Throughout NHL history, we’ve seen a number of veterans stay loyal to their franchise, even though it never brought a Stanley Cup championship. Mats Sundin wore out his welcome in Toronto for far too long, as did fellow Swedish captain Daniel Alfredsson.
But some guys like Ray Bourque chose to leave their teams when it was clear they wouldn’t win a championship if they stayed loyal. Today, there are a number of NHL stars that are stuck between loyalty and going elsewhere to win a Stanley Cup ring. Deep down, they must know that moving to a new team is the only way they can win a championship. But for some of them, it’s loyalty over winning.
With that all being said, here is a look at 15 NHL stars who need to leave their teams if they want a championship. We also included the ideal landing spots for them to chase that Stanley Cup.
*Stats courtesy of Hockey Reference. Contract details courtesy of Cap Friendly*
15. Marc Staal
With the Blueshirts’ Stanley Cup championship window closing rapidly, now’s a good time for them to think about moving a perennial standout on their defence. Larry Brooks (John Tortorella’s long-time enemy), from the New York Post noted that the Rangers could opt to buy out Staal.
Marc Staal carries four years left on his current contract at $5.7 million a season. With the Rangers retooling on the fly, they’ll need to get younger and cheaper. That may work to Staal’s benefit, since the Metropolitan Division is going to be brutal for a long time.
A trade to the Toronto Maple Leafs would allow Staal to play less minutes. With so many problems on their blue line, Toronto may feel inclined to take on Staal. Their young stars are just entering their primes, and they’d give Staal a great chance to chase the Cup.
14. Evander Kane
After running into issues with the Winnipeg Jets coaches and players, Evander Kane was dealt to the Buffalo Sabres in 2015. Though Kane is coming off a 28-goal season, it’s highly unlikely he remains with the rebuilding Sabres. Kane is due to become a free agent next summer, and it’s unlikely he will want to stay with a team that’s shown a willingness to deal him before.
If a 26-year-old Kane is looking at a chance to win the championship while he’s in his prime, then the Columbus Blue Jackets are probably the best fit. Loaded with young stars like Cam Atkinson, Boone Jenner, Alexander Wennberg and Artemi Panarin, Kane would join a great group of young forwards.
13. Roberto Luongo
By the time his career is done, Roberto Luongo should finished third all time in goalie victories. According to QuantHockey.com, he’s only 31 behind Ed Belfour’s 484. So yeah, it’s been a tremendous career for the two-time Olympic gold medalist.
Unfortunately for ‘Bobby Lou,’ many of his prime years were wasted with the Florida Panthers — and his old Vancouver Canucks squad kept falling short in big games. As such, he’s a 38-year-old goalie who’s running out of time to capture his first championship.
A trade for Luongo in the future is necessary, as the Panthers aren’t as close to a championship as they indicated in 2016. Luongo has five years left on his current deal that’ll pay him $5.3 million a season, with the Canucks retaining 15 percent of it.
Florida should look to trade him to Calgary, who currently have a questionable goalie tandem in Mike Smith and Eddie Lack. The Flames would have the cap space to trade for Luongo, and the Panthers would surely eat up some of the salary. Either way, Luongo has to leave the Sunshine State a second time if he wants a championship.
12. James Neal
The good news for James Neal: He’s a pending 2018 free agent, so should be able to choose a contender that he feels confident in. The bad news: He’s 30 years of age, only has so many good years left and has to start the season on the expansion Vegas Golden Knights. Not ideal.
Neal and the Nashville Predators fell two games short of winning the Stanley Cup Final this year, and his old Pittsburgh Penguins squad couldn’t quite capture the elusive title while they employed Neal.
Neal is only going to score 20-30 goals for a couple of more years, so he’s going to have to leave Vegas by the deadline or in free agency if he wants a championship. A move to the Dallas Stars — the team that drafted him — seems ideal. The Stars are just building a contender now, and Neal would get multiple chances at a Cup there.
11. Taylor Hall
Taylor Hall was drafted first overall by the Edmonton Oilers in 2011. After years of frustration, it looked like Hall and the Oilers were set to dominate after drafting Connor McDavid in 2015 and Jesse Puljujarvi in 2016. But in a shocking twist, GM Peter Chiarelli dealt Hall to the New Jersey Devils for Adam Larsson.
Hall expressed his disappointment in being traded by Edmonton, and rightfully so. He joins a Devils team that’s deprived in world class talent, with 2017 No. 1 pick Nico Hischier being their only promising prospect.
Entering his age-26 season, Hall’s only got so many years ahead of him as a sniper. Without a flashy centre in New Jersey, he won’t maximize his production nor chase a Cup. An ideal landing spot would be the Boston Bruins, who figure to contend with their young core in three-to-five years. The B’s also have some young prospects on defence to make such a deal for Hall work.
10. Henrik Lundqvist
Unfortunately for Henrik Lundqvist, it’s unlikely he will ever win a Stanley Cup on Broadway. His New York Rangers were a perennial playoff team and always a threat to win the Cup, but their one opportunity in 2014 slipped through their fingers.
‘King Henrik’ — the one-time Vezina Trophy winner whose racked up 405 career wins — will be 36 by the time next year’s playoffs roll around. His .910 save percentage and 2.74 goals against average were far-and-away the worst totals of his career. It’s clear he’s on the decline, and it’s unlikely the retooling Rangers will be chasing a Cup any time soon.
If there’s a logical fit for Lundqvist, it’s the Winnipeg Jets. With stars Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, Blake Wheeler and Dustin Byfuglien in the fold, Winnipeg’s championship window will soon open. They do lack a goalie, however, but Lundqvist would be a nice fit — given his impressive playoff track record.
9. Rick Nash
When all is said and done, the 6-foot-4 power forward will go down as one of the greatest pure goal-scorers of his era. Rick Nash enters 2017-18 with 416 career goals and 771 points. But he’s 33 years of age, and the Rangers don’t give him the best chance to win his first Stanley Cup at this point.
A team that makes sense for Nash? The Calgary Flames, who have a plethora of young talent that includes Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk and Dougie Hamilton. But adding an experienced scorer with plenty of postseason experience like Nash would really help the Flames.
Nash enters the final year of his contract, before he can be a free agent in 2018. If he wants the chance to win a championship, Nash should have his agent call the Flames next July 1st to see if a one or two-year pact can be had.
8. Matt Duchene
It’s only a matter of time until the Colorado Avalanche trade away superstar Matt Duchene, when GM Joe Sakic finally succumbs to the pressure of beginning a massive rebuild.
Teams like the Ottawa Senators and Boston Bruins haven’t been willing to meet Colorado’s high asking price, but perhaps the two-time defending champions will be interested. After all, Duchene has been linked to Sidney Crosby’s squad — per Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.
Duchene isn’t going to win a championship in the Mile High City, but the chance to play with Crosby or Evgeni Malkin would totally give him that chance. Duchene’s capable of scoring 20-30 goals and 50-60 points a season, but all that matters at this point for him is to win a championship. The Penguins would be an ideal fit for star speedster.
7. Cory Schneider
Despite playing on a handful of frustrating New Jersey teams, Cory Schneider has consistently ranked among the top goalies in the game — statistically speaking. But when Schneider signed a seven-year extension worth $42 million in 2014, he probably thought the Devils would be a championship contender by now.
That hasn’t been the case, as the Devils have consistently ranked among the bottom teams in the NHL. Schneider is already 31 years of age and probably won’t be in his prime by the time New Jersey competes again.
With five years left on his contract at $6 million a season, Schneider needs to consider asking for a trade. The Ottawa Senators make plenty of sense, as 36-year-old goalie Craig Anderson only has so much left in the tank. After coming within one game of the Stanley Cup Final, it’s clear Ottawa’s a contender. Now, just imagine if they land a Vezina-caliber goalie in Schneider.
6. Logan Couture
Logan Couture has been one of the top stars on the Western Conference powerhouse San Jose Sharks, with 179 goals and 376 points up to this point of his career. The long-time 25-goal and 50-point man is just 28 years of age and has plenty of quality years left, but his team’s Stanley Cup window has all but closed at this point.
Patrick Marleau left for Toronto, Joe Thornton is 38 and Joe Pavelski is 33. The Sharks may be a playoff team at best, but there are too many old faces and few young studs in the system to extend this championship window.
So Couture should think about leaving the only team he’s ever known. If a trade were to happen, the Minnesota Wild would make a ton of sense. With Mikael Granlund, Ryan Suter, Jason Zucker and Devan Dubnyk there, Minny should be a contender for a long time. They’d easily provide Couture with a handful of chances to win a championship.
5. Nicklas Backstrom
Nicklas Backstrom has quietly been overlooked as one of the NHL’s top superstars, thanks to Alexander Ovechkin. The 6-foot-1 Swede has been one of the top play-making centres of this decade, posting six seasons of 70-plus points. Backstrom is coming off an 86-point season, but it’s clear that the Washington Capitals no longer offer him the best chance to win.
Washington has yet to advance past the second round in the Ovechkin-Backstrom era. They also lost many key players this offseason, including Justin Williams, Kevin Shattenkirk, Marcus Johansson, Karl Alzner and Nate Schmidt. The window has closed.
For the 30-year-old Backstrom, it’d probably be best to join a young team that figures to contend for titles in the next three-five years. A good fit would be the Buffalo Sabres, who have all the young assets to pull off a trade. Backstrom, Jack Eichel and Ryan O’Reilly? That’d be quite a championship contender.
4. Daniel and Henrik Sedin
Daniel and Henrik Sedin rank first and second all-time in Vancouver Canucks franchise scoring, respectively. They led the Canucks to non-stop dominance for nearly two decades, leading them to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011. But the twins are past their primes, about to turn 37 and are entering the final year of their contracts.
You have to respect their loyalty to Vancouver, but it’s clear that they have no hope at a championship with the Canucks. Many are clamoring for the Canucks to deal the franchise icons, and it’s certainly possible at next year’s deadline.
A team that makes sense? The Montreal Canadiens, who have a championship window open with Carey Price, Shea Weber, Alex Galchenyuk and Max Pacioretty, among others. The Habs have young assets to part with, and acquiring the Sedins would maximize their hope at a championship.
3. Joe Thornton
If there’s one NHLer on the verge of retirement that truly deserves a championship, it would be San Jose Sharks centre Joe Thornton. ‘Jumbo Joe’ has been one of the top play-making centres of this era, with 384 goals and 1,3981 points under his belt. The 2010 Olympic gold medalist also has an Art Ross and Hart Trophy on his resume, but Thornton’s missing a championship ring.
As mentioned on the Couture slide, San Jose is no longer a viable championship contender. Thornton re-signed this offseason for just one year, but could easily join another contender next year.
2. John Tavares
John Tavares has been the face of a mediocre New York Islanders franchise for eight years now, but they haven’t done anything to show him that he should finish out his career there. The Isles have alternated between playoff and non-playoff seasons, while winning just one series during J.T.’s time here.
Tavares is set to hit free agency next summer, and it’s concerning for the franchise that they haven’t been able to lock up Tavares to a long-term extension. If he does want to chase a championship, Tavares has to simply leave Long Island and hit the open market next year.
There are rumors that the Toronto Maple Leafs would like to chase Tavares. Why not? He and Auston Matthews would form arguably the best 1-2 centre duo of this era. Toronto’s championship window is just opening, and Tavares would probably love to join his hometown team.
1. Alexander Ovechkin
The Capitals appear keen on trying to squeeze out a couple more years of contention in the Alexander Ovechkin era, as they delayed an inevitable rebuild following yet another crushing defeat in the playoffs.
Ovechkin is about to enter his age-32 season, and he’s already shown to be a bit past his playing prime. Ovie scored just 33 goals last season, relinquishing his ‘Rocket’ Richard Trophy award after winning it four-straight years.
As touched on the Backstrom slide, Washington lost several impact players and haven’t shown they can win a Cup. So Ovechkin should think about asking for a trade, once the Capitals go home early in the playoffs again. The Anaheim Ducks would be a great fit, as they too are trying to squeeze out a few more title-chasing years in the Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry era.
Anaheim makes plenty of sense for Ovechkin, who has to leave D.C. if he wants a championship.
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