There are legends who have never held Lord Stanley over their heads. Some fell short, others waited too long to move to a contender, but many have had a chance or two to get it done. The players that miss out do so because their team couldn’t come through in the final round of the playoffs. Not many miss out because their teams were consistently awful either getting bounced out after squeaking into the post-season, or missing it entirely year after year.
In rare instances that’s exactly what happens. We watch as some of the top players in the NHL waste away on bad teams. Some struggle and remain loyal, hoping the impossible happens. Others get out sooner and find success in a stronger organization, or they might wait for their final seasons to find a contender and give it one last shot.
There are players you may disagree with and some you may find missing from the list. What determined who made the cut was the overall team record and season-to-season outcomes. The more playoff appearances meant the team wasn’t whole-heartedly awful. These 15 players are either playing, or have played on some of the most consistently bad NHL teams to date.
We left out players like former Ottawa Senator, Daniel Alfredsson. Despite Ottawa never truly being a cup-worthy team, they consistently competed in the Stanley Cup playoffs and even made it to the finals in 2007 when Alfredsson was playing his best hockey. In fact, out of the 16 seasons Alfredsson played with the organization he only missed the playoffs three times. Alfy didn’t make the cut but find out why another current Senator did.
Ten of the 15 players in this list remain cup-less today, a handful of them ran out of time while a few others are watching the last bit of sand fall through the hourglass.
Here are the top 15 NHL players whose talents were wasted on bad teams.
15 Jarome Iginla
Despite being one of the best players of his generation, Jarome Iginla has only played in 81 playoff games. That feels a little low for a 600-goal scorer and a future Hall of Famer. The problem for Iginla was that he found himself traded to a Flames team in ruins after being drafted by a rising Stars team. Iginla's first seven seasons included zero playoff appearances, despite a 96-point season in 2001-02 in which Iginla was a runner-up for the Hart Trophy.
When he finally got a chance in the playoffs, Iginla thrived, scoring 13 goals during the Flames' run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2004. Calgary would make it the following four years, but never got out of the first round. By the time Iginla got to Pittsburgh in 2013, he was past his prime, albeit still a very effective player. After runs in Pittsburgh and Boston, Iginla finds himself on a Colorado team that seems unsure whether it's rebuilding or should be playoff contenders.
14 Roberto Luongo
While Roberto Luongo found himself on some very good Vancouver teams following his trade out west and currently on a competitive Panthers team, Luongo's younger days were wasted on some terrible Panthers teams. He also played one year for the Islanders, who were a terrible team as well.
Florida didn't make the playoffs in Luongo's five seasons in his first stint in south Florida. His talent was obvious, but he was constantly peppered with over 40 shots a game, which hurt his stats.
Had Luongo been able to grow on a competitive team earlier in his career, it probably would have served him better later on.
13 Zigmund Palffy
Zigmund Palffy is a little forgotten when looking back on some of the better players of the 90s, but Palffy quietly averaged over a point per game in his career. Sadly, Palffy was stuck on an Islanders team in the mid to late 90s that was going through turmoil in ownership. Despite posting 331 points in six seasons on Long Island, the Islanders couldn't make the playoffs.
After going to L.A., Palffy finally got a chance to play in the postseason, as the Kings made the playoffs in three of Palffy's five seasons in Los Angeles. Unfortunately they were never able to make it past the second round.
Palffy would retire after one year with a rebuilding Penguins team in 2005-06.
12 Steven Stamkos
No, the Tampa Bay Lightning are not the worst team but for much of the eight seasons Steven Stamkos has worn their jersey, they weren't a good team. Steven Stamkos is arguably one of the top five players in the world. The Lightning have only made two deep playoff runs since drafting Stamkos eight years ago, and rumors were starting to spread that Stamkos wanted out. General manger, Steve Yzerman has put the rumors to bed for now, but Stamkos hasn’t signed a new contract with the Lightning and may be headed for free agency. Many would like to see him sign with a contender and really flex his scoring abilities before his best years are behind him.
11 Phil Kessel
Admit it, we all gave Kessel flack for not being as great as he was touted to be in Toronto. Truth be told, Kessel is far from a bust and the numbers he put up with one of the worst performing NHL franchises proves he had the potential to be one of the best. In his first season with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Kessel has found a niche with the talented roster, finishing with a plus/minus of plus-9, the first time finishing over zero since leaving Boston back in 2008. His years in Toronto were wasted, but watching what Marian Hossa has done in Chicago, we hope this is just the beginning of a fresh start Kessel’s been desperately deserving of.
10 Erik Karlsson
Karlsson is the best offensive-defenseman in the league, and it’s no longer an argument as much as it was a few years ago. Unlike Alfredsson, Karlsson has already missed the playoffs three times in six years and watched his team get bounced out of the playoffs rather quickly when they squeak in. Despite this, Karlsson continues to put up the numbers you’d expect your best forward to produce. As much flack as he gets for his defensive liability, anyone who watches Ottawa hockey knows he can only do so much. It’s truly astonishing how quickly he can get back into the play or create a scoring chance. He’s a special player whose talent is being wasted on a bad team.
9 Shane Doan
Selected 7th overall by the Winnipeg Jets in the 1995 NHL draft, Doan wasn’t a star out of the gate and only really started to come into his own in the 1999-00 season. It would be another two more seasons before Doan was given captaincy of the team, and Doan has remained loyal through his 20 seasons in the NHL. Doan’s never been a big goal scorer but his natural talent, consistency, and leadership on the ice is undisputed. If Doan had signed with another team early in his career it would be hard to argue his production could have doubled seeing how he played on team Canada’s rosters.
8 Marian Hossa
The best of Marian Hossa’s career was spent playing for the Ottawa Senators and Atlanta Thrashers. During his time with Ottawa, Hossa was a top point producer and helped the team squeeze into the playoffs a few times. Never a cup contender in his time there, Ottawa eventually shipped the Slovakian to Atlanta for Dany Heatley. Hossa would spend three seasons with the Thrashers and in that time became the first Atlanta player to reach 100 points in 2007. After his contract ended he jumped on with Pittsburgh, then the Detroit Red Wings and finally the Chicago Blackhawks where he’s now enjoying the benefits of a winning team.
7 Marian Gaborik
Gaborik was selected 3rd overall by the NHL’s expansion team, the Minnesota Wild. He netted a couple of 30-goal seasons in just his 2nd and 3rd year and added 17 points in the Wild’s first ever playoff run in 2003. The Wild would only make two more, very brief trips to the post-season in Gaborik’s eight seasons with the team. He’d leave as the all-time goals, assists, and point leader for the franchise. Gaborik went on to have three great seasons with the Rangers and two rough seasons with Blue Jackets, before leading the Los Angeles Kings to a Stanely Cup in 2014 with 14 playoff goals. It’s too bad Minnesota hogged him for so long.
6 John Tavares
The highly touted and first overall selection in the 2009 Entry Draft by the New York Islanders, John Tavares was everything the Islanders could ask for. Unfortunately for Tavares, the Islanders were up until very recently, a very bad hockey team. Tavares has been a huge part of the franchise turnaround and continues to be a leader the organization can build around. It’s hard to argue that his time in Long Island has really suppressed his potential. Still considered one of the best players in the NHL right now, we can safely assume he’d have the numbers to back it up if he were on a better team.
5 Pavel Bure
The Russian rocket was one of the greatest natural goal scorers to ever hit the ice. He left the Soviet Union to join the NHL with the Vancouver Canucks. He single-handedly carried the team in back to back deep playoff runs in his first two NHL seasons. Unfortunately that was as good as the team would ever be, and they quickly fizzled out over the next several seasons. During his last four seasons with Vancouver, Bure’s team couldn’t muster a playoff berth, eventually moving Bure to Florida.
There, Bure helped the struggling Panthers squeak into the playoffs in 2000 but were eliminated in the first round. That would be the last time Bure would compete in the NHL postseason, retiring in 2006 after the NHL lockout. Bure was still inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2012 but we can’t help but think what could have been if Bure was part of a better club.
4 Rick Nash
Not many can accomplish what Rick Nash did in Columbus; a consistent 30-goal scorer in nine seasons with one of the worst clubs in the NHL. Nash has been a dominating power forward whose only discredit was being loyal to the Blue Jackets. His success with Canada in International tournaments may have been enough to feed his desire to win over the years, but the time finally came when Nash moved to New York to play with the Rangers. A winning organization was just what the doctor ordered when Nash put up a career best 42 goals in the 2014-15 season and helped his team reach the Conference Finals. We imagine Nash’s point totals would look a lot different if he played on a better team earlier in his career.
3 Ilya Kovalchuk
Kovalchuk spent his best years on a terrible Atlanta Thrashers hockey team and posted numbers with the NHL’s elite goal scorers despite his situation. Poor Ilya only saw the post season very briefly in 2007 when Atlanta acquired fellow European, Marian Hossa. Kovalchuck stuck it out with Atlanta until 2010 before he agreed on a controversial $100 million deal with the New Jersey Devils. In 2012, Kovalchuk showed us what could have been when he posted 83 points in 77 games and 19 more in the playoffs leading his team all the way to Game 6 of the Stanely Cup final, where the Devils fell short and Kovalchuk ended his impressive career in the NHL a year later.
2 Connor McDavid
Where were you when the NHL announced that another 1st overall pick was going to the Edmonton Oilers in 2015? The outpouring of remorse for Connor McDavid’s career went viral with hashtags like #RIPMcDavidsCareer.
It’s true, the biggest talent to hit the NHL since Sidney Crosby was believed to be wasted on the league’s most undeserving team. There wasn’t enough room on this list for Hall, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins, and even Yakupov so we’re squeezing them in here. Nobody wants to see McDavid fail, but the best way to avoid it was to keep him from Edmonton.
Good luck Connor, we’re all rooting for you.
1 Marcel Dionne
Dionne is best known for being one of the greatest players to never win a Stanley Cup. It wasn’t due to a lack of effort either, He scored 90 or more points in 12 of his 19 NHL seasons. he also never finished a season with less than 70 points with the exception of his final year (23 points in 37 games).
From 1971-1989 Dionne played for the Detroit Red Wings (‘71-’75) without a playoff appearance, Los Angeles Kings (’75-’87) which never saw the team survive the 2nd round, and finally the New York Rangers (’87-’89) when he was traded for a chance at the cup but fell short once more.
Dionne was truly an otherworldly hockey talent with bad timing.