Yzerman shoo-in for what should be a monster 2009 Hall class

June, 22, 2009

The Class of 2009 will be announced Tuesday afternoon by the Hockey Hall of Fame and it's going to be a royal one.

Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull, Brian Leetch and Luc Robitaille are the favorites to receive the call in their first year of eligibility. They will be the headliners when the 18-member Hall selection committee convenes for the vote Tuesday morning here in Toronto.

A maximum of four players can get in every year. You need 14 of 18 votes from the panel to get the nod. The last group of four was the 2007 class, equally brilliant, with Mark Messier, Ron Francis, Scott Stevens and Al MacInnis.

Robitaille seems to be the fourth guy in this year's group judging from the people I spoke to Monday. Tough group, indeed! He's the NHL's all-time leading scorer among left wingers (668 goals and 1,394 points). (Hull, Yzerman and Robitaille were also teammates on Detroit's 2002 Cup-winning team.)

Fellow first-year eligibles Alexander Mogilny (1,032 points) and Dave Andreychuk (1,338 points) will also get some consideration and are seen as the main threats to Robitaille. And then don't forget the guys who keep getting overlooked in the past few years, players like Dino Ciccarelli, Pavel Bure, Doug Gilmour, Steve Larmer, Kevin Lowe and Mike Richter.

But the heavyweight, no doubt, is Yzerman. The Detroit Red Wings legend, like Messier in 2007, will be The Man in this year's class.

"Anybody who was the sixth leading scorer [1,755 points] in the history of the game, you know the superb career that he had," Red Wings senior vice president Jimmy Devellano, who drafted Yzerman in 1983, told ESPN.com on Monday. "The Red Wings in many ways have been blessed. When you think of the old Red Wings, you think immediately of Gordie Howe.

"And then, when you think of the modern era from when the Ilitch family bought the team, you think of Steve Yzerman. People say, 'Which one was better?' I always say they're 1 and 1a," Devellano said. "Those were two great, great players. Howe played for the Red Wings for 25 years and really carried them on his back. Steve Yzerman played for us for 22 years and for many, many years carried us on his back. Although, later on in the '90s, we would add some great players around him and started winning some Cups."

Before winning those Cups, however, Yzerman was in trade talks -- twice. Devellano confirmed that was indeed the case, a product of the Wings' hierarchy's feeling the pressure to win the Cup in the early-to-mid 1990s, but the team failed to do so.

"I won't lie to you, there were two occasions when trade talks did evolve," said Devellano, GM of the Wings from 1982 to '90 and again from 1994 to '97 (he's been with the team throughout since '82). "One of the times was when Bryan Murray had taken over from me as GM [1990-94]. There was some talk, and this is kind of ironic, with the Buffalo Sabres about trading Yzerman for Pat LaFontaine. That would have been in the very early '90s."

Murray was fired after the 1993-94 season and Devellano took over the GM job again. Another serious trade offer came Detroit's way.

"The Ottawa Senators were building the Corel Centre and they needed a marquee player to sell tickets in the new place and get their team off and running," recalled Devellano. "So there was an approach by Ottawa, from [former Sens GM] Randy Sexton, regarding their ability to acquire Steve Yzerman. We had a lot of talks with them."

Sexton, now the interim GM of the Florida Panthers, confirmed Devellano's story.

"Yes, it's true," Sexton said Monday. "I have a lot of respect for Steve Yzerman. I can't remember the exact year, but we did make a hard push to get him."

"But we never came close to a deal," Devellano said. "They could not give us what we required for the present and for the future in order to make that deal. And again, you have to understand, we hadn't won any Cups there yet in Detroit. People were letting us know that it had been 40-odd years since we had won the Cup."

So there was pressure to make something happen. Luckily for Wings fans, Yzerman was kept: He led the team to three Cups and the rest is history. Then again, history was nearly changed forever way back in June 1983, when Yzerman was up for the draft.

"Sometimes in hockey you're better to be lucky than smart," Devellano said. "We had the fourth pick in the draft that year. There were three players that we really, really liked: Pat LaFontaine, Steve Yzerman and Sylvain Turgeon. We felt all three would be really good, above-average NHL players. The problem was, we liked three players and we had the fourth pick. So, did I ever feel good in Montreal that day at the draft when Lou Nanne and the Minnesota North Stars took Brian Lawton No. 1. Because then I knew we would get one of the three kids we felt good about."

But again, Devellano tested fate.

"Now, I've said this over and over. We were going to take LaFontaine if we had the choice," Devellano said. "There was a reason for it. When I arrived in Detroit in '82, we averaged 7,800 people a game in my first year there. Pat LaFontaine and Steve Yzerman were very, very equal as juniors. They really were. But the big advantage that Pat LaFontaine had for the Detroit Red Wings at that time was that he was born and raised and played his minor hockey in Detroit. People knew who he was. We could sell tickets with Pat LaFontaine."

After the Stars made their blunder with Lawton, Turgeon went No. 2 to Hartford and the New York Islanders selected future Hall of Famer LaFontaine at No. 3.

"So Yzerman fell to us," Devellano said with a chuckle. "And I'm so, so, so happy that we got lucky because it really, really worked for us. It is nice to be lucky sometimes."

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer




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