From left: Sidney Crosby (Penguins), Jonathan Toews (Blackhawks), Patrick Kane (Blackhawks) and Nicklas Backstrom (Capitals). USA Today Sports

Yardbarker's Ultimate NHL Hall of Fame tiers

What active athletes in the NHL are Hall of Fame worthy? That's the question we posed to Yardbarker editors and writers, and boy did we have some spirited debates. (No blood was shed, however.) So we put together a list. The criteria was simple:

  • To be considered, an athlete's resume must be impressive. Our definition of impressive? Hey, we know it when we see it.
  • Players must have at least four seasons in the league. 
  • Recently retired athletes were not considered.

Athletes were slotted in tiers:

TIER 1: HALL, YES! A no-brainer Hall of Famer.

TIER 2: YES, BUT ... A Hall of Famer but not on first ballot.

TIER 3: POLARIZING BUT ULTIMATELY IN: Athletes with flaws who ultimately will get in because of their accolades or statistical achievements. 

TIER 4: ON PACE FOR GREATNESS: Definitely have the look of Hall of Famers, but they still must accrue more seasons, statistics and accolades to climb the tiers.

TIER 5: HALL, NO! Mostly undeserving but not all hopeless cases.

 
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TIER 1 (HALL, YES!): Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

TIER 1 (HALL, YES!): Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
Charles LeClaire, USATI

Mind-blowing stat: Since entering the league he is the only player (minimum 500 games) to average more than 1.18 points per game — he averages 1.29. 

Crosby was the most hyped prospect to enter the NHL since Mario Lemieux and has still managed to exceed all expectations. He has been the best player in the league almost from the day he arrived and the cornerstone piece of a three-time Stanley Cup champion. Crosby is as much of a slam-dunk Hall of Fame choice as there has ever been.

 
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TIER 1: Erik Karlsson, San Jose Sharks

TIER 1: Erik Karlsson, San Jose Sharks
Aaron Doster, USATI

Mind-blowing stat: He's one of only two defenders (Bobby Orr) to ever lead the NHL in assists in a single season, finishing with 66 during the 2015-16 season.

Karlsson is the most impactful defender to play in the NHL since the days of Orr. He is not only an elite point producer, but also his smooth skating, vision and ability to make plays with the puck make him a one-man breakout coming out of the defensive zone and one of the most dangerous players in the offensive zone. He has two Norris Trophies on his resume and was probably robbed by voters of one or two more. 

 
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TIER 1: Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

TIER 1: Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
Sergei Belski, USATI

Mind-blowing stat: There have been only 12 100-point performances since the start of the 2012-13 season, and three of them belong to McDavid. 

McDavid has played only four seasons in the NHL, but he is one of those players who you know is destined to be an all-time great. He is already the most dominant offensive player in the league and still has his best days ahead of him. The only downside to his career so far is the Oilers management wasting his talents with its inability to put a team around him. 

 
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TIER 1: Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins

TIER 1: Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins
Charles LeClaire, USATI

Mind-blowing stat: His 36 points during the 2009 playoffs were the  seventh-most ever in a single postseason. He is the only player in the past 25 years to have more than 35 in a postseason.

When he is at his best and fully healthy, Malkin can the be most physically dominant player in the league, often making his brilliance look effortless. He is a two-time scoring champion, a league MVP, a Conn Smythe winner and has twice led the postseason in scoring. 

 
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TIER 1: Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

TIER 1: Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
James Guillory, USATI

Mind-blowing stat: His eight goal-scoring crowns are the most of any player in NHL history, and he is one of just four players to ever score 50 goals in a season over the age of 33.

Ovechkin is simply the most dominant goal scorer the NHL has ever seen — even more than Wayne Gretzky, especially when you take into account the eras in which the two players played. The truest sign of dominance in sports is when the other team knows what you are going to do and still can not stop you. That is Ovechkin when he positions himself in the left circle on the power play to unleash his lethal one-timer. 

 
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TIER 1: Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks

TIER 1: Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks
Jeff Curry, USATI

Mind-blowing stat: He's one of just five players in NHL history to have two 90-assist seasons and the only one to do so after 1990. 

One of the best pure passers in NHL history, Thornton makes every player around him better and has a knack for always pulling off the seemingly impossible pass. He is not only a dominant presence on the offensive side, but he has also been a great defensive player throughout his career.

 
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TIER 2 (YES, BUT...): Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins

TIER 2 (YES, BUT...): Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
James Guillory, USATI

Mind-blowing stat: His four Selke Trophies (best defensive forward) are tied for the most all-time (Bob Gainey)

He's the ideal "two-way player" in the sense that he is equally great offensively and defensively. He is the best defensive forward of his era and a skilled playmaker and scorer. If he was just a little more productive offensively, he would probably be a Tier 1 player. 

 
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TIER 2: Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins

TIER 2: Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins
Winslow Townson, USATI

Mind-blowing stat : His plus-262 rating is tops among all active defenders and 82 goals better than the next closest player (Ryan McDonagh, plus-180).

Chara is the tallest player in NHL history and one of the best defenders ever. When he was at his peak, he and Patrice Bergeron were the most dominant shutdown duo in the NHL and could render any team's star players virtually useless. Maybe not quite a first ballot Hall of Famer and has slowed down a bit at the end of his career, but he is still a player who easily gets in. 

 
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TIER 2: Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings

TIER 2: Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
Jake Roth, USATI

Mind-blowing stat: He finished with a league-leading 12 assists during the 2011-12 Stanley Cup run for the Kings, a rare accomplishment for a defender. 

Doughty will never be a player who puts up a lot of points, but he had a five- or six-year stretch where he was the best defensive defenseman of his era. With better offensive numbers, he would have been an easy Tier 1 player but will have to settle for Tier 2. 

 
TIER 2: Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights
Stephen R. Sylvanie, USATI

Mind-blowing stats: His 15 postseason shutouts are the fourth most all time and five more than any other player.

He was never the best goalie in the league, but his list of accomplishments is definitely Hall of Fame worthy, having played on teams that went to five Stanley Cup Finals and winning three of them. He also has a shot to finish in the top two all-time in wins. His most impressive performance ever was leading a first-year expansion team in Vegas to the Stanley Cup Final. 

 
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TIER 2: Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks

TIER 2: Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
Stan Szeto, USATI

Mind-blowing stat: He is the first American-born player to ever win the NHL MVP award and the Art Ross Trophy (league leading scorer), winning both during the 2015-16 season.

Kane is one of the most electrifying talents of his era and one of the most talented American-born players ever. On the ice he has the individual accolades and the team success (three Stanley Cups), but has an ugly off-ice past including a sexual assault investigation (case dismissed) and an incident where he allegedly punched a taxi driver. 

 
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TIER 2: Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks

TIER 2: Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks
Kamil Krzaczynski, USATI

Mind-blowing stat: He is one of just three defensemen ever to win two Norris Trophies (best defenseman), a Conn Smythe Trophy (playoff MVP) and three Stanley Cups. The other two are Nicklas Lidstrom and Larry Robinson.

He is never the flashiest player in the league on defense, but as solid of a defender as you will find and the No. 1 blue-liner on the first dynasty of the salary cap era. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane got all of the headlines on those teams, but Keith may have been their most valuable all-around player. 

 
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TIER 2: Ilya Kovalchuk, Los Angeles Kings

TIER 2: Ilya Kovalchuk, Los Angeles Kings
Christopher Hanewinckel, USATI

Mind-blowing stat: During his first seven years in the league, he scored 40 more goals than any other player in the NHL. 

Before Alex Ovechkin arrived in the NHL, Kovalchuk was the league's best goal scorer and the most feared sniper in the league. He was a lock for 45-50 goals every season in an era where most players struggled to reach even 30. His six-year exodus to the KHL at his peak, as well as his struggles upon his return to the NHL, will keep him from being a first ballot Hall of Famer, but he is definitely a unique talent. 

 
TIER 2: Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
Adam Hunger, USATI

Mind-blowing stat: In eight career Game 7s, Lundqvist owns a 1.11 goals against average and a .961 save percentage. 

He is the single biggest reason the Rangers have been as competitive as they have been during his career. He consistently masks a lot of flaws on their defense and is as good of a big-game goalie as you will find in the NHL. 

 
TIER 2: Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning
Aaron Doster, USATI

Mind-blowing stat: He is one of only two active players (Alex Ovechkin) to score 60 goals in a single season.

Perhaps the most impressive thing that can be said about Stamkos is that he has managed to lead the league in goals on two separate occasions despite playing in the same era as Ovechkin. He had a significant portion of his career taken from him due to injury so there is a big "what-if" factor to his career, but he is still a Hall of Fame talent. 

 
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TIER 3 (POLARIZING BUT ULTIMATELY IN): P.K. Subban, New Jersey Devils

TIER 3 (POLARIZING  BUT ULTIMATELY IN): P.K. Subban, New Jersey Devils
Jerome Miron, USATI

Mind-blowing stat: One of only five defenders in NHL history to ever win the Norris Trophy before turning 24 years old. 

Subban is one of the most popular players of his era due to his off-ice personally, charity work in whatever community he is a part of and dynamic style of play on the ice. He is a Norris Trophy winner, a three-time finalist for the award and one of the most impactful defenders in the NHL. 

 
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TIER 3: Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks

TIER 3: Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks
Kamil Krzaczynski, USATI

Mind-blowing stat: He has 22 assists in 22 playoff games during the Blackhawks' 2010 Stanley Cup win, one of only two players since 1990 to average an assist per game in the playoffs (minimum 20 games).

Toews is an interesting case because current Hall of Fame voters and hockey analysts will rate him so highly due to him being the captain of a three-time Stanley Cup-winning team. He is viewed as a winner, a leader and a great all-around player. And he is all of those things and a likely Hall of Famer. But he was probably never more than the second- or third-best player on his own team. 

 
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TIER 4 (ON PACE FOR GREATNESS): Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals

TIER 4 (ON PACE FOR GREATNESS): Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals
James Guillory, USATI

Mind-blowing stat: His 642 assists since entering the NHL are the most in the league during that stretch.

He is not as dominant as Alex Ovechkin and will not finish with similar numbers, but there is an argument to be made that Backstrom is at times the more valuable cog in the Capitals' machine due to the position he plays (center) and the two-way role he occupies. Consistently one of the league's most underrated and underappreciated stars, he might not be a lock if he retired today but will easily get there with a few more strong seasons. 

 
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TIER 4: Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks

TIER 4: Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks
Darren Yamashita, USATI

Mind-blowing stat: Over the past four seasons, he has 41 more points than any other defender in the league. 

Burns is such an intriguing player because he has, at different times, excelled as both a defender and a forward. When the Sharks lineup was depleted a few years back, he was moved to forward, and he played at a top-line level. Since returning to the blue line at the start of the 2015-16 season, he has been, at times, an unstoppable force offensively. He is a bit of a late-bloomer in terms of super-stardom and probably needs two or three more seasons like the past four to reach that Hall of Fame level. 

 
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TIER 4: Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning

TIER 4: Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
Kim Klement, USATI

Mind-blowing stat: His 128 points during the 2018-19 season was the highest point total in the NHL in 23 years. 

Kucherov showed a ton of potential over his first three years in the league and was a valuable secondary player on a strong Tampa Bay team. Over the past two years, he has become one of the most dangerous offensive players in the league with back-to-back 100-point performances, including an Art Ross Trophy and Hart Trophy (league MVP) in 2018-19. Right now he has not quite done enough to warrant serious Hall of Fame consideration, but a few more seasons like the past two will certainly get him there. 

 
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TIER 4: Phil Kessel, Arizona Coyotes

TIER 4: Phil Kessel, Arizona Coyotes
Jerome Miron, USATI

Mind-blowing stat: He is currently one of the NHL's ironmen, having not missed a game, regular season or playoffs, in 10 years, a streak of 774 consecutive games.

Along with being in the lineup every single night, Kessel is one of the league's best pure offensive players and one of the best American-born players ever. His lack of defensive play (it is at times very bad) probably drops him down a tier.

 
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TIER 4: Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings

TIER 4: Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
Gary A. Vasquez, USATI

Mind-blowing stat: He finished as the leading scorer in the playoffs on two different occasions, one of only 16 players to ever accomplish that feat. 

He is a two-time Selke Trophy winner, a two-time Stanley Cup champion and probably the best player on both of those teams. He has been one of the best two-way players in the NHL, and had he played on a different team with a more dynamic system, he may have put up even more impressive numbers offensively.  

 
TIER 4: Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
Isaiah J. Downing, USATI

Mind-blowing stat: His 196 points the past two seasons are the third-most in the league.

MacKinnon's career has been a fascinating one to watch unfold. He burst onto the scene as an 18-year-old rookie and looked like an emerging superstar, only to have his production plateau for a few years. Over the past two years, however, he has skyrocketed to the top of the league and played at an MVP level. He is not Hall of Fame level yet, but he is still only 22 years old and if he maintains what he has done recently, he will quickly get there. 

 
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TIER 4: Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens

TIER 4: Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens
Eric Bolte, USATI

Mind-blowing stat: His 2014-15 season was one of the best single seasons ever for a goalie, leading the league in save percentage and goals against average and winning the MVP award, Vezina Trophy (best goalie), Pearson Award (best player voted by players) and Jennings Trophy (fewest goals allowed).

When Price is healthy and on top of his game, he is one of the most game-changing players in hockey, possessing the ability to single-handedly alter the course of his team. He is the difference between being a good team and a great team. What keeps him on Tier 4? We have not seen that version of Price enough at this point. 

 
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TIER 4: John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs

TIER 4: John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs
Tom Szczerbowski, USATI

Mind-blowing stat: In his first season with the Maple Leafs, he set a career-high with 47 goals, which was also the most goals any player ever scored in his first season with the Maple Leafs.

As far as No.1 overall picks go, Tavares isn't on the same level as a Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin or Connor McDavid but is probably one notch below them. He is a consistent All-Star and top-tier offensive player and has a chance to finally help bring the Stanley Cup back to Toronto. If he does that, and if he continues on his current trajectory offensively, he becomes a slam-dunk Tier 1 or 2 player. But he is not there yet. 

 
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TIER 5 (HALL, NO!): Sergei Bobrovsky, Florida Panthers

TIER 5 (HALL, NO!): Sergei Bobrovsky, Florida Panthers
Russell LaBounty, USATI

Mind-blowing stat: Among active goalies (minimum 20 games played), Bobrovsky has the worst postseason save percentage (.902) in the league.

And that is what keeps him in entrenched in the Hall, No! category. He is an outstanding regular-season goalie (two Vezina Trophies) but has been such a nightmare in the playoffs that it brings everything else down.  

 
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TIER 5: Ryan Getzlaf, Anahein Ducks

TIER 5: Ryan Getzlaf, Anahein Ducks
Kirby Lee, USATI

Mind-blowing stat: He is one of only four active players to have at least eight 50-assist seasons. 

Getzlaf has been remarkably consistent, productive and just an excellent all-around player. But he has never really been a truly "elite" player. He gets a Tier 1 vote into the Hall of Excellent but falls short of the Hall of Fame. 

 
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TIER 5: Patrick Marleau, Free Agent

TIER 5: Patrick Marleau, Free Agent
Eric Hartline, USATI

Mind-blowing stat: Since entering the league in 1997, no player has more playoff goals than Patrick Marleau's 72.

Too often Marleau was the scapegoat for San Jose's postseason shortcomings, and he will be a player who is appreciated far more after he retires than he was while he played. Still, for all of his accomplishments and production he is not quite a Hall of Famer. It's an outstanding career worthy of praise, but not an induction inside the walls of the Hall. 

 
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TIER 5: Corey Perry, Dallas Stars

TIER 5: Corey Perry, Dallas Stars
Sergei Belski, USATI

Mind-blowing stat: He is one of just five different players to score at least 50 goals in a season over the past 10 years.

He is one of the most loathed and hated players in the league for opposing fans (and teams) because of the way he plays. He has a mean streak to him that always borders on dirty but is also a legitimate All-Star talent. But like his teammate and longtime linemate Ryan Getzlaf, his production and play never quite elevated to Hall of Fame worthy. Great player, just not an all-time great. 

 
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TIER 5: Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings

TIER 5: Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
Gary A. Vasquez, USATI

Mind-blowing stat: His .946 save percentage during the 2011-12 playoffs is the highest mark ever for a goalie (minimum 20 games played). 

Quick has two of the best postseason playoff performances in league history, backstopping the Kings to the 2012 and 2014 Stanley Cups. They were legendary performances that could make a strong Hall of Fame argument for him. The problem: Those are really the only two performances in his career that reach that level, as he has mostly been an average goalie outside of those two years.

 
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TIER 5: Eric Staal, Minnesota Wild

TIER 5: Eric Staal, Minnesota Wild
Kim Klement, USATI

Mind-blowing stat : His 2005-06 season as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes was the best single-season performance in franchise history, finishing with 45 goals and 100 points in the regular season and then a league-leading 28 points in the playoffs during a Stanley Cup run.

Staal is the very definition of a "Hall of Very Good" player. He has been a borderline All-Star for most of his career and occasionally had a superstar season (like the aforementioned 2005-06 season) but never did it consistently enough to reach Hall of Fame level. 

 
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TIER 5: Shea Weber, Montreal Canadiens

TIER 5: Shea Weber, Montreal Canadiens
James Guillory, USATI

Mind-blowing stat: He is the only active defender with at least three 20-goal seasons.

Weber has one of the most feared slap shots in the NHL and is a beast physically. He has had a remarkable career, put up great numbers and been a No. 1 defender, but he has never really consistently been the best defender in the league. His career has kind of slowed down a bit over the past few years as he begins to break down physically. He is a borderline player, but right now we lean toward the no side of the Hall of Fame debate. 

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