In the 1998 NHL Draft, the Tampa Bay Lightning picked 18-year-old childhood best friends from Canada: Vincent Lecavalier (first overall) and Brad Richards (64th). Those two teenagers became the centerpieces of the franchise's greatest team, and now they face viable but different candidacies for the Hockey Hall of Fame.
After illustrious playing careers, both Lecavalier and Richards decided to hang up their skates after this past season. Both of these players made a name for themselves in 2004 when the Lightning won the franchise’s only Stanley Cup. That year, Richards was as close to perfect as possible in the playoffs, compiling 26 points, including seven game-winning goals, a playoffs record. His superhuman performance earned him the Conn Smythe Trophy (playoff MVP). Lecavalier recorded 16 points (9 goals, 7 assists), and he showed off the offensive flash that made him a top pick.
Lecavalier stayed in Tampa Bay for much of his 18-year career, before his contract got bought out and he played three unremarkable seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers and Los Angeles Kings. Richards was dealt by the Lightning to the Dallas Stars four years after the Cup win. Richards also wound up playing for the New York Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks (where he won another Stanley Cup), and the Detroit Red Wings.
When you look at both of these players’ résumés and highlight reels, they both deserve consideration for the Hall of Fame. What makes Richards worthy is his consistency. He scored at least 20 goals 10 different times during his career, and he tallied 50 points in 11 different seasons. He finished with 932 points, 101st among NHLers all time. More impressively, his 634 assists rank 70th.
What makes Lecavalier different from Richards is that Lecavalier’s had a more explosive prime, and steeper subsequent decline. His best season came in 2006-07, when he lit the lamp 52 times. He finished with 108 points that season, a plateau Richards never reached. Lecavalier also had 949 career points, a slight edge over his former teammate.
Both players ended up making big impacts during their time in the NHL, but Richards has the better chance of being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. His ability to play both ways and his consistency make him worthy of a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame. While Lecavalier is one of the most naturally talented players ever drafted, his up-and-down numbers and lacking defensive effort make it hard to consider him a Hall of Famer.
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