skating in today’s game, few players go to the ‘hard areas’ like Cicarelli did. But for a player like him to succeed, you need great point play, and a good center.

40. Joe Mullen (2000): The original American flag bearer scored everywhere he went. He even scored 38 goals as a 36-year-old with Pittsburgh in 1993-94.

41. Bernie Federko (2002): Federko was the top player on the Blues at a time when St. Louis needed a star. He was the first player in NHL history to notch at least 50 assists for 10 straight seasons. Sadly, he always seemed to overshadowed by Wayne Gretzky.

42. Ed Belfour (2011): Before Hasek came along, the debate was always between Belfour and Roy as to the top stopper in the NHL. The Eagle was a great netminder for the dead-puck era, posting consecutive seasons of 1.88 and 1.99 goals against average respectively. His 5-foot-11 frame may make him kinda small for today’s game though, which are dominated by behemoth goaltenders.

43. Rob Blake (2014): ‘Rockin’ Rob never quite got the props he deserved until he went to Colorado and helped lead the Avalanche to a Stanley Cup. His shot, combined with his physical snarl and mobility were all valuable assets.

44. Grant Fuhr (2003): Goaltender was the backbone for Edmonton’s dynasty teams. If all broke down in front of him, which happened a lot, Fuhr was there to stop it. That being said, if the former Vezina Trophy winner was on a worse team, would he be in the Hall of Fame?

 45. Clark Gillies (2002): Islanders power forward was bruising and showed uncommon mobility for his size. That being said, like Fuhr, his success could have been more of a function of his team. Also, one-dimensional wingers don’t rank highly on this list. 

Alright, there’s the list. Tell me where I went right.