Mats Sundin. Adam Oates, Marcel Dionne. Phil Housley. Eric Lindros. These are just a few of the names you’ll see in the Hockey Hall of Fame but not on the Stanley Cup. The list of great players who never managed to hoist Lord Stanley’s mug is longer than Zdeno Chara’s stick. As much as we like to focus on individual stars and singular narratives, hockey is a team sport and it takes an entire team to win. Thus, you end up with hall of fame players who dazzled on the ice but never got the opportunity to even play in a final, let alone win the Cup itself. Hockey can be a cruel sport sometimes.
But it doesn’t have to be if you pay your cards right. As old Ray Bourque taught us many years ago, you can spend your whole career with one team, but if it doesn’t work out, and you want that Cup, you got to go find a team who can get you there. Not every player thinks that way of course. Some are loyal to their teams, like where they live, and have settled there with their families, so moving away can be a real drag. Other players just go wherever they can make the most money. But if the 15 players on this list ever want to lift the Cup one day, they are going to have to leave their current clubs. As much as they might try to hope or rationalize, it’s just not going to work out.
16 Henrik Lundqvist
Henrik Lundqvist and his New York Rangers came so close. After several good playoff runs, the Rangers finally made the finals in 2014, but were just no match for the L.A. Kings. It’s been said that a team only has a short window to win a Cup. Furthermore, if a team does win it all, it seems to increase their chances of winning again (Chicago, L.A., Pittsburgh). So when you have a strong core that can challenge, you better get the job done. As King Henrik showed this year in the playoffs, rumors of his demise are greatly exaggerated. He’s still a world class goalie, but let’s face it, he’s not as good as he was at his peak. Furthermore, he was New York’s best player, and as he has gone, so have the Rangers. It seems highly unlikely now that the Blueshirts can mount a credible Cup challenge, and at 35 years old, King Henrik should start looking for a new location for his throne if he wants to add that all important piece of silverware to his collection.
15 Rick Nash
Rick Nash is a couple years younger than Lundqvist but it could be argued that he’s experienced a more precipitous drop off since his peak. As a big power forward, Nash’s career expectancy is slightly shorter than his peers. Given this, he may well regret spending so many years in Columbus playing for a Blue Jackets team that wasn’t even close to being competitive. Eventually Nash got fed up and got himself a trade to New York. And it nearly worked out. But a Prince of Wales Trophy is not what Nash was seeking. Now, on the downside of his career, Nash has a tough decision to make. He has one more year left on his $7.8 million per year deal. After that, Nash must decide if he’s willing to take a significant pay cut to join a team with a real chance at winning.
14 John Tavares
Rick Nash should be a warning to John Tavares. Like Nash, Tavares has one year remaining on his contract. Tavares might want to not do like Nash did and not devote his best years to the team that drafted him. In 2016, the Islanders finally won a playoff round. But they followed that up by missing out on the playoffs entirely in 2017. A bad year due to some injuries? Maybe. Or maybe the team is pretty much like has been for about thirty years - a complete mess. They don’t have a clear #1 goalie, they can’t find a consistently good winger for Tavares, and that Garth Snow is one of the league’s longest tenured general managers is baffling. Oh, and they might be evicted from their new home in Brooklyn and might have to go back to Uniondale, or even Hartford, or who knows where. This is not a good scene.
13 Shane Doan
Shane Doan is the player on this list who most definitely needs to leave his current team if he’s ever to win a Stanley Cup. Yet, he may also well be the least likely to do so. Doan is currently scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent come July 1. He has played his entire career with the Coyotes organization, having started his career in Winnipeg (the last active player to have played for the original Jets) and moved to Arizona when the team did in 1996.
He has had opportunities to go elsewhere before and has always opted to remain in Arizona. He’s built a life there, has his family there, and I guess he likes it there because he won’t leave. However, at 40, there’s no way the Coyotes are winning the Stanley Cup before time is up on Doan’s career.
12 Blake Wheeler
Speaking of the Winnipeg Jets, their captain might want to start looking for greener pastures. Blake Wheeler has never won a Stanley Cup, having been agonizingly traded by Boston at the 2011 trade deadline - the year they won the Cup. Wheeler was dealt to Atlanta, the franchise where he still remains. However, in all that time, Wheeler’s team has only made the playoffs once; a 4 game sweep by the Anaheim Ducks in 2015. Wheeler turns 31 later this year and has two years remaining on his current contract. The Jets do have a promising future with young guns like Mark Scheifele and Patrick Laine, but they don’t have a goalie, much of a defence, or depth up front. If he re-signs on a long term deal, he’s putting all his eggs in a precarious basket.
Perhaps a Marian Hossa-style pick-and-choose-teams with one-year contracts would be Wheeler’s best hope of winning a Cup.
11 Daniel Sedin
Similar to Doan are the Sedin twins. The difference being, the Sedin twins had a real chance to win the Cup with the Canucks. Apart from 2012 when the Coyotes somehow made it to the conference finals before being steamrolled by L.A., Doan has never won a playoff series. For a period during Daniel Sedin’s career, the Vancouver Canucks were consistently one of the best teams in the league. Both Sedins won an Art Ross trophy and they of course made it to game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals, only to taste bitter defeat at the hands of Boston. A goaltending controversy, bitter fans, and a riot later, and Vancouver has just faded away. The Sedins turn 37 this year and have one year remaining on their contracts. Do they bid goodbye to the only NHL club for which they’ve ever played?
10 Henrik Sedin
If the Sedins do stay in Vancouver, they’re not winning a Cup. No way. The Canucks finished dead last in the Pacific Division and are in a full-on rebuilding mode. At the very best case scenario, the Canucks could win a Cup in...eight, maybe seven years? If the Sedins are even playing then, they’ll be bit players, but it’s likely they’ll have retired by then. Will we see the Canucks to pressure the twins to accept a trade at the 2018 deadline to gain some assets? Perhaps. But we won’t be seeing captain Henrik be lifting the Cup above his head in a Canucks sweater. At least Henrik can say he won a Hart Trophy and Daniel never did. But then, Daniel won the Ted Lindsay Award. But neither have ever got that Cup.
9 Roberto Luongo
Roberto Luongo managed to do something the Sedins never did: he got out of Vancouver. Despite backstopping Vancouver to the finals in 2011, winning Olympic gold in Vancouver in 2010, and the William M. Jennings Trophy in 2011, many Canucks fans developed a strong enmity for Roberto Luongo. He became embroiled in a goaltending controversy with Corey Schneider only for the younger Schneider to shockingly be traded to New Jersey. Then Luongo was challenged by Eddie Lack before the Canucks finally shipped him back to the Panthers.
In Florida, Luongo has re-established himself as a number one goalie, but hasn’t gotten anywhere near the Cup, making the playoffs only once. At 38, is it likely this young Panthers team will develop and improve enough to win a Cup before Luongo’s career is done? The outlook is not so good.
8 Matt Duchene
In 2014, under Jack Adams Award winning coach Patrick Roy, the Avalanche looked poised to be a scary good team in the near future. They topped the Central Division and although they were ousted in the first round of the playoffs, they looked like an exciting team with a good young core. Fast forward three years and something has gone badly wrong. The 2016-17 season was a truly atrocious year for the Avs. Colorado was by far the worst team in the league, Roy has up and quit, and apart from Nathan MacKinnon, one gets the sense that GM Joe Sakic would be happy to ditch any of his players for a reasonable price. And that is especially true of Matt Duchene.
The 26-year-old forward has two years left on his contract but his numbers have steadily decreased. Several teams were reportedly interested in him around the deadline. Duchene would be wise to try to manufacture a move to contender rather than to re-sign with a team undergoing a major rebuilding with a rookie GM.
7 Carey Price
OK, Habs fans, I know you were dreading seeing this name on the list. Carey Price can absolutely steal a series for the Canadiens. But he can’t steal a whole Cup. What is the deal with Montreal? They went from missing the playoffs last year to first in the Atlantic this year. They’re a confusing team, but perhaps they’re simpler than people think. When Carey Price is healthy and on his game, they usually win. If he’s not, they almost certainly lose. Their first round loss to the Rangers should act as a warning for Price. As should the French-Canadian coaching carousel they’ve got going there, as well as the Subban-Weber trade. Weber is a fine player, but Subban made it to the finals with the Predators and that’s not a coincidence.
Price turns 30 this year and has one year remaining on his contract. He still has a few years as an elite level goalie, but if he wants his name on the Cup, he shouldn’t spend them in Montreal. For example, can you imagine what a team like Minnesota could do with Price in net? They’d be immediate Cup favorites.
6 Gabriel Landeskog
Pretty much everything that goes for Matt Duchene also goes for Gabriel Landeskog. Except Landeskog is the team captain, he’s 22 months younger, and he makes half a million less than Duchene. So maybe Landeskog has more options? Then again, his production is slightly worse than Duchene’s and his contract runs to 2021, so maybe not.
In any event, teams were sniffing around Landeskog, and one gets the sense that if the Avalanche are rebuilding, they’d like MacKinnon, as their franchise player, to be their captain. If they want to ship out Landeskog he should take advantage of the opportunity and leave. He doesn’t want to waste what should be his prime years on a terrible team. It looks like both Duchene and Landeskog could be on the move this offseason.
5 Joe Thornton
There was a period in the mid-to-late aughts when it seemed that everybody and his brother was picking the San Jose Sharks to win the Cup and they never did. Back-to-back conference final appearances in 2010 and 2011 erased the “choker” label, but they just couldn’t get it done. Their time had passed and the window had closed. Then, all of a sudden, in 2016 they made it all the way to finals!...before losing to Pittsburgh in perhaps the most lopsided six game series ever. And now Joe Thornton can look back on a great career of Olympic Gold and an Art Ross Trophy, but no Stanley Cup. On July 1 of this year he becomes a UFA and on July 2 he becomes 38. Should he re-sign and stay in San Jose, his longtime home? Well...
4 Patrick Marleau
Perhaps Jumbo Joe can confer with teammate Patrick Marleau. Marleau is the same age as Thornton and he is also a UFA come July 1. The only difference is Marleau has played his whole career for the Sharks, so he’s perhaps more sentimental. In any event, neither should expect to win a Cup with the Sharks in the last few years in their careers. With young teams like Edmonton and Calgary coming up, older powerhouse like Chicago and L.A. looking to reestablish themselves, and teams like Nashville, Anaheim, Minnesota, and St. Louis thinking they’re within their window to win, the Sharks don’t have a clear route forward. Their first round loss to Edmonton this year seems symbolic. Their time is finally up and Thornton and Marleau might want to exercise their freedom and sign with a true contender before it’s too late.
3 Jay Bouwmeester
Speaking of St. Louis, they’re in a weird spot. A trip to the conference finals in 2016 shook off their choker label, but they had a rocky 2016-17. They had to fire head coach Ken Hitchcock, trade away defensive linchpin Kevin Shattenkirk, and rely on Jake Allen bouncing back from a pretty bad first half of the season the make the playoffs and win a round. Will new coach Mike Yeo be the right man for the job? Will Allen establish himself as an undisputed #1? Will all the pieces fall into place by 2019? Well, probably not, and that’s when Jay Bouwmeester’s current contract is up.
Bouwmeester turns 34 this year so he has fewer years ahead of him than he has behind him. St. Louis could make a real go of it, but they’re not a young team and as mentioned above, there is stiff competition in the West. If Bouwmeester wants to drink champagne out of that Cup, he really ought to start looking elsewhere.
1 Alexander Ovechkin
My guess is half of the people reading this will balk at Ovechkin’s inclusion here and the other half will applaud his presence. But you probably all expected it. The Washington Capitals are an interesting case. They’ve essentially done everything right. They got Barry Trotz, Justin Williams, and Kevin Shattenkirk. This was supposed to be their year. But it wasn’t. They once again fell to their arch-rival Penguins and once again failed to advance past the second round. And there’s a reason why Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Braden Holtby aren’t on this list. It’s not because any of them are necessarily better than Ovie (though Backstrom is), it’s because they work with the system. How many coaches have been turfed out of D.C. because they didn’t gel with the Great 8?
Even this year, fans and analysts were up in arms about Barry Trotz limiting Ovie's ice time in the playoffs. Whether it’s the system or the atmosphere, Alex Ovechkin and Washington just don’t work in the playoffs. He turns 32 this year and although his contract runs until 2021, a move away might be best for both parties.
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