An athlete's career can be evaluated on a number of different levels.
The accolades that line the wall of a superstar forward's home can etch a player's name among the greatest offensive players the game has ever seen. Multiple Norris trophies will solidify a defenseman's legacy and reputation, especially if he proves himself to be as stout defensively as he is dynamic in the opposition's end. A top-flight goaltender can quantify his career by the number of wins and shutouts he collected over the years.
Individual awards and historically excellent statistics are achievements any player can take great pride in once they step away from hockey - but if the centerpiece of the mantle remains empty, the gap in the trophy case can leave a player feeling incomplete for the rest of his days.
Kariya, Lafontaine, Dionne, Bure - all names that come to mind when listing some of the top players to grace an NHL rink. All names you'll find on a list of players who finished their illustrious careers without their name etched on Lord Stanley's grail.
It's the dream every hockey player grows up with - lifting the Stanley Cup over their heads. Giving it a sloppy, sweaty kiss. Parading it around their team's city and bringing it to their hometown.
The opportunity to live through that euphoric moment has slipped through the fingers of many a legend, some who were able to get the opportunity later on in their careers - while many others spend every day reminiscing about what could have been.
We don't wish a feeling of deprivation on any athlete, but based on their current career trajectories, this star-studded list could hang up their skates without a championship ring glistening on their finger as they ride off into the sunset.
15 Andrei Markov
Even with the return of a healthy Carey Price, Andrei Markov will be hard pressed to finish off his stellar career with the Montreal Canadiens with a Stanley Cup ring. Price can carry the Canadiens to a Cup on his own, but the Habs still need someone to put the puck in the net at the other end. If Marc Bergevin's chemistry experiment (bringing in Shea Weber, Andrew Shaw and Alexander Radulov while shipping out fan favorite P.K. Subban) blows up in his face, the Canadiens will likely enter another retooling phase under new management. Markov will be 38 this December - he might not be inclined to uproot his life and move to a contending team should the Canadiens falter this year.
14 Jeff Skinner
Jeff Skinner's name might not jump off the page if you're looking at it on a list including the likes of Crosby, Ovechkin and Kane, but he remains (arguably) the best player on the Carolina Hurricanes - a franchise that is seemingly going nowhere fast. Skinner seemed to have gotten back on track last year with 28 goals and 51 points, so the Hurricanes are unlikely to move him, as some experts suggested they might do not that long ago. Assuming Skinner sticks around for awhile, he might not get the opportunity some of his older teammates got back in 2006.
13 Nathan MacKinnon
We could have selected a number of Avalanche players for this spot - we may as well have lumped them all in - but we chose the face of the franchise, since Nathan MacKinnon seems like the most likely to be in Colorado for the longest. He's locked up until 2023 (along with Erik Johnson). The Avs seem intent on getting something for Matt Duchene at some point, and while Gabriel Landeskog is the current captain of the team, MacKinnon is the meal ticket.
The Avs have seen their once sterling reputation take a beating over the last few seasons and the recent last-minute departure of head coach Patrick Roy likely only did more damage, perhaps setting back the franchise a couple of more years. The talent is there - the question is whether or not the organization can get it's affairs in order over the prime of MacKinnon's career.
12 The Sedins
For years, the Sedins were the Swedish darlings of the NHL. Once an unstoppable duo that terrorized opponents across the league, the Sedins have been reduced to point-producing mentors - still talented enough to rack up 60-70 points a year, but surrounded by a roster comprised of not much else in the way of top-end talent.
The Sedins had a glorious chance to raise hockey's greatest prize back in 2011, only to have the Cup snatched from their grasp by Tim Thomas, Zdeno Chara and the Boston Bruins.
The Canucks once dominant roster is now barely recognizable. The departure of two starting caliber goaltenders, Ryan Kesler and multiple other key pieces will do that to a team - and because of the questionable moves made by management over the past few years, the championship window has effectively been slammed shut on the Sedins. All that's left to do is ride out their years in Vancouver, pad the stats and cement their legacy as one of the greatest brother combinations of all-time.
11 Rick Nash
Since he broke into the league back in 2002-2003, Rick Nash has been one of the more entertaining goalscorers the league has scene. That's saying something, considering the type of talent we've seen roll through the NHL ranks over the past fifteen years.
We all knew that Nash wasn't getting anywhere near the Stanley Cup as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets - but the move to New York was supposed to finally give him a shot at glory. That hasn't happened yet, and with Nash on the wrong side of thirty and the downside of his career, he's likely on his way out of the Big Apple within the next couple of years.
The Rangers are have signified that a changing of the guard is afoot and the youth movement has already begun. An aging power forward isn't at the top of many GM's grocery lists, so unless a contenting team is looking for a big, veteran body in a few summers from now, Nash is unlikely to play a major role on a Cup winner.
10 Shane Doan
For Shane Doan, it's only a matter of time. It's a matter of time before he calls it a career, and it's a matter of time because he doesn't have enough of it left to win a Cup, barring a Jagr-esque surge of strength begins to coarse through his veins. The Coyotes are Doan's team - for life. He's made it pretty clear that his career is going to end in Arizona and while the 'Yotes are a team on the rise, they won't be contending for a championship until a few years from now, once all their young talent has grown and hit their stride. Barring a miraculous run over the next couple of years, that might be too long to wait for the soon-to-be 40-year old.
9 Claude Giroux
Claude Giroux's career path, thus far, seems to be closely mirroring another name on this list (keep reading). An early shot at the Cup, a crushing loss, a few years as a top team followed by several seasons toiling in the cellar.
The Flyers made a strong push at the end of last season, but Giroux goes into each season facing the daunting task of playing for the perennial darkhorse Flyers - a team that has to go through Crosby, Ovechkin, Lundqvist and Tavares all season long just to earn a spot in the playoffs. Giroux is still young enough to have plenty of chances to get back to a Final and finally get his name on the Cup, but he'll be hard pressed to do it if he stays in Philadelphia. Regardless of whether he gets his championship ring or not, Giroux will go down as one of the best players of this generation.
8 Roberto Luongo
Like Shane Doan, Roberto Luongo has stuck around his franchise long enough to watch the slow rebuilding phase finally come to fruition, though he had a successful pitstop in Vancouver. The Panthers are on the cusp of becoming a force, thanks to a boatload of young talent, but Luongo is entering his 17th NHL season - a remarkable achievement for a goaltender, but a sign that the end is surely near. The Panthers will be good (as long as he keeps stopping a ton of pucks), but they might not be ready to get over the final hump before Luongo retires.
Even if Luongo does stick around for a few more years, the signing of James Reimer to a long-term deal has effectively sealed Luongo's future. The second he falters and begins to show signs of age, which we don't expect to be as soon as this season, he'll be relegated to backup duties (and we don't really believe Reimer is going to lead a team to a Cup, do we?) or shipped out of town - it's unlikely a team with a shot at winning it all will rely on a nearly 40-year-old goaltender as their backup.
A shame - the Cup celebration @Strombone1 Tweets would be phenomenal.
7 Jason Spezza
While he was still a key cog in the Ottawa Senators machine of the mid-2000s, Jason Spezza had a shot at hockey glory.
He and his Senator teammates were nowhere near up to the task - the Anaheim Ducks beat Ottawa handily in five games.
The Dallas Stars are stacked up front and have some decent pieces on the backend. The problem, as it has often been, is between the pipes. Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen are a decent duo, but they don't scream "Stanley Cup duo." Unless the Stars settle their goaltending logjam one of these days, they are unlikely to do more damage in the playoffs than they were able to do this year, no matter how much firepower they have.
Spezza could conceivably ride out his years in Dallas without a Cup - he could also be used as part of the solution to keep pucks out of the net. His big salary could ultimately make him the odd man out should the Stars need to clear some cap room down the road.
6 Jarome Iginla
If you hadn't guessed already, Jarome Iginla was the player we were referring to in the Giroux post. A glorious Cup run ended dramatically with a Finals lost to Vincent Lecavalier's Tampa Bay Lightning - and Iginla hasn't gotten close to the Cup since.
Iginla likely had more than a few opportunities to head to a better situation in his later years with the Flames, but we commend him for his loyalty to the only franchise he's really ever known. Iginla has had a few cracks with some decent teams, but has yet to reach hockey's pinnacle.
He's close to the end, and barring a surprise year, the Avalanche aren't winning anything this year. Iginla could end up going to a contender at the deadline, but that doesn't guarantee a thing in today's NHL.
5 Taylor Hall
Taylor Hall would have likely landed on this list anyway, but it would have been a bit tougher had he still been in Edmonton (the short explanation: Connor McDavid keeps every Oiler off this list). In New Jersey, however, it's a different story.
Playing in a bland hockey market with not much in the terms of top end talent besides a premier goaltender, the Devils will be in tough to win a Stanley Cup over the next five years in a highly competitive Eastern Conference. The stymieing defensive philosophy that ruled the league for several years has proven relatively ineffective over the past few years (unless you had vintage Martin Brodeur between the pipes). Hall was brought in to light the lamp in Jersey and he might do just that alongside former junior teammate Adam Henrique, but it won't be enough (barring a Brodeur-like playoff performance from Schneider).
4 Henrik Lundqvist
To put it bluntly - the Rangers (and King Henrik) had their chances and they blew them all.
The championship window has just about closed on the Blueshirts. The Eastern Conference has blown by the Rangers. They probably should have beaten the Devils in the 2012 Conference Finals. Habs fans will remind you, to this day, that the Rangers had no business being in the 2014 Final (but let's not get into that again). Pittsburgh exposed the Rangers in Round 1 of this year's postseason.
Would anyone be shocked if the Rangers find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture this year? Lundqvist is still an elite goaltender, but something just hasn't clicked over the past half-decade and it's not likely to change as the Rangers youth movement gets going while their best player enters the twilight of his career.
3 Erik Karlsson
While the Senators boast a solid roster, the lack of starpower outside of Erik Karlsson is significant. Craig Anderson is a good goaltender, but he's not leading your franchise to Stanley Cup and Bobby Ryan has no business being a team's top scoring option.
Until the talent around Karlsson improves, he's not getting a Cup in Ottawa. Some will argue that Karlsson's defensive acumen simply isn't up to par - but there is no denying that he is one of the league's best defenseman.
Ray Bourque and Phil Housley went through something similar throughout their illustrious careers (Bourque had to change teams, but managed to break through a go out a champion).
2 Joe Thornton
It pains me to include the final two players on this list - alas, life isn't always fair.
Joe Thornton could taste the Stanley Cup on the whiskers of his enormous beard last June - that's how close it was. Sidney Crosby made sure no barbaric California beards got anywhere close to the Cup and, in theory, that shouldn't mean anything. The Sharks are still loaded and they've finally gotten over the mental hump. Who says they can't take another crack in 2017?
Call it a gut feeling. Chicago, Los Angeles and Anaheim are never too far away. Dallas, Nashville and St. Louis could take the next step as soon as this year. In a 30-team NHL, there are no guarantees - no matter how good the Sharks looked this year, they were always the surprise team of the playoffs. What happens when the pressure falls squarely back on their shoulders?
1 Alex Ovechkin
A Washington championship is probably the best thing that can happen for the National Hockey League.
Alex Ovechkin can make getting a haircut seem like a momentous occasion. His unbridled passion and infectious enthusiasm is unparalleled (we'll see about that now that P.K. Subban is in Nashville). Imagine what would happen if he won a championship. Imagine not only the effect it would have not only in the United States, but for the next wave of Russian hockey players. Safe to say none will choose the KHL after watching their hero parade the Cup around the ice (and the country).
Unfortunately for Ovi, he's slowly but surely falling deeper and deeper into the shadow cast by Sidney Crosby. Crosby has two Cups under his belt and seems intent on adding a few more before it's all said and done. We've already run through the gamut of talent in the Metropolitan Division. For all their regular season success, the Capitals simply can't seem to push through a playoff push without hitting a snag along the way.
The Capitals are loaded with talent - and, in theory, this should have been the year. Top goal scorer. Best goalie in the league. A strong defensive structure. Plenty of speed to burn. The list goes on and on.
What else is it going to take for the Capitals to get over the hump?
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