TORONTO - It took only one look for voters to pick this year's class of Hockey Hall of Famers. Mark Messier, Ron Francis, Al MacInnis and Scott Stevens all were elected in their first year of eligibility.
"I have a lot of respect for all the guys who were inducted this year,'' Messier said after the announcement Thursday. "I think their stats and what they've done speak for themselves.''
It is the Hall's first group of four players since 2001 when Mike Gartner, Jari Kurri, Slava Fetisov and Dale Hawerchuk also pushed the selection to the maximum.
"There was a number of players eligible this year beyond the number that we could put in,'' said former Toronto coach Pat Quinn, a member of the 18-person selection committee. "The deliberations were strong.''
Igor Larionov, the former Russian great who excelled on both sides of the ocean, didn't make it. Adam Oates and Claude Lemieux were other first-year eligibles who were passed over, while Glenn Anderson, Doug Gilmour, Kevin Lowe, Steve Larmer and Pavel Bure were again left out again.
It was hard to argue with the four selected.
"The players elected represent the epitome of hockey excellence,'' NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. "Their careers were distinguished by their skill, by their drive, by their refusal to accept anything less than the best.
"I congratulate the honorees and I commend the selection committee on having created a spectacular Class of 2007.''
NHL executive Jim Gregory will enter as a builder, a well-deserved honor for a man who has given his life to hockey. Gregory was general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1969-79 before running the NHL's Central Scouting Bureau. He's currently a senior vice president with the league.
"When I got the call I was just flabbergasted,'' Gregory said. "I had to pull over and my wife and I really enjoyed the moment. It was fantastic.''
The induction ceremony will be held Nov. 12.
Messier is second in NHL career points and Francis is fourth. MacInnis is third in points by a defenseman. Stevens won three Stanley Cup titles with the New Jersey Devils while punishing the opposition as the game's best hitter.
"I'm honored to be going in with a class like this,'' Francis said. "Certainly over the years I've spent a lot of time playing against Mark, Scott and Al and appreciate just how great hockey players they were.''
Messier was a sure thing to get in after a career that saw him win six Stanley Cup championships - five with the Edmonton Oilers and one with the New York Rangers. If it were baseball, he'd have to wear one of those sweaters in the Hall.
"Hopefully, they can sew a jersey together and split it down the middle and I can go in as both,'' he joked.
Only his former teammate and buddy Wayne Gretzky amassed more points in the NHL, but leadership is perhaps what distinguished Messier most.
"Mark's reputation is the right one as far as maybe being the best leader in the game for many, many years,'' said MacInnis, who competed against Messier in the Battle of Alberta. "Everybody talked about the stare.
"I'm sure that stare not only went for his own teammates but also went for a lot of players that played against him. Just a great leader, a complete player, he could change the momentum of a game with his skill level and his physical attributes.
"Arguably one of the top players to ever play the game,'' MacInnis added.
MacInnis also played 23 NHL seasons, winning the playoff MVP while helping Calgary to the Stanley Cup in 1989. He was also a valuable blue-line contributor in Canada's 2002 Olympic triumph. He's the first Nova Scotian to get into the Hall in the players category.
"I certainly am proud of where I come from,'' MacInnis said. "With the players coming out of there today, the likes of Sidney Crosby, it's not going to last long.''
Francis is a two-time Stanley Cup winner. He played 23 NHL seasons and trails only Gretzky on the assists list.
"I know as a kid growing up in Sault Ste. Marie, I often dreamed about playing in the NHL, envisioned myself carrying the Stanley Cup over my head, but never did I expect that I would accomplish the Hall of Fame,'' Francis said.
In addition to the championships, Stevens won with the Devils, he was chosen as playoff MVP in 2000. A fearless player known as much for his leadership as his bone-crunching body checks, Stevens proves there is room in the Hall for more than just offensive players.
"Absolutely,'' said Stevens. "It takes everything to make a hockey team and make a winning hockey team.
"The physical part of the game is very important and good defense, just like offense. You need a good combination of everything.''
Stevens spent 13 of his 22 NHL seasons with the Devils, and captained the team to each of its Cup Championships. He had 196 goals and 712 assists, including 93 goals and 337 assists in 956 games with the Devils.
Stevens passed former Washington Capitals teammate Larry Murphy (1,615) for most appearances by a defenseman in NHL history on Nov. 26, 2003. His 1,635 career games is fifth in NHL history, trailing only Gordie Howe, Messier, Francis, and Dave Andreychuk. His 233 career playoff games by a defenseman are second most, while 20 years in the playoffs are tied for third overall.
"Scott Stevens' election to the Hockey Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility speaks volumes about his 22 years in the National Hockey League,'' Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello said. "He was a player who always gave 100 percent, both in practice and in games. We are proud to have Scott Stevens as the first New Jersey Devil player to be elected.''