The 2020 Hockey Hall of Fame class was one of the most debated in recent memory. In part, because we do not have any sports games to occupy our emotions, but also because the list of snubs and worthy players are piling up. Jeremy Roenick, who was an All-Star nine times and scored 1216 points, remains outside of the Hall, as does the long-time captain of the Ottawa Senators Daniel Alfredsson, and there are a few Pittsburgh Penguins who could someday join that list.
As the bottleneck of players gets bigger, the bar for consideration gets higher, too. One day, the Penguins will have a nifty wing of Hall of Fame. From Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, to current stars Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and most likely Kris Letang (though the selection committee will probably make him wait a few years), yeah, Pittsburgh has a few Hall of Famers.
There have also been a few players with Hall of Fame talent who will not get into the HHOF. In a few cases, that is a mistake.
Top 5 Penguins Who Won’t or Might Not Make the Hockey Hall of Fame
5. Alex Kovalev
The great frustration of Kovalev is that he had an elite talent level, and everyone knew it. He finally achieved his potential after eight seasons in the NHL when he broke through the 60-point barrier with a 44-goal, 95 point season in 2000-01. Those Pittsburgh Penguins were suddenly loaded with Mario Lemieux’s return, and the chemistry Kovalev found with Marty Straka and Jagr.
In the following years, the K-L-S line with Kovalev, Robert Lang, and Straka carried the Penguins. Kovalev posted 77 and 76 points, respectively, in the following two seasons.
The was an old saying about Kovalev, but I’m not sure who coined it. “The great thing about him is he would play hockey in a parking lot if you paid him. The bad thing is he would actually play hockey in a parking lot if you paid him.”
Kovalev broke the 400-goal and 1000-point barriers, but he played a secondary role on the star-studded New York Rangers team, which won the 1994 Stanley Cup and didn’t have his career breakout for eight seasons. So, his reputation remains as a great player who was never great.
His numbers are borderline Hall of Fame worthy, but his reputation will prevent him from meriting serious consideration, unlike other players with similar statistics.
4. Tom Barrasso
Barrasso won a Vezina Trophy, a Calder Trophy, and two Stanley Cups. He was one of the best goaltenders of his era, but therein lies the problem. Barrasso’s career spanned two eras.
His greatest successes were in the 1980s and early 1990s, but he played until 2000, so he is compared to all-time great goalies Martin Brodeur and Dominik Hasek. In that comparison, Barrasso’s numbers are decidedly unworthy. Goalie stats saw a steep incline in the later 1990s as coaching schemes became more prevalent, and the clutch-and-grab era took hold.
Suddenly, save percentages jumped from .890 to .920, but Barrasso was the end of his career.
When compared to the 1980s goalies who made the Hall of Fame, Barrasso looks worthy. Grant Fuhr earned 403 wins and a .887 career save percentage with four Stanley Cups backstopping the Edmonton Oilers.
Barrasso had 369 wins and a career .892 save percentage with two Cups.
However, Barrasso also rubbed many teammates, media, and even some fans the wrong way with his often prickly personality. Barrasso is worthy, but it doesn’t appear he’ll ever get to sign the HHOF guestbook.
3. Phil Kessel
So many similarities to Alex Kovalev. Kessel could be one of the great players of the era. For five years, he was perhaps the most prolific goal scorer in the NHL. His tenure with the Pittsburgh Penguins was marked by Stanley Cups, hot dog memes, and unbridled fan support. He also experienced a small offensive resurgence, but it likely won’t be enough.
Kessel’s stats have slowed in the last couple of years despite being only 32-years-old. He hasn’t yet hit 1000 points, and if his trend in Arizona continues, the two-time Stanley Cup champion won’t even get to 1000 points. Kessel had only 38 points in 70 games for Arizona this season.
Kessel has 861 points (371g, 490a) in 1066 games. To enter the Hall, Kessel will need to reverse course and get to 500 goals.
Kessel’s 14-goal regular season also broke a string of 11 straight in which he scored 20 or more goals. He had six campaigns with 30-plus goals in that stretch, too.
He certainly did not meet Arizona Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet’s pre-season challenge to begin shaping his legacy. Kessel will remain a fan favorite in Pittsburgh for his hot-dog eating parody of himself and his every-man appearance, but the hockey world judges him on his stubbornness to coaching and lack of effort in all areas. His steep decline in his early 30s doesn’t bode well for his Hall chances.
2. Rick Tocchet
Tocchet should be in the HHOF, period. The bruising power forward scored nearly a point-per-game in his career, was one of the fiercest competitors and leaders in the league. He was one of the most complete players of the era in the most traditional hard-nosed hockey sense.
You didn’t mess with Rick Tocchet. He was the captain of the Philadelphia Flyers before the Pittsburgh Penguins acquired him in the blockbuster 1992 trade. Tocchet won the ’92 Stanley Cup with the Penguins, then posted a career-high 48-goals in 1992-93.
In 1144 games, Tocchet scored 952 points, including 440 goals. It’s hard to fathom why Tocchet hasn’t received more Hall consideration, but perhaps with Doug Wilson, who waited 24 years for the call, and Kevin Lowe, who waited 19 years to be included in the 2020 Hall class, there is still hope for Tocchet.
To Be Determined:
The Flower was the first overall pick in the 2003 NHL Draft. His brilliant work helped the Pittsburgh Penguins win the 2009 Stanley Cup. Marc-Andre Fleury has stealthily become one of the winningest goalies of all-time and is currently the active wins leader and fifth all-time with 466 wins. With only 24 more wins, Fleury will pass both Ed Belfour, who is in the Hall of Fame, and Roberto Luongo for third place, all-time.
Yet Fleury falls short in a couple of critical areas. He has three Stanley Cup rings but started the Stanley Cup Final in only one of those. Fleury has also never been a finalist for the Vezina Trophy. He finished fifth and fourth, respectively, in 2018 and 2019 with Vegas, but those were his first top-five finishes.
Fleury’s career numbers are slightly above average with a .913 save percentage and a 2.57 GAA.
Fleury’s wild career with big ups and big downs, including playoff meltdowns in 2013, merits full consideration. But there are only 39 goalies in the Hockey Hall of Fame. The selection committee doesn’t give the benefit of the doubt to netminders, and Fleury is in danger of being one of the all-time winningest goalies who gets passed up by other goalies of his era, such as Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist. Jonathan Quick, who won two Stanley Cups, and Corey Crawford, who won three Cups, could leapfrog Fleury in the committee.
Look no further than Curtis Joseph, who has waited eight years. Joseph had a great reputation (and nickname, CuJo), finished his career in the top-three of wins, but still isn’t in the Hall of Fame after retiring in 2009.
Fleury could use a big finish to his career to cement his credentials and remove any doubt. A Stanley Cup in Vegas would do that, even with a 24-team tournament format in an NHL hub city.