March 29, 2011
"But he never won a Cup."
It's a caveat we've heard countless times in debates about hockey immortality. A player — let's call him "Gike Martner" or "Reremy Joenick" — will have compiled incredible numbers for his career, ranking among the best of his generation in the NHL. But if the rest of his peers have a ring and he doesn't, fans are always going to view it as something between a deficiency and a small-scale travesty.
Every year in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, there's some aging star or beloved grunt trying to win his first Stanley Cup. Raymond Bourque with the Colorado Avalanche. Dave Andreychuk with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Marian Hossa(notes) with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Sometimes, we want to see classic careers, or classy individuals, honored. Other times, we want to see a perpetually snake-bitten player in the postseason, or a player that's slummed with losing teams for the majority of his career, finally experience the ultimate level of success in the NHL.
While the playoff picture hasn't been cemented for the 2011 postseason, we can safely assume some teams are in. Coming up, the 10 players from those playoff teams that haven't won a ring … but that we'd sure like to see hoist the Stanley Cup before they're done.
(Ed. Note: Because there's already backlash on this, we didn't include Iginla because we don't believe the Flames are going to make the cut. Obviously, if the games-played were different and Calgary was in a better position to quality, he'd be top of the list.)
Regular and Postseason Games Played: 895 and 77.
Closest Brush with Stanley: The 2001-02 season, in which the Toronto Maple Leafs lost in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Carolina Hurricanes, 4-2. Kaberle had 10 points in 20 games and was a plus-7 to lead the team. Alas, three OT losses to the Canes did the Buds in.
Why He Deserves a Ring: A high-profile defenseman (and potential mercenary) is begrudgingly traded from the only team he's ever known to a legit contender, with the hopes of winning his first Stanley Cup? Hell, it worked for No. 77 ...
Regular and Postseason Games Played: 686 and 74.
Closest Brush with Stanley: In the 2002-03 season, when the Canucks held a 3-1 lead over the Minnesota Wild in the conference semifinals, only to see Jacques Lemaire's boys rally for the seven-game victory. That one hurt. Not this badly, but it hurt.
Why He Deserves a Ring: Because he's the kind of good soldier whose years of service merit that kind of honor. And also because we have a morbid curiousity as to how he'll be injured on his day with the Cup. (Our bet: Drops Stanley on his foot and his groin somehow explodes.)
Regular and Postseason Games Played: 1,305 and 90.
Closest Brush with Stanley: Last postseason during the Canadiens' Halak-led run to the conference finals, before the Philadelphia Flyers dropped the hammer … lick.
Why He Deserves a Ring: Because he's put in his time in the NHL, and hung in there through some lean years -- like when he was minus-a-billion for the Tampa Bay Lightning from 1992-98. Also, it would be nice to see a Top 5 pick from the 1992 Draft win the Cup … and we've stopped waiting for Yashin to come back.
Regular and Postseason Games Played: 1,129 and 51
Closest Brush with Stanley: The 2001-02 Leafs, who fell to the Hurricanes in the conference finals.
Why He Deserves a Ring: Well … er … let's face it, Bryan McCabe doesn't exactly have beloved status around the NHL. He's remembered for gaffes like this and like this. He's remembered for inspiring Facebook fan pages like "How To Spend $7,150,000 Better Than On Bryan McCabe." So maybe that's it. Maybe we'd just like to see the perennial punchline win the Cup. Or, at the very least, play for the Cup and lose it on an own-goal in Game 7.
Regular and Postseason Games Played: 561 and 33.
Closest Brush with Stanley: With the 2005-06 Edmonton Oilers, when Roloson posted a 2.33 GAA and a .927 save percentage before getting injured in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals and watching Ty Conklin do this.
Why He Deserves a Ring: Unfinished business from that Cup run, and the fact that a goaltender that was born before "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" was released in theaters is still kicking ass.
Regular and Postseason Games Played: 889 and 35.
Closest Brush with Stanley: You'd have to go all the way back to 1999 with the Leafs, in which he played 13 of 17 games during their run to the conference finals, which ended with a 4-1 series loss to the Sabres. He had six points and 14 PIM in those games.
Why He Deserves a Ring: Oh, something about a two-year fight against a back injury that could have ended his career. You'd think the Hockey Gods would have already given him a ring, since they're clearly watching over him.
Regular and Postseason Games Played: 989 and 91.
Closest Brush with Stanley: Last season, when the Sharks survived a scare from the Avs, dominated the Red Wings and then were folded up and placed back on the shelf by the eventual champs from Chicago.
Why He Deserves a Ring: OK, so "deserves" is going to be a term that will cause derision amongst the readers who don't exactly view Jumbo has a sympathetic figure. And by that we mean those who think he's a titanic choke artist. But that label's been worn out and, at some point later in his career, there's going to be a Thornton lovefest once his career numbers overtake those of NHL legends. A Stanley Cup to his credit erases the knocks on his postseason performances and will eventually elevate his stature as one of the best players of his era. Because he is.
Regular and Postseason Games Played: 932 and 54.
Closest Brush with Stanley: With the Montreal Canadiens in 2002, scoring 10 points in 12 games before the Habs lost to Carolina in the semifinals. This was, of course, Koivu's legendary comeback from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Why He Deserves a Ring: Did we mention the non-Hodgkin's lymphoma? Koivu has been a consummate pro during his 15 NHL seasons, all but two of them spent in Montreal where he served as captain. Well-liked, has overcome adversity and turns 37 in November; it'd be a kick to see him with the Cup.
Regular and Postseason Games Played: 1,062 and 87.
Closest Brush with Stanley: The Edmonton Oilers' underdog run at the Cup in 2005-06, in which Smyth scored 16 points in 24 games before the Oil lost to the Hurricanes in the seventh game of the Cup Finals.
Why He Deserves a Ring: The personification of the hard-nosed, selfless, gritty leader that the NHL simply doesn't seem to make any more. He's seen more injuries than the entire episodic run of "E.R." Plus, who wouldn't want to see Captain Canada blubbering like Jeremy Roenick(notes) watching a Blackhawks Cup DVD when he takes the Chalice back to Alberta?
Regular and Postseason Games Played: 1,114 and 35.
Closest Brush with Stanley: Doan has never played a Stanley Cup Playoff semifinal game. In 1999, his Coyotes went seven games with the St. Louis Blues.
Why He Deserves a Ring: Like Smyth, a throwback player whose talent and value have gone underappreciated for the better part of two decades. For the last two years, he's been a model of professionalism while the franchise has been in financial and ownership turmoil. The Coyotes winning the Cup would be a sports fable; Doan hoisting it first would be the ultimate symbol of perseverance.
And, god willing, it would give us a few more of these.