Hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup is every National Hockey League players’ dream. Whether it be Mark Messier bouncing up and down with the cup in his hands like an overgrown child, or Sidney Crosby raising the cup over his head to show that phenoms can win it too, the Cup is the ultimate goal for every player that takes the ice. Hockey is a team sport, but no one would argue against that some players are more important than others. Without a good goaltender in net, a team is hopeless. The Dallas Stars help prove that each and every night this season. Defensemen are important, but there are six of them working together. Sure the top defenseman carries extra importance, but for the most part it is a group effort, unless it’s the New York Rangers and there’s only one top pair defenseman. However, the most interesting position is center.
There are four centers on each team, yet the one player that is of the most importance besides the goaltender is the first line center. The first line center is a two-way star that covers the ice and dictates how the team plays throughout the season. There’s good reason Patrice Bergeron and Anze Kopitar are lauded as vital players for their teams, as they contribute in all areas and make the plays that the rest of the team cannot make. Without further adieu, let’s take a look at seven centers that will win the Stanley Cup, and eight that will never do so.
15. Won’t Win – John Tavares
John Tavares will never win a Stanley Cup as long as he remains a member of the New York Islanders organization, and we fully expect him to never leave the team that drafted him first overall. Tavares is set to be a free agent following next season, but the centerman is likely to follow in Steven Stamkos’ footsteps and remain with his long-time employers, as there is a stigma against players leaving for greener pastures. That being said, the Islanders are going nowhere. By the time the forwards are up to par, the defense will be old. Thomas Greiss is hardly a solution in net, and the team cannot even find a location to play at. Free agents won’t want to join Tavares, putting him at a disadvantage.
14. Will Win – Connor McDavid
John Tavares was once Connor McDavid, although Tavares never achieved nearly the same amount of success as McDavid in terms of single-handedly leading a team. McDavid has done so this season and then some, proving that his existence alone is enough to move the Oilers from the bottom feeders of the NHL to legitimate playoff contenders. With that being said, McDavid is one of the two best players in the NHL, and that’s enough to go off of to predict he will raise the cup. As long as Edmonton can provide him with even a few complementary players, McDavid will make it work and dominate his way to a Stanley Cup eventually. The greatest players manage to find a way when they lead their teams.
13. Won’t Win – Henrik Sedin
Continuing in the trend of high draft picks, Henrik Sedn was drafted second overall, one spot ahead of his brother Daniel. Sedin spent his whole career with the Vancouver Canucks, leading the team with help from his brother to various deep playoff finishes. The Canucks were a win away from winning the Stanley Cup in 2011, but the Boston Bruins came back and ended their hopes. With that, Sedin has never won a Stanley Cup, and we do not believe he ever will. The Canucks are in the midst of what should be a re-build, but looks more like a misguided attempt to contend. By the time they get their act together, Sedin will be too old to contribute, or will be out of the league altogether.
12. Will Win – Auston Matthews
We already predicted the top phenom in the game, Connor McDavid, will win a Stanley Cup. Now, we believe the player selected one year after him, Auston Matthews, will also win a Stanley Cup. The Toronto Maple Leafs organization is being run brilliantly right now, and Matthews is simply one piece in an amazingly well oiled machine. Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and Morgan Rielly are among the youngsters helping Matthews reach the promised land, and the Maple Leafs also have all of the money to spend. Matthews will be given every opportunity to succeed, and he has already accomplished a lot with a young roster and few top players. Expect him to win at least one Stanley Cup in Toronto, becoming a historic player for the franchise.
11. Won’t Win – Jack Eichel
Selected one pick after Connor McDavid was Jack Eichel, a center-man that would have gone first overall most years. Eichel has shown tremendous poise in the National Hockey League, but he also has not shown the ability to be a two-way leader like Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews have. Additionally, the Buffalo Sabres are similar to the Vancouver Canucks in that they have seemingly no direction. Sure, Eichel is young and has plenty of time to watch his team get it together, but it will be years before they do. Eichel would be better served playing elsewhere, and we do not yet believe he is a strong enough center to lead a team on his own. There is still plenty left to be proven.
10. Will Win – Steven Stamkos
While many could point to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s window closing, that would be a foolish approach to take. The Lightning made the Stanley Cup Final in 2015, then the Eastern Conference Finals in 2016. The next logical step would be progressing even more, but the Lightning are having an awful season. The missing piece in that awful season? Steven Stamkos. With Victor Hedman on defense and Nikita Kucherov as a top winger, Stamkos has all of the help in the world. When Stamkos returns the Lightning will be an elite, deep hockey team once again, and will regularly contend for the Stanley Cup Final. Given all of his injuries, Stamkos will want to prove that he can stay healthy and lead the team to a win.
9. Won’t Win – Tyler Seguin
One of the teams Stamkos’ netminder Ben Bishop is most likely to be traded to is the Dallas Stars, but for whatever reason the Stars are not buying on goalies. It’s a strange happening in the NHL today, yet we are left with bitter tastes in our mouths. Tyler Seguin is the top center of the present and future for the Stars, an organization in limbo. The Stars are about to lose Patrick Sharp and have Jason Spezza aging rapidly, but they are missing three to four quality defensemen and two quality goalies. The wings are not deep enough, and Seguin is not quite the two-way center many of his colleagues are. There is too much left to be done in Dallas before we can consider him a cup contending centerman.
8. Will Win – Nicklas Backstrom
Nicklas Backstrom has centered Alexander Ovechkin for years, yet the two have somehow never won a Stanley Cup Final together. We were tempted to include Backstrom in the “will not win” list because the Washington Capitals have admitted themselves that after this season they will undergo a re-tooling of sorts. Gone will be the likes of Justin Williams and Karl Alzner, with T.J. Oshie possibly leaving as well depending on the Salary Cap situation. Still, Alexander Ovechkin is far too good of a player to never win a Stanley Cup, and Nicklas Backstrom is a tremendous center to help him do so. Add youngster Evgeny Kuznetsov and goaltender Braden Holtby, and the recipe for success is in place to eventually finally win one.
7. Won’t Win – Ryan Getzlaf
The Anaheim Ducks are similar to the Washington Capitals in that both teams have regularly advanced deep into the NHL playoffs, yet have come out without much success. Ryan Getzlaf is the leading center for the Anaheim Ducks, and we do not believe he will get to hoist the Stanley Cup. Getzlaf won the cup with the 2007 Anaheim Ducks, but was not the leading center at the time. Now that he is, he is a terrific two-way center that leads his team in essentially every category. Still, Randy Carlyle is Head Coach and the Ducks continue to make baffling managerial decisions around the talent they do have. Getzlaf is only getting older and the teams around him are only getting better. Too late.
6. Will Win – Kevin Hayes
This is a twist of sorts we are providing you, as the New York Rangers boast three bonafide number one centers. One can argue their top center is Kevin Hayes, Derek Stepan, or Mika Zibanejad, and any of the three choices could technically be correct. That being said, we believe Kevin Hayes is the best centerman on the Rangers roster today, and the best for the future. Hayes gets the luxury of playing in front of Henrik Lundqvist, who like Alexander Ovechkin is a future Hall of Famer yet has never won the Stanley Cup Final. We believe that will change, and we believe Kevin Hayes will be the best center on the team when it does change. His big body and puck maneuvering lends itself to the success.
5. Won’t Win – Kyle Turris
Calling Kyle Turris a top center is a bit of a stretch considering the talented centermen around the rest of the National Hockey League, but that is also part of our logic in choosing him on the “will not win” list here. Turris is the top center on the Ottawa Senators, a team that does not seem to understand where they are going. There is a strange mixture of veterans and youngsters, and perhaps the most baffling move of all was when the Senators traded the previously mentioned Mika Zibanejad and a second round draft pick for the older, worse Derick Brassard this past off-season. Turris is certainly not good enough to lead the team to the cup, while the team is not good enough either.
4. Will Win – Joe Thornton
One player Kevin Hayes has been compared to at times is Joe Thornton. Thornton, the top center on the San Jose Sharks, came excruciatingly close to winning the Stanley Cup Final in 2016. Thornton’s Sharks took the Pittsburgh Penguins to Game Six of the Stanley Cup Final, only to lose to Sidney Crosby and company. Thornton’s Sharks have been known for tough playoff exits and failing to finally win a cup, but we believe he will bring a Stanley Cup to San Jose. Thornton’s contract runs out at the end of the season, and while we do not believe he will win it this season, we do believe he will re-up with the organization and win it before he retires. He’s far too good not to.
3. Won’t Win – Matt Duchene
Matt Duchene will not win a Stanley Cup as a member of the Colorado Avalanche, which may be a cop out to say because he may not be a member of the Colorado Avalanche for much longer. Even as an Avalanche, it can certainly be argued that he is not the top center on his own team, as the Avalanche boast Nathan Mackinnon on the same roster. Still, Duchene is a top center in the NHL, yet he is not good enough to lead his team. Should Duchene be dealt elsewhere, more will be expected of him than he can provide. He is a perfect complement to another center, but as a leader we cannot see him ever bringing the Stanley Cup home for his fans.
2. Will Win – Claude Giroux
Claude Giroux was like Joe Thornton in that he got all the way to Game Six of the Stanley Cup Final, but could not complete the task. Giroux did so with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010, losing to the Chicago Blackhawks on a Patrick Kane overtime winner. Now Giroux is trying to find his way back to the Stanley Cup Final, a difficult road for any player. Giroux does not get enough credit for being a two-way force, and he will help the Flyers eventually hoist the cup. The Flyers have plenty of young talent on their roster today, and even more coming up in the system. Ron Hextall has proven to be an excellent General Manger, so the talent will be there for Giroux to work with.
1. Won’t Win – Adam Henrique
Adam Henrique is a fine player, but like Kyle Turris, he is not exactly a top centerman in today’s NHL. Still, the New Jersey Devils rely on him and Travis Zajac as their top centermen, and that says a lot about the Devils organization. New Jersey struggles to attract top free agents, has zero top defensemen, and about three legitimate scoring threats on their roster. They are the furthest team away from contention, and even when they do contend they will have to have plenty of postseason experiences before battling the teams that have been there before. Henrique is not one to lead a team, so he will not be the guy to ever bring the Devils, or any team, to a Stanley Cup victory.
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