/Players Most Deserving of Their First Stanley Cup

Players Most Deserving of Their First Stanley Cup

It seems like every championship team has a player or two who had been waiting so long. Players who had enjoyed plenty of success in their distinguished careers except the greatest of them all – raising the Stanley Cup. This year, it was one of the greatest duos ever in Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom who finally won their first Cup in their 13th and 11th campaigns, respectively. While it’s not every year a player of Ovechkin’s or Backstrom’s caliber ending their long drought, there’s usually a player or two who had to go through the wringer to raise the Cup.  In 2017, it was Ron Hainsey with Pittsburgh. Underappreciated vets like Kimmo Timonen and Antoine Vermette did it in 2015, Michael Handzus in 2014, and Zdeno Chara in 2011.

While there are many players whose long droughts came to an end, not everyone is that lucky. Since the season ended, future Hall-of-Famers Jarome Iginla and the Sedin twins hung it up for the last time without ever reaching hockey’s grandest stage.

With the long list of deserving players getting shorter every year, here are ten players who despite a long, prominent career have had Lord Stanley’s Cup elude them:

 

Pekka Rinne

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Taken in the 8th round of the 2004 NHL Draft by the Predators, the now 35-year-old netminder from Kempele, Finland has spent the last decade in Music City and been one of the best in the league since joining the Predators full-time in 2008. Rinne has consistently been in the conversation for the title of best in the league and despite being on the wrong side of 35, he seems to only be getting better with age – earning an invite to the All-Star Game in both 2016 and 2018. To go along with his 2018 All-Star Game invitation, the 35-year-old posted a career-high 42 wins, a league-best .927 save percentage, and took home his first Vezina Trophy.

In his ten full seasons with Nashville, Rinne has suited up in 657 total games and posted an incredible 311-168-66 record with a career .919 save percentage – good for 12th best in NHL history – leaving little doubt that he will end up in the Hockey Hall of Fame when it’s all said and done.

With Rinne between the pipes, the Predators have qualified for seven out of the last ten postseasons including the last four. As he usually does, Rinne has shined in the playoffs with his finest effort coming in 2017 as he carried the eighth-seeded Predators all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. Along the way, Rinne posted a .930 save percentage and a 1.96 GAA with two shutouts to his credit. While Rinne was instrumental in Nashville’s unforeseen run to the Final, his game tapered a bit against the Penguins as he was pulled early from two games before being eliminated by the Penguins in six games as they claimed their second straight title.

 

Future Chances

As Rinne enters the final year of his contract, it doesn’t seem likely that he would hang it up at season’s end unless it ends with a parade in Nashville. With arguably the best defensive group headed by P.K. Subban and a deep crop of forwards, if Rinne can continue to play at an all-star level, there are few teams with a better chance at the Cup than Nashville.

 

 

Blake Wheeler

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One of the four Atlanta Thrashers players still on the Winnipeg Jets roster, Blake Wheeler has been quietly been a superstar for the up-and-coming Jets. Drafted by the Boston Bruins 5th overall in 2004, Wheeler made his NHL debut in 2008 and was an instant producer with 45 points and finished sixth in the Calder Trophy race. The Minnesota native continued to impress with Boston but was moved at the 2011 deadline to Atlanta in exchange for Rich Peverley and Boris Valabik. While Wheeler and the Thrashers missed out on the postseason in their final season in Atlanta, the Bruins went on to win the Stanley Cup with Peverley playing a big role.

Wheeler made the move to Winnipeg in 2011 and has been with the team through all its ups-and-downs. Now 31 years old, he is among the leaders in almost every category in Thrashers/Jets history. Wheeler is second to only Ilya Kovalchuk in points (495), seventh in games played (557), third in goals (172), and first in assists (323).

This past year was a year of firsts for the second reincarnation of the Winnipeg Jets as they won their first playoff game and playoff series. Coming off a career-best 91 points in the regular season, Wheeler captained the Jets through two series wins including a grueling seven-game series with the Nashville Predators to make their first Conference Finals appearance but were ousted by the newly-formed Golden Knights in five games.

 

Future Chances

With a strong stable of young forwards in Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers, and Kyle Connor and a Vezina Trophy finalist in Connor Hellebuyck, Wheeler and the Jets should once again find themselves near the top of the Western Conference and a top contender for the Stanley Cup.

 

 

Roberto Luongo

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At 39 years old, Roberto Luongo is easily the oldest active goaltender and the third-oldest active player in the league. Drafted in 1997 by the New York Islanders, the Quebec native’s career has spanned over 19 years playing for three different teams – one for the Islanders, ten with Florida in two stints, and eight with Vancouver. In the near two decades, Luongo is fourth all-time with 471 wins and will in all likelihood pass Ed Belfour (484 wins) for third place. He’s seventh in all-time save percentage (.920), a two-time All-Star, and despite the fact he will turn 40 next season, Luongo is still getting it done. While he’s no longer the workhorse he once was, his production is still very admirable as he posted a .929 save percentage in 35 games in 2017-18 at the ripe age of 38.

In his 19 seasons, Luongo has only qualified for the playoffs seven times – six times with Vancouver and just once with Florida. The closest he’s come to claiming an ever-elusive Stanley Cup was in 2011 where, as the backbone of the President Trophy winning Vancouver Canucks, Luongo reached his first Stanley Cup Final. Looking to win Vancouver’s first Stanley Cup along with his own, the Canucks took the Boston Bruins to seven games but were ousted 4-0 in the deciding Game 7.

 

Future Chances

Luongo still has four more years on the massive 12-year deal he signed with Vancouver in 2009 which would keep him under contract through his age-43 season in 2022. In his second stint with the Panthers, Luongo has reached the playoff just once in 2015-16 and has yet to win a playoff series. The Panthers are coming off a 96-point campaign after a rough start thanks to a historic 25-5-3 finish to the season but finished just outside the playoff picture. The team will return almost their entire roster from last season and made a splash with acquiring top-line winger Mike Hoffman. The Atlantic Division is stacked with the Lightning, Bruins, and Maple Leafs, but the Panthers have a good chance to sneak in as a wildcard if Luongo can remain healthy.

 

 

Shea Weber

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Widely considered one of the best defensemen of the last decade, Shea Weber was an anchor on the Predators’ blue line for over a decade before being traded to Montreal two summers ago. A four-time all-star and a constant finalist for the Norris Trophy, the now-32-year-old has been the ideal blueprint for today’s NHL defenseman for over 13 seasons with his elite defensive play and a heavy shot. Over 867 games, Weber is second among all active defenseman with 189 goals and is 13th all-time in goals per game (0.218) among defenseman.

While with Nashville, Weber helped the Predators to 8 playoff appearances but was unable to push them past the second round to the Western Conference Finals – a feat the Predators accomplished the season after trading Weber. The closest Weber and the Predators came was in 2016 where they took the San Jose Sharks to Game 7 before being eliminated with a 5-0 loss to the eventual Western Conference Champions.

 

Future Chances

About to enter his third season with Montreal, Weber is coming off an injury-ridden 2017-18 season which limited him to just 26 games. Without him, the Canadiens stumbled through a 71-point season and missed the playoffs. As the season lurks around the corner, Weber is still recovering from two surgeries – one on his left foot and one on the meniscus in his right knee. As it stands right now, it looks like Weber will miss the start of the season as he continues to rehab. Since joining Montreal two years ago, Weber has continued to be the great player he was with Nashville, but the team around him seems to be heading towards an imminent rebuild. The Canadiens still have some nice pieces with Jonathan Drouin returning, Brendan Gallagher, Jeff Petry, Max Pacioretty for the time being, and Carey Price, obviously. The team also added Max Domi but for the price of Alex Galchenyuk. It will be tough for Montreal to claw its way back into the playoffs especially in a loaded division like the Atlantic.

 

 

Joe Pavelski

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Once overlooked as he fell all the way to 205th overall in the seventh round of the 2003 NHL Draft, Joe Pavelski has proven himself among one of the league’s best goal scorers and continues to consistently produce at 34. As he enters his 12th season, the American-born Sharks Captain has played in 888 games, amassed 697 points, posting six seasons of 25 goals. Among American-born players, he ranks fourth in points, third in goals, ninth in assists, and 11th in games played.

Like Pavelski, the Sharks are still looking for their Stanley Cup Championship and it’s certainly not because of a lack of opportunities as they have failed to make the playoffs just once during Pavelski’s tenure. During that span, the Sharks have appeared in three Conference Finals and made their first Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2016 where Pavelski played a huge role; with a team-leading 14 goals from their captain, the Sharks took out the Kings, Predators, and Blues but had their championship hopes sunk at the hands of the Penguins in six games.

 

Future Chances

The Sharks have probably been the most consistent team in the West for most of the last decade. Despite the fact their core is aging with Burns and Pavelski pushing 35 and Thornton nearing the end of the line, none of them have shown any signs of dropping off and the Sharks should still have a few more runs in them. Returning in 2018-19 will be almost the exact same team that netted them 100 points last year and, barring a major injury, will find themselves right in the thick of the playoff race come spring.

 

 

Claude Giroux

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Once a rising superstar who became one of the finest players in the league in the early 2010s, Claude Giroux saw a consistent drop-off in production over the past few years bottoming out at 58 points in 2016-17 – his lowest total since his first full season in 2009. The sharp decline in points left Flyers’ fans unsure whether their captain could ever return to his former self as he was pushing 30. Well, it’s safe to say those thoughts were put to rest last season. With a move from center to left wing, Giroux put together a personal-best campaign and reminded his doubters just how great he can be – totaling a career-high in goals (34), assists (68) and points (102). With his offensive revelation, the Ontario native further solidified his case as one of the best players of this generation yet to hoist the Cup with 677 points which rank him ninth among all players over the past decade.

While Giroux and the Flyers have, for the most part, enjoyed regular season success, their playoff track record is still underwhelming. With three straight first-round exits in their last three postseason appearances in 2014, 2016, and 2018, Philadelphia is without a series victory since 2012.

Giroux’s closest shot at getting his name on the Cup came in 2010 – his first full season – as the Flyers went on a magical run to the Cup Finals including a historic 3-0 comeback against the Boston Bruins. Unfortunately for Giroux, the Flyers ran into a Blackhawks team who was about to become a dynasty as they ousted the Flyers in six games.

 

Future Chances

With Giroux healthy and looking like his former self again, the Flyers are looking like they’re ready to get themselves back into contention. Their core of Giroux, Voracek, Couturier, and Simmonds is still among the best in the league and the highly-touted prospect pool that Ron Hextall has built is starting to leak into the NHL.  Talented, young guys Nolan Patrick, Ivan Provorov, Shayne Gostisbehere, and Travis Konecny seem to be coming into their own and with the addition of a top free agent in James van Riemsdyk, Philadelphia could surprise some people this season and in years to come.

 

 

Henrik Lundqvist

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One of the best goaltenders of all-time and the probably the best goalie since 2000 not named Martin Brodeur, King Henrik’s 13-year reign in New York has been nothing short of dominant. Selected 205th overall by the Rangers in the 2000 NHL Draft, Lundqvist broke into the NHL five years later in 2005 at the age of 23 and quickly became one of the league’s best. With 30 wins as a rookie, his presence in net instantly turned the Rangers into a contender after nearly a decade of mediocrity following their Stanley Cup Championship in 1994. Now 36 years old with 805 games under his belt, Lundqvist is a ninth all-time in save percentage (.919%), a Vezina Trophy winner, a two-time All-Star, and the quickest goalie to 400 wins, the King has done it all during his time in the Big Apple.

The Rangers have been a staple in the playoffs for much of Lundqvist’s career; missing just out twice since 2005. He is 11th all-time in playoff games played with 128 which is second among active goalies and has posted incredible numbers – a .922 save percentage and a 2.28 GAA. Lundqvist has backstopped New York to much regular season success to go along three Eastern Conference Finals in 2012, 2014, and 2015 with a trip to the Cup Final in 2014, but they always seem to flame out in the playoffs. In the Rangers’ first trip to the Cup Finals twenty years after their 1994 championship and Henrik’s first and only appearance, they were outmatched by the Los Angeles Kings in just five games which saw the Kings win three games in overtime.

 

Future Chances

It’s no secret that Lundqvist is on the wrong side of 35 and has seen his play slip the past two seasons. The King is coming off a career-low in wins (excluding the lockout season in 2012-13) with 26 and has seen his GAA bloat to 2.98 in 2018. With Lundqvist on the downside of his career, the Rangers are headed towards a major rebuild after offloading Ryan McDonagh, J.T. Miller, Rick Nash, Michael Grabner, and Nick Holden at last year’s trade deadline. It doesn’t seem likely that Lundqvist will still be around when the Rangers finally become competitive again and the only chance he stands at hoisting the cup would be if New York can deal the 36-year-old to a contender. However, according to a report from the New York Post, Lundqvist is loyal to the Rangers despite their new direction of a rebuild.

 

 

Patrick Marleau

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Coming into the league in 1997 at the age of 18, Patrick Marleau’s illustrious career has spanned over three different decades. Through his twenty years in the NHL, Marleau is first among all active players with 1,575 games played, has posted over 1,100 points and is still producing at the tail-end of his career. As he pushes 40, Marleau is still a premier goal-scorer in a league full of young talent. With three straight seasons of 25 or more goals, not many guys have had the longevity that we have seen from Marleau.

Through his nineteen seasons in San Jose and one in Toronto, Marleau and his team have appeared in the playoffs 18 times and reached the Conference Finals four times. After three failed attempts in the Conference Finals in 2004, 2010, and 2011, Marleau and the Sharks finally reached their first Stanley Cup Final in 2016 but were bested by the Penguins in six for their first of two straight Cups.

 

Future Chances

As he heads into his second season in Toronto, the pressure has never been higher for the Leafs to end their drought after winning the John Tavares sweepstakes. Adding Tavares to an already stacked group of forwards featuring Auston Mathews, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner has the oddsmakers in Vegas picking the Leafs as the 7:1 favorites to win the Stanley Cup in 2019.

 

Joe Thornton

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Another longtime Shark still looking for his first Cup, Joe Thornton is one of the most dominant players of our generation. Drafted by the Bruins second overall over 21 years ago, Thornton broke into the NHL at the age of 18 and quickly became an elite all-around player. Playing 7 and a half seasons in Boston before being traded to San Jose in 2005, ‘Jumbo Joe’ has one of the most impressive resumes by a forward in the history of the NHL. A league MVP and Art Ross Trophy winner in 2006, Thornton has racked up 1,427 points over 1,493 games and is twelfth all-time in assists with 1,030.

His time in Boston went without making it past the second round so, like his longtime teammates in Pavelski and Thornton, Thornton has only reached the Stanley Cup once where they fell to Pittsburgh in 2016.

 

Future Chances

The Sharks window is closing and so is Thornton’s career. After signing a one-year contract to stay in San Jose this summer, it’s not unlikely that this could be his last go-around. If this is the final season Thornton dawns an NHL jersey, he will look to rebound from an injury-plagued campaign in 2017 and help the Sharks to their fourth-straight season and for the fourteenth time in the last fifteen years. If Thornton can remain healthy, the Sharks will return much of the same team that finished with 100 points in 2017-18 and could make one more run in a stacked Western Conference if everything falls into place.

 

 

Honorable Mentions

Ryan Kesler, Forward, 33 – 941 games, 565 points, Selke Trophy winner

Ryan Suter, Defense, 33 – 991 games, 493 points

Mike Giordano, Defense, 34 – 755 games (all with Calgary), 378 points, only eight playoff games in his career

Craig Anderson, Goaltender, 36 – 564 games played, 174-124-40 record .914 save percentage, 2.76 GAA

 

Stats from www.quanthockey.com and www.hockeyreference.com

Dean is a lifelong Philadelphia sports fan (note the Carson Wentz photoshop) and an aspiring sportswriter. He is a student at Millersville University where he is studying sports journalism. The primary way of contacting Dean is at this email: dsnock@gnghockey.com.