2018 Hockey Hall of Fame class changed the game

Getty Images
5 Comments

The 2018 Hockey Hall of Fame class will be inducted Monday night in Toronto.The six-person group will include builders NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Willie O’Ree, and former players Martin Brodeur, Jayna Hefford, Martin St. Louis, and Alexander Yakushev.

Each of the six inductees have made significant impacts on the game of hockey. From growing the game in North America and around the world to dominance on the ice, the 2018 class left a lasting imprint on the sport.

Player Category

Martin Brodeur – The true “no-brainer” of this class, Brodeur, is the NHL’s all-time wins leader at 691.

One could get as fatigued as Brodeur should have been as the New Jersey Devils’ workhorse goalie rattling off all of his records and milestones. Along with that wins record, he’s tops all-time with a ridiculous 125 shutouts. He also amassed eight 40-win seasons and won at least 30 games for 12 consecutive seasons.

His NHL trophy case features three Stanley Cups, four Vezinas, a Calder, and five Jennings Trophies. Internationally, Brodeur won two Olympic golds representing Canada and a World Cup of Hockey title.

There’s not a debate about the NHL’s greatest goaltender ever without Brodeur’s name being included.

Jayna Hefford – Hefford’s distinguished career included four Olympic gold medals and seven golds at the IIHF World Championships. The Canadian legend is third all-time in scoring and games played for the national women’s team. Her goal in the final against the U.S. was the eventual gold medal-winning tally at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. She was named Top Forward at the 2004 and 2005 IIHF Women’s World Championships.

Playing majority of her club career for the Brampton Thunder in the NWHL and CWHL, Hefford finished with 439 goals in 418 games and hit the 40-goal mark twice. She was also a three-time CWHL MVP.

Martin St. Louis – He went undrafted, and that notorious Olympic snub coming off of a scoring title punched his ticket out of Tampa Bay. For much of his career, St. Louis seemed to deal with slight after slight, yet now he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

It’s easy to see why.

St. Louis won a Stanley Cup, a Hart Trophy, two scoring titles, and was a prolific playoff performer. Even with “the clutch and grab” era diluting some of his numbers, he scored 391 goals and 1,033 points in 1,134 regular-season games. He also generated 90 points in 107 postseason contests.

Combine those totals with an Olympic gold medal and you can’t ask for a much better resume, especially since he had to earn every chance he ever received. St. Louis won’t need to kick down the door this time, though.

Alexander Yakushev – The Russian hockey icon was “a lanky and elegant scoring machine” during his playing days, standing out during the iconic 1972 Summit Series. He’d go on to win two Olympic gold medals (1972 and 1976), seven golds at the Worlds and be inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2002.

Builder Category

Gary Bettman – One of the most controversial figures in NHL history, Bettman has undeniably made a huge impact on the league and sport as a whole. Whether you like it or not.

There’s been plenty of good and bad. For example, he’s been at the head of three lockouts, one of which included the cancellation of the entire 2004-05 NHL season.

But since taking over as the league’s first commissioner Bettman has helped the NHL expand from 24 teams to 31 (and likely 32 very soon). There have been plenty of successes to go along with polarizing decisions; this induction reflects all of that.

The league has also enjoyed big revenue growth since he took over as the league’s first commissioner. Over the last 25 years, league revenues have grown from $400 million to over $4 billion. Expanding the NHL’s footprint in North America and abroad, along with the introduction of outdoor games and TV rights deals in the U.S. and Canada have helped.

Willie O’Ree – This honor is long overdue.

O’Ree broke the color barrier for the NHL when he suited up with the Boston Bruins in 1958, inspiring countless players. The first black player in league history only played 45 games at this level, but his legacy is incredibly important.

Since 1998, O’Ree, 83, has been the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador for the Hockey is for Everyone Program and also worked as its Director of Youth Development. According to the league, the HFE program has introduced over 120,000 children to the game of hockey. Constantly on the road, he’s had a big hand in helping establish 39 grassroots programs helping disadvantaged youth around North America.

[What Willie O’Ree’s Hall of Fame induction means to me]

“My expression is ‘If you think you can, you can. If you think you can’t, you’re right,’ and there’s a lot of truth in that,” O’Ree said. “If you set goals for yourself and work towards your goals and make things happen, everything seems to work out.”

Last spring, the NHL introduced the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award, which is presented annually to the person who best utilizes hockey as a platform for participants to build character and develop important life skills for a more positive family experience. The first winner of the award was Darcy Haugan, the late head coach of the Humboldt Broncos.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.