What now? Hockey Hall debate continues

As a Hockey Hall of Fame official confided to ESPN.com on Friday, "It's been a tough year."

The Hall has taken it on the chin for electing only Dino Ciccarelli among the men in the players' category and not getting Pat Burns elected in the builders' category.

On the players' side of things, here's how I'm told it went down in that fateful meeting this past June:

Eight players were nominated before the first secret ballot among the 18 selection committee members. Four players were dropped after the first vote because they got less than 50 percent support in the balloting. Then a subsequent runoff vote left only Ciccarelli standing because he was the only one to meet the 75 percent election standard (14 of 18 ballots). I'm told two other players fell just short at 13 votes and another at 12 votes, and you can take to the bank that Joe Nieuwendyk was one of those players with 13.

But here's where it gets interesting. I am told some committee members were apparently confused and sought clarification on the voting process. Some members thought another runoff vote would follow that second vote, but they were told voting was over. (Per the voting rules, once you get to a runoff vote with four or fewer players, there are no more votes after that one.)

In the aftermath, one committee member later suggested to the Hall that maybe 12 or 13 votes should be enough for election because it still represents a majority. The Hall declined the idea, saying the current high standard must be maintained. So, after all the backlash and public outcry this year, the process remains the same for June 2011.

What now?

Next year will be a weak year for first-year eligibles (Ed Belfour is the only really strong case). So, there's a chance for the selection committee to play catch-up with Nieuwendyk and perhaps others such as Doug Gilmour, Pavel Bure or Adam Oates.

The committee had better play catch-up now because 2012 and 2013 will be doozies. First-year eligibles in 2012 include Joe Sakic, Brendan Shanahan, Mats Sundin, Jeremy Roenick and Curtis Joseph. In 2013, you have Scott Niedermayer, Chris Chelios and Rob Blake.