The ultimate goal of every general manager in the NHL is to bring his team a Stanley Cup. It’s a long and tough journey to get there, but there may be one task that’s even harder; keeping a Cup winning team together. In today’s cap world, that’s practically impossible, as we’ve seen the Chicago Blackhawks have to trade off key pieces after each of their three Stanley Cup wins in the last six years. The Hawks have handled this task beautifully each time, as they have identified the players they must keep to stay in contention and who they can afford to part with. They suffer a temporary lapse, but are quickly able to retool for another run.
Whether it was due to expensive contracts, the need to play core players or teams simply feeling a player had outlived his usefulness to them, plenty of championship teams have quickly parted ways with pieces of that team. Heck, there have even been Conn Smythe trophy winners who soon were no longer part of the team they helped bring home a Cup.
This list will be reserved for players who were dumped by their teams immediately after winning a Stanley Cup. Whether it be through a trade, a buyout or simply letting the player walk to free agency, these instances show just how cruel professional sports can be. Some were able to quickly rebound with another contending team, while others soon found themselves on mediocre teams, asked to play a role far greater than they had previously. That sometimes resulted in guys with a winning pedigree quickly devalued. Being a third liner on a championship team shouldn’t necessarily make you a top six forward somewhere else. Here are 15 NHL players who were quickly dumped following a Stanley Cup win.
15. Andrew Ladd
Just how deep were the 2009-10 Chicago Blackhawks? The team essentially had to trade away all of their depth due to the high salaries commanded by their core players. Unfortunately for Ladd, while he was a great contributor to that Hawks championship, he was a cap casualty, as he was sent to the Atlanta Thrashers for Ivan Vishnevskiy and a second round pick. The following season he was named captain of the team and continues to wear that C for the new Jets. Ladd has to have some moments when he wishes he was still in Chicago.
14. Dave Bolland
Don’t let the ranking fool you; in no way do I consider Dave Bolland anywhere near the caliber of player Ladd is. It’s the circumstances that are just too good to put Bolland any lower. The most memorable portion of the Hawks’ 2013 Stanley Cup was in their Cup clinching game, in which they scored two goals 17 seconds apart in the dying moments to stun Boston. The hero of that game was depth center Dave Bolland, who scored the winner with 59 seconds left. Knowing he would command a salary more than he was worth, Chicago traded Bolland to his hometown Maple Leafs, who only waited a year themselves before letting Bolland walk to free agency.
13. Mike Vernon
Mike Vernon had a great career in Calgary, but by the time he got to the 1996-97 season, it was wondered whether Vernon’s days as a starter were over. Chris Osgood started much of that season, but with him struggling, the Wings turned to Mike Vernon in the 1997 playoffs. Vernon had a career resurgence, recording a 16-4 record and a GAA of 1.76, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy and bringing Detroit their first championship in 42 years. Unfortunately, the Wings had to trade a goaltender due to the waiver draft and the Wings chose to dump Vernon, sending him to San Jose. Detroit would repeat as champions with Osgood back between the pipes.
12. Cory Stillman
Would you believe that Cory Stillman was once an 80-point man in the NHL? That season came back in 2003-04, as he helped lead the Tampa Bay Lightning to their only Stanley Cup. Stillman was also in a contract year though and with the NHL going into a lockout and introducing a salary cap, Stillman had to find some other team with cap room. The Hurricanes signed Stillman to a three-year deal and he rebounded nicely, recording 76 points in the 2005-06 season and 25 in the playoffs en route to another Stanley Cup with Carolina.
11. Petr Sykora
Petr Sykora had plenty of playoff experience under his belt by the time he arrived in Pittsburgh for the 2007-08 season. He had won a Stanley Cup with New Jersey and helped the Ducks to the 2003 final. Sykora enjoyed a 63-point season and was a solid contributor in their run to the 2008 final. Sykora would return the next year, but his play dipped tremendously late in the season. He was regularly a healthy scratch en route to the Penguins’ championship in 2009 and Pittsburgh chose not to re-sign him.
10. Dustin Byfuglien
Another key example of the incredible depth on the 2010 Blackhawks, Dustin Byfuglien enjoyed a breakout year while being just a piece as part of a stacked lineup. He played the best hockey of his life in the 2010 playoffs, scoring 11 goals including several game winners. Unfortunately, Chicago had to shed salary and sent Byflugien to Atlanta in a massive multi-player deal. Buff continues to be a key piece of the Jets’ lineup but perhaps is asked to do a little more than he should be.
9. Antti Niemi
With the way the Blackhawks’ lineup was stacked, they probably thought their goaltending was the last reason they won a Stanley Cup. Antti Niemi had taken over for an aging Nikolai Khabibulin and turned in some key performances for the Blackhawks. However he was inconsistent and Chicago felt he wasn’t worth the $2.75 million awarded to him in arbitration that summer. The Hawks instead signed a cheaper Marty Turco and Niemi went to San Jose, a team he had beaten in the 2010 playoffs.
8. Andy McDonald
Andy McDonald benefited greatly from his time in Anaheim. He was on a team that was deep up the middle and there was plenty of size in the lineup to protect the small center. In the 2006-07 season, McDonald made his first All Star game and his success continued into the playoffs. McDonald would score 10 goals in the playoffs, including five in the Stanley Cup Final. Unfortunately just a couple of months into the next season, McDonald was traded to St. Louis, as the Ducks had to clear cap space to re-sign Scott Niedermayer.
7. Denis Savard
The Canadiens should have drafted Denis Savard first overall in 1980, but instead acquired him 10 years too late and it took giving up Chris Chelios to do it. Savard was not the same player he was in the 80s, as his point totals dipped and a history of knee problems had taken their toll. Savard would watch from the bench as the 1993 Canadiens won the franchise’s last Stanley Cup. The Habs would let him walk and Savard signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning that summer.
6. Brandon Saad
Brandon Saad had a breakout season last year and his worth to the Blackhawks continued to grow in their Stanley Cup run last year. Saad would score eight goals in the postseason and looked like he would be one of the franchise’s cornerstones for years to come. The Hawks didn’t see it that way and rather than pay a hefty extension for Saad, they shipped him off to Columbus for a package including Artem Anisimov and Marko Dano. Needless to say, things haven’t started off smoothly for Saad in Columbus.
5. Claude Lemieux
Claude Lemieux was a player who would produce when it mattered but he also would tend to wear out his welcome. Following an amazing performance in the 1995 playoffs, in which he helped the Devils to their first Stanley Cup, scoring 13 goals in the playoffs. Lemieux would be traded to the Colorado Avalanche prior to the next season, but it turned out to be a stroke of luck for Lemieux, who won the Cup again with the Avalance. Lemieux would return to New Jersey for the 1999-00 season where he would again win a Cup with the Devils. The Devils would then let Lemieux walk to free agency and he signed with the Coyotes. Better to leave on a high note, I guess.
4. Patrick Sharp
Everybody knew as the Blackhawks were hoisting the Stanley Cup that Patrick Sharp had played his last game in a Blackhawks uniform. His high cap hit, combined with massive contracts kicking in for Toews and Kane made it obvious that Chicago would have to part ways with their longtime scoring winger. The team found a taker in the Dallas Stars. Sharp’s numbers were declining in Chicago’s lineup but so far seems to have been reinvigorated playing with a young, explosive Stars lineup.
3. Joe Nieuwendyk
The New Jersey Devils of the dead puck era always seemed to know when to get a veteran presence and always seemed to know how to fill the missing piece. For their 2002 run, it was Joe Nieuwendyk and while they would fall short that year, Nieuwendyk’s leadership and playoff experience served them well in 2003. The Devils won their third Stanley Cup in eight years but would let him walk in free agency. Nieuwendyk would then sign with the Maple Leafs.
2. Nikolai Khabibulin
Nikolai Khabibulin was arguably the biggest reason why the Tampa Bay Lightning were able to get over the hump in 2004 from fringe contender to Stanley Cup favorites. Khabibulin played good hockey in the regular season, but he elevated his game in the playoffs, posting a 1.76 GAA, along with a .933 SV%, while going 16-7 in the postseason. Coming out of the lockout, the Lightning let Khabibulin test free agency and he signed a big four-year deal with Chicago. Khabibulin’s play dipped, so perhaps Tampa Bay made the right decision. They probably should have just found a better replacement than John Grahame.
1. Wayne Gretzky
Oh yeah, that’s right. In the midst of writing this list, I almost forgot that Wayne Gretzky was traded immediately after winning a Stanley Cup. It was the fourth Cup he’d help bring to Edmonton and it seemed several more would follow. Unfortunately, Peter Pocklington was low on cash and sent Gretzky off to L.A. along with Marty McSorley and Mike Krushelnyski for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, three first-round picks and $15 million. The Oilers would rebound in the short-term, winning the 1990 Stanley Cup, but their dynasty was over the second Gretzky was out of Edmonton.
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