As summer approaches, it means that three of the four major sports in North America are in the offseason. In the NFL, teams are far more optimistic as they head into training camp and the preseason; most clubs in the NHL and NBA are regrouping and reflecting on a season that saw them fail to win a championship. Even in baseball, as the season is over a quarter in the books, some teams are starting to face the sure prospect of failing to make the postseason.
A lot goes into traversing a lengthy regular, and surely part of that is luck. In the NHL and NBA, it’s 82 regular season games followed by a grueling postseason. In the NFL, it’s a battle each and every week and often winning and losing comes down to a single play. With baseball meanwhile, that which worked over a 162-game schedule doesn’t necessarily hold up in short playoff series.
All of that is to say that it’s not always the best player that wins, but the team that plays the best at exactly the right moment –and the one that also gets a bit lucky. There are a select few positions in team sports where a player can carry his team on his back to the finish line – even a quarterback is only playing half the time.
Thus, there are some great players out there who, try as they might, have yet to win a major championship. While there is still time for these stars, they are increasingly in danger of never winning a title, and then losing that mark, that record on their legacy.
LeBron James, the greatest player in basketball right now, has already won multiple titles. In football, all the top quarterbacks – Manning, Brees, Brady, Rodgers – have all notched a Lombardi Trophy. It’s tougher in hockey, which is more of a team sport, but there we have seen Sidney Crosby and Patrick Kane win. It’s hard to say exactly who the best player in baseball might be, but that most of all is a team sport.
With that in mind, we take a look at those great players in each of the four major sports who have proven their talents, but have yet to win a championship, and are in danger never accomplishing it in their careers.
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15 Shane Doan
The 38-year-old Canadian is decorated with medals at an international level, but the longtime NHLer has never won a Cup, mired in Arizona for almost his entire career. He just finished his 19th season in the league, having been drafted by the Winnipeg Jets and playing one season there before the team relocated to Phoenix. He has been to the playoffs nine times in his career, but only three times in the last 12 years. The furthest he made it was to the Conference finals in 2011 and he has lost seven times in the first round. The Coyotes may be improving, but there isn’t much time left for Doan.
14 Carson Palmer
No one really considers Carson Palmer one of the great quarterbacks in the league, but that is due in part (maybe unfairly) to being injured and also playing for unattractive and untalented teams. Palmer holds a slew of Cincinnati Bengals franchise records and earned two-Pro Bowl appearances while with the club. He then toiled in Oakland, but still threw for 4,000 yards in 15 games in 2012. Moving to Arizona, he looked to the lead the Cards, throwing for 4,000 yards again in 2013, just missing the playoffs with a 10-6 record. He was on pace for another great year in 2014 before a season-ending injury in week six. Palmer has long had the arm and the leadership, but may never get the proper recognition.
13 Dwight Howard
Howard’s greatest games may be behind him, but he is still an important presence on the court. He certainly didn’t play terribly in the conference finals this year, as the Warriors were just too good – and James Harden sort of blew it. Howard is only 29, but has 11 seasons under his belt. However, the eight-time All-Star and three-time Defensive Player of the Year only played 41 games this year. Houston looks like it'll continue to be competitive in the near future, but they are also in a tough conference that doesn’t look to be getting worse any time soon. As Howard gets older, it'll be tougher for him to get that elusive ring.
12 Carmelo Anthony
The divisive and outspoken eight-time all-star has made it to the playoffs in ten of his 12 seasons in the NBA, but never to the finals. With Phil Jackson at the helm and Carmelo as the centerpiece of a rebuilding effort, there is still hope for the star. However his club has a long way to go. Even if they get better in a couple years, LeBron and Derrick Rose are still around in the East, along with the emerging Hawks . What’s more, while Anthony has proven great in the past, he only played in 40 games last season and has missed more than 20 games in three of the last four games.
11 Tony Romo
Romo had an MVP-worthy season last year and led the Cowboys to the playoffs. Yet again, they faltered and at age 35, with plenty of injuries in his history, the window is closing for the Dallas gunslinger. He has a ton of Cowboys records, as well as four Pro Bowl nods, but Romo has never made it to the Super Bowl despite playing for one of the most popular and proud clubs in the league. In fact, they’ve only won two playoff games in his tenure and never made it passed the divisional round. He wasn’t the reason they lost this year, but perhaps Tony Romo is indeed cursed; fated to come close, but not quite.
10 Andre Johnson
The seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver likely only has one or two more seasons left in the NFL. He will be 34-years-old when the new season starts and after an elite career in Houston, Johnson has gone to division rival Indianapolis for a shot at the Super Bowl. He has been trying to get out of Houston for years, as the Texans have been rebuilding and seeking a franchise quarterback. In 12 seasons with the Texans, Johnson saw the postseason only twice and never made it to the conference championship. The Colts will be the favourite to win their division, so Johnson has a chance, but this may be it.
9 Chris Paul
This is another case of a talented NBA player competing in a tough conference and coming close, but never quite getting there. With ten years playing to his credit, Paul has made the playoffs in seven of the last eight years between the Clippers and New Orleans, but has never made it passed the second round. He, alongside Blake Griffin and others, blew it against the Rockets this year and likely would have been more competitive against the Warriors. He's still somewhat young (30), but nearing the end of his prime playing days.
8 Adrian Peterson
Even after not playing for an entire year, Adrian Peterson is one of the best running backs in the league. Despite rumors and speculation swirling around his future, it looks like Peterson is stuck with the Vikings and it’s hard to blame Minnesota for wanting to keep him and make it work. It may not be ideal for Peterson, however, who at 30 doesn’t have too many seasons left. Peterson has made it to the playoffs three times, losing twice in the Wild Card round, but earning a spot in the Conference Championship where he and the Vikings lost to the Saints in overtime. That may be the best team Peterson will have played on, as the team is now nurturing second year QB Teddy Bridgewater and facing off against the Packers and Lions in the NFC North.
7 Joey Votto
The Cincinnati Reds first baseman is probably the most talented player in baseball that no one talks about. Perhaps it’s because he plays in Cincinnati or that he often doesn’t create any headlines or quotes, but Joey Votto is one of the best players in the league. The 31-year-old from Toronto is an NL MVP and four-time all-star, and has made the postseason three times, losing two series and the Wild Card Game. He has nine years to his credit and more to be played, but the Reds are so far our of contention in an NL where the Giants, Dodgers, Nats, Cubs, and Mets look to all be playing meaningful games in September.
6 Philip Rivers
The only thing that truly separates Rivers from Joe Flacco and Eli Manning is Super Bowl Rings. The San Diego gunslinger has the 16th most TD passes in NFL history (and needs ten more to move up to 12) and is 20th in all-time passing yards. While there is parity in the NFL, the Chargers seem stuck in the same spot, competing for the playoffs but never being a real threat at the Super Bowl. They made the postseason four straight years (2006-09), but only once since 2009. Rivers had his sixth 4,000-yard passing season last year and, at 33, he still has many years ahead, but there are teams with better support around him.
5 Joe Thornton
The NHL All-Star has enjoyed success on both coasts, playing eight seasons for the Boston Bruins before taking to California to lead the San Jose Sharks. Despite making the playoffs 14 times, Thornton has no Cup to show for it, let alone an appearance in the finals. He’s 36th all-time in points and 19th in assists and, at 35, he’s still going strong. The Sharks, however, have long struggled in the playoffs and while always competitive, they seem to always underachieve. With a hot goalie, anything can happen in the NHL postseason, so there is still hope for Thornton, but the clock is ticking.
4 Felix Hernandez
Hernandez always will be regarded as a great pitcher, but always as somewhat of an afterthought. He’s a quiet man who rarely makes headlines for the wrong reasons and playing in Seattle means that a lot of people don’t pay attention to him. It doesn’t help that they don’t make the playoffs either. He is in his tenth full season now, having earned five All-Star nods, a Cy Young, and a perfect game, but he has never been in the playoffs. They’ve finished second in the division just once, over .500 only three times, and this season they are about 10 games back of the Astros at the moment. He’s only 29, but if things don't change quickly in Seattle, he might run out of time.
3 Jarome Iginla
It seems like Jarome Iginla just keeps missing the Cup. The longtime beloved Calgary Flame spent 15 seasons playing for the Alberta club before being traded during his 16th campaign. He wanted a Cup and the club wanted to rebuild, so off he went to Pittsburgh. It was a savvy move, as the Penguins went to the Conference finals. They lost to Boston however, who lost the Cup to the Blackhawks. Iginla went to the Bruins and the next year they lost in the second round of the playoffs. Iginla wthen moved to the Avalanche, who didn’t make the playoffs and now the 37-year-old looks to only have a couple more years to win the Cup.
2 Derrick Rose
It seemed this year set up perfectly for the Bulls to make it to the NBA finals. A weak Eastern Conference meant the Bulls only had to worry about Cleveland, who had an injured Kevin Love, leaving just LeBron James and Kyrie Irving to worry about. The Bulls and Derrick Rose had the series tied at two, but couldn’t do anything after that. Chicago has since fired its coach to try and spark something now. Rose is still very young, but with his injury history and the Eastern Conference improving, it will be tough for him to win a championship.
1 Alexander Ovechkin
The Washington Capitals are perennial underachievers. In the last eight seasons, they won the division five times, won the President’s Trophy once, but they've failed to get past the second round of the playoffs. While the Caps failed to make it to the playoffs in Ovechkin’s first two seasons, they’ve only missed them once since, but when they are there, they can’t do much, as the Caps seem to be lacking that intangible quality to make a deep run. Ovechkin is only 29 and Washington seems to have found a solid goalie, but Ovie's prime is slipping away without any deep playoff runs.
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