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The 10 best candidates for Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 2012

The 2011 Hockey Hall of Fame party has reached its day-after hangover period, meaning that our attention turns to the next batch of hockey legends that will achieve immortality next year.

Greatest Hockey Legends took a peek at the first-year eligible players for 2012, and hooboy it's a doozy:

The first-year eligible class for 2012 includes two shoo-ins in Joe Sakic(notes) and Brendan Shanahan(notes), while Jeremy Roenick(notes), Mats Sundin(notes), Curtis Joseph(notes), Olaf Kolzig(notes), Teppo Numminen(notes), Markus Naslund(notes), Gary Roberts(notes), Claude Lemieux(notes) and Bobby Holik(notes) will all get good consideration.

(Holik put over Lemieux in a big way on Marek vs. Wyshynski on Monday.)

Which players from this group deserve to get in on the first ballot? Which ones won't get in? And which carryover might have a shot?

Here are the top 10 best candidates for the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2012, based on the precedents and criteria established by the Hall's selection committee. (Again, were it up to us — top five players from every generation get in. Exclusive city.)

It should be noted that the Hall of Fame can take a maximum of four of these names in a single class.

1. Joe Sakic

A first-ballot, no-questions-asked lock. Eighth in NHL history in points (1.641) and 15th in goals (625), playing much of his career in the trap years. He won two Cups, the Hart and the Pearson in 2001, and won the Conn Smythe in 1996. He was a 12-time participant in the All-Star game. Joe Sakic could be found guilty of a Bernie Madoff-level of fraud, burn down a pet store and claim pizza is overrated and still be inducted in 2012.

2. Brendan Shanahan

Shanny has the goods: 11th all-time in goals scored and 1,354 points, good for No. 25 all time. He was a prototypical player: The ideal forward, tallying this gaudy numbers while at the same time compiling 2,489 penalty minutes for 22nd all time. Three Stanley Cups don't hurt either.

OK, let's get political for a second. There's no question Shanahan's rattling some cages, making some frenemies, not getting a 100 percent approval ratings from the NHL's old guard. Will there be anyone in that room who wants to keep him out as a first-ballot candidate because of his new role in the NHL?

And before you go and proclaim the process would never be that petty, look up Ciccarelli, Dino and Burns, Pat, The Late ...

3. Eric Lindros

There are 17 players with a higher points per game average than Lindros (1.138); 11 of them are in the Hall of Fame, three of them will be in the Hall of Fame (Sakic, Jagr, Forsberg) and two of them are Crosby and Ovechkin. (And then there's Kent Nilsson.) In fact, of the top 30 players in points-per-game average, 21 are already in the Hall.

The debates over Lindros had been fought since he was forced into retirement. Know this: He's been on a year-long PR campaign that includes his participation in the Winter Classic for the Philadelphia Flyers. The time might be right for Lindros next season.

4. Mats Sundin

The 10 best candidates for Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 2012Sundin is No. 21 all time in goals (564) and No. 27 all time in points (1,349). He never won a Stanley Cup and never won a major postseason award, which will keep him from first-ballot status. Then again, Ken Campbell believes there's a secret cabal in the Hall of Fame to elect as many Toronto Maple Leafs as possible, so he's got that going for him. (Pension Plan Puppets responds.)

Unlike the players he's sandwiched around, he had longevity.

5. Pavel Bure

If it's our call, Bure is a Hall of Famer for simply being one of the most explosive offensive forces the NHL has seen in the last 20 years, with the numbers (0.62 goals per game, No. 6 all time) to back it up.

But there are always these knocks about his one-dimensional game (despite being No. 11 all time in shorthanded goals) and some of the bridges he's burned behind the scenes (Brian Burke's addition to the HOF selection committee, as we discussed on Marek vs. Wyshynski on Monday, can't be a good thing for Bure).

Will the wait finally end for Bure and his backers?

6. Adam Oates

Adam Oates has inspired a Ron Paul-level of vocal minority discontent while being snubbed by the Hockey Hall of Fame. Joe Yerdon has threatened to riot in the past. Joe Pelletier can't believe the guy's not in:

To me Oates had a better peak than did Andreychuk or Federko or Mike Gartner. There was a 5 or 6 year window in the early 1990s when I believe Adam Oates truly was one of the dominant players in the game. Had it not been for a guy named Wayne Gretzky, we probably would be hailing Oates as the best playmaker of this generation. Regardless, he's definitely one of history's top ten playmakers, maybe even top five.

No Cups, no major awards, and a complementary player for his career — never a star, always a co-star. But there's no denying the numbers.

7. Jeremy Roenick

 

Roenick's already a Hall of Famer … in the U.S., where the competition is a shade less fierce.

But for the Hockey Hall of Fame, this is going to be a tough one.

Roenick's a legend. There's simply no denying that. But is he a legend for what counts for the Hall of Fame or for being one of the most engaging personalities the NHL has ever seen? He never won a Cup, never won an NHL award, and he's No. 36 all time in goals with 513. Just ahead of him? Pierre Turgeon, who as Leahy pointed out might as well be in the Hall too if Roenick is.

Roenick in the Hockey Hall of Fame just seems right, because it's a Hall of FAME. But does he have the goods?

 

8. Curtis Joseph

 

CuJo, who is eligible for the first time in 2012, never appeared in a Stanley Cup final, never won a Cup. But he was fourth all time in regular-season wins (454), fifth in career games played (943), 21st in shutouts (51) and had a career 2.79 GAA and a .906 save percentage. (And tied for most losses in NHL history with Gump Worsley until Marty Brodeur passed them both.) He was also a money goalie in the playoffs, despite never having the chance to play for the Cup.

We did ye olde Pass/Fail on his candidacy after his retirement, and found a good number of readers supported him as a Hall of Famer.

9. Dave Andreychuk

 

At some point, you'd figure 640 goals would be something that the Hall of Fame could no longer deny; hell, you get to 600 and they start laser-etching your plaque. But here's Andy, still on the outside looking in, waiting for his Mark Howe moment of "Oh, right, him, finally." Wonder who his dad is …

10. Gary Roberts

This probably should be Phil Housley's spot, considering his offensive accomplishments as a defenseman, but putting Phil Housley over Gary Roberts in anything seems like a crime against nature.

Roberts, up for the Hall of the first time next season, doesn't have Hall of Fame numbers. But when Scotty Bowman speaks, we listen, and here's what he said about Roberts in 2009 to Lightning Strikes:

"The most important thing is there are players who show up to play every game, and, of course, he did," Bowman said. "His strong suit was consistency. You knew what you were going to get from him every game. You knew you were going to get a physical game."

So he's got the intangibles. Maybe one day he gets in as a builder for turning 98-pound weaklings like Stamkos into manly men with his training.

The bottom line, as always: Gary Roberts doesn't get inducted into the Hall of Fame, the Hall of Fame gets inducted into Gary Roberts.

Our early guess for 2012: Sakic, Shanahan, Lindros. What say you?

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