Every Future Hockey Hall of Fame Centre, Part 2

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Hockey Hall of Fame
MONTREAL, QC - MARCH 29: Pavel Datsyuk #13 of the Detroit Red Wings skates during the NHL game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on March 29, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Detroit Red Wings 4-3. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

Part 1 of the Every Future Hockey Hall of Fame Centre list covers the most electric point-scorers of the last quarter century: the article can be found here.

A public service announcement to hockey fandom: during this last month before the Stanley Cup Playoffs, let’s agree to remain rational when regular season awards are discussed. Enjoy the greatness and wackiness of the National Hockey League’s first 82-game slate in three years without drowning in the hodge-podge of discourse around the top debut seasons or the meaning of the word “valuable,” especially before hearts start to break in May and June.

Anyway…
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Every Future Hockey Hall of Fame Centre, Part 2

A reminder that the premise is to identify currently-active NHL centres whose careers warrant Hockey Hall of Fame induction as of March 2022. Henrik Sedin was a Hall of Fame player, as was Henrik Zetterberg; Pierre Turgeon will eventually receive induction as well. However, all players included in this listicle must have skated in the 2021-22 NHL season, with the exception of one centre who last participated in Game 5 of the 2021 Stanley Cup Final, and another being a fan favourite who scored 35 points in 51 games on a KHL roster at age 42 last year. 

As more names are added to the point-scoring dynamos (and Jonathan Toews) featured in Part 1, identifying when and how high each individual peaked or plateaued throws uncertainty in the “top-10 position player for five years” heuristic. Nevertheless, do not be mistaken of each centreman’s standing: these are the best of several generations.

Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings

A semi-retired no-brainer whose innumerable accolades ironically undersell an already sparkling reputation. Despite an eight-year prime highlighted by four consecutive Lady Byng Memorial Trophies for playing ability and gentlemanly conduct, six straight Selke nominations with three wins, a Hart Trophy finalist appearance and an additional two Stanley Cup Finals appearances with his second-career win, Datsyuk’s standing as hockey’s most elusive and spatially-aware athlete arguably attached late into a stellar career.

John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs

Before the era-defining NHL Entry Draft classes of 2013 through 2017 took hold, no player in hockey was seen as more singularly valuable to their franchise’s success as John Tavares to the laughingstock (not my choice of words) New York Islanders. Tavares’ place among 2010s centres is similar to Montréal Canadiens captain Shea Weber: a deep playoff run might marginally improve a résumé that compares favourably to another Hall of Fame Leafs captain, especially with two Hart Trophy finalist selections to his name.

Nicklas Bäckström, Washington Capitals

Assessing the “when” and “how high” of Bäckström’s peak level of performance begs two questions relevant to future Hockey Hall of Fame voters. First, was the best version of the Capitals centre the 22-year-old who scored 101 points on a Presidents Trophy-winning squad that blew a 3-1 lead in round one of the playoffs, or the 30-year-old version that finally delivered a championship to the city of Washington?

Second, during Bäckström’s remarkable ten-year run of consistency where he led the league in powerplay assists by a wide margin, was his impact to his team perceived as greater than that of Jeff Carter, Joe Pavelski, Jason Spezza, Sedin, Tyler Seguin, Zetterberg, or any other centre named on either part of our list? For clarity’s sake, Bäckström would have no place here if I believed the answer to be “no;” even if voters disagree, his raw scoring totals makes induction very likely.

Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins

The most decorated two-way player in NHL history continues to dominate the faceoff circle between Brad Marchand and David Pastrňák on arguably the top active forward line in the sport. Simply stated, there may not have been five centres as accomplished or all-around proficient last decade.

Anže Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings

Does a better way exist to put hockey fandom on notice to an individual or team’s elite, yet underappreciated play than winning a Stanley Cup? Consider the rise in Anže Kopitar’s standing amongst the National Hockey League’s top five or ten centremen before leading the playoffs in assists and points for multiple championship campaigns, to the half-decade following where Kopitar was awarded two Selke Trophies from four nominations, one Lady Byng from two nominations, and a 2017-18 Hart Trophy finalist appearance. High praise is still in order for the Los Angeles captain, especially ahead of a Kings 2021-22 playoff berth.

Claude Giroux, Florida Panthers

Since the only skater who won more faceoffs from 2010-11 to 2014-15 is heralded as one of the greatest two-way forwards of all time, Giroux is classified as a centre for the purpose of this exercise. Regardless of his positional deployment, it may surprise some to learn that during the same five-year stretch, Giroux logged more points than any other player in the league, including the next two names, centres on teams few fans would dispute were more consistently talented than the Philadelphia Flyers of the 2010s.

Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks

An in-depth article may be in order to commiserate Anaheim’s failure to return to the Stanley Cup Final after the franchise’s 2006-07 win, with Getzlaf heralded as a top-five centre and Corey Perry ranking second in even-strength right-winger goal-scoring for the five consecutive years they led the Pacific Division. Players of Getzlaf’s size and playmaking combination rarely if ever are made available by trade or free agency: that Anaheim drafted its franchise star nineteenth overall proves how exceptional the 2003 NHL Entry Draft truly was.

Joe Thornton, Florida Panthers

The generational first-overall selection from the 1997 draft posted the most primary assists in a season by a player not named Wayne Gretzky during his 2005-06 Hart Trophy campaign and never looked back, topping the league in assists for two seasons after, with another four seasons in the top three to garnish 15 seasons of sustained excellence. The only accolade eluding Thornton’s trophy case is the Stanley Cup, as the teams he led in San Jose were upset by lower-seeds in the playoffs five times before finally clinching a Final berth in 2016. Rarely are NHL superstars granted second and third cracks at eternal glory: perhaps the Florida Panthers will provide Thornton the swan song he deserves.

Eric Staal, free agent

An unequivocal no-brainer Hall of Famer whose accomplishments seem lost to the passage of time & the franchise he made his greatest mark with. Indeed, just as Crosby, Getzlaf and Toews did, Staal was fortunate to win the 2005-06 Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes at age 21 and Olympic gold on Canada’s famed Vancouver 2010 roster, testifying to his place among the upper-echelon of NHL centres during the late 2000s and early 2010s. Through the first five post-lockout seasons, only Sidney Crosby bettered Eric Staal’s prowess for goal-scoring amongst centres, as Crosby snatched 183 to Staal’s 182. Extend the window to ten seasons, and the ledgers of Patrick Marleau, Crosby, and Staal read as follows: 303, 302, 301. 

There’s Plenty of Hall of Fame Talent Playing Today

In light of several questionable inclusions in the 2017 100 Greatest NHL Players list, I like to think the Hockey Hall of Fame will make room for the centres whose uncertain primes jeopardized inclusion on this list.

How well-received will Tyler Seguin’s Dallas Stars career be at career’s end, having accumulated the second-most points by a centre between 2013-14 and 2018-19? Mark Scheifele has been regarded highly by players since 2016-17, the season of Connor McDavid’s first Hart Trophy and the emergence of countless other hockey stars: can today’s players be seriously considered for induction without individual or team hardware? When Joe Pavelski hangs up the skates, will he be scrutinized amongst the great centres of his time, or the wingers?

Will Daniel Alfredsson be the only member of the 2000s Ottawa Senators on the Hockey Hall of Fame’s radar, or is there room for Jason Spezza on the ballot? Jeff Carter was a fixture of three Stanley Cup Final-appearing teams: should he have a greater place in hockey history? How about fan-favourites Daniel Brière or David Krejčí, or well-earned attention for Ryan O’Reilly or Paul Stastny? The proverbial road to 30 Yonge Street is not a straight path: kudos to the multitudes of ways these centres have crafted their journeys.

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