Ranking NHL players who need a Stanley Cup

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As the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrated their second straight Stanley Cup championship last summer, my eyes were drawn to one player: defenseman David Savard.

He had played 597 NHL regular-season games and 37 more in the playoffs before the Columbus Blue Jackets traded him to the Lightning at the deadline. He walked into a locker room filled with newly fitted Stanley Cup rings from 2020, having never played for one yet in his career — no pressure, new guy.

After Game 5 against Montreal, Steven Stamkos collected the Stanley Cup from the commissioner and passed it to Victor Hedman, who then gave it to Savard. Hedman did this out of tradition: The longest-serving veteran who has yet to raise the Cup will usually receive it early in the celebration. Because he played hundreds of games in an unforgiving sport for that moment. Because he dreamed about it every day as a kid, from the driveway net to the local rink. Because the wait is finally over.

That’s why the Stanley Cup celebrations never get old: It will always be someone’s first time. In the 2022 NHL postseason, there are multitudes of players seeking their first drink from the Cup. Some are legends of the game, some are just entering their prime.

Here are my tiered rankings of the Cup-less wonders of the upcoming playoffs.

(And if you think there are some names missing from their tiers, you might want to skip to the end …)

The legends

Claude Giroux, Florida Panthers (34 years old)
Joe Pavelski, Dallas Stars (37)
Ryan Suter, Dallas Stars (37)
Joe Thornton, Florida Panthers (42)

Beard don’t lie: Thornton has played 1,712 regular-season games to lead all active players, and 186 playoff games, which is second only to Zdeno Chara among active players. He has played for the Stanley Cup once, with the San Jose Sharks in 2016. Pavelski was on that team, and then ran it back with the Stars in the 2020 bubble playoffs for a second crack at the Cup, falling short both times. Suter, his teammate on the Stars, has never advanced past the second round of the playoffs despite appearing in 1,277 regular-season games.

Giroux’s only trip to the Final was in that wild 2010 series against the Chicago Blackhawks, forever remembered for Chris Pronger stealing pucks and Patrick Kane‘s Cup-winning goal puck potentially suffering the same fate.

As much as we recognize it’s the result of uncontrollable circumstances and therefore should not be weighed as the ultimate career validation … winning the Stanley Cup remains pretty career validating, you know?

Thornton doesn’t need one for validation. He’s going into the Hall of Fame as one of the greatest playmakers in NHL history. But the other three legacies would be bolstered with a ring.

Giroux helping the Panthers to their first Cup as a trade deadline coup would be the stuff of legend. Pavelski ending up with a Stanley Cup and three trips to the Final while being the fourth-leading active postseason goal-scorer — behind some guys named Ovechkin, Crosby and Malkin — would solidify his reputation as Captain Clutch.


The ‘old guy without a Cup’ tier

Derick Brassard, Edmonton Oilers (34 years old)
Andrew Cogliano, Colorado Avalanche (34)
Alexander Edler, Los Angeles Kings (35)
Nick Foligno, Boston Bruins (34)
Jack Johnson, Colorado Avalanche (35)
Ryan Reaves, New York Rangers (35)
Kris Russell, Edmonton Oilers (35 on May 2)
Mike Smith, Edmonton Oilers (40)
Mats Zuccarello, Minnesota Wild (34)

(Yes, we were also surprised to learn that Zuccarello turns 35 in September. But in fairness, that’s young for a Hobbit.)

The “old guy without a Cup,” as coined by my friend Sean McIndoe, is usually closer to Smith’s age bracket than some of these spry 34-year-olds are. In this tier ranking, these are veteran players who aren’t quite at the legendary level, but still notable. Think 40-year-old Kimmo Timonen winning with the Blackhawks in 2015, for example.

But each of these players has had the kind of career for which a Stanley Cup championship could conjure years of grunt-like sacrifice for whatever team they’re playing on. Russell fearlessly blocking shots. Reaves fearlessly taking (and delivering) punches. Cogliano’s consecutive games streak. Brassard having kicked around 10 different franchises. Johnson … well, having lived the interesting life of Jack Johnson, one supposes.

One name missing here: 34-year-old St. Louis Blues forward James Neal, last seen getting called out by Shooter McGavin while with the AHL Springfield Thunderbirds.


The ‘we’re afraid to see what happens if they don’t win’ tier

Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

Of all the reasons I’d like to see the Colorado Avalanche win the Stanley Cup — ranging from validation of tremendous analytics-driven management to seeing what Nazem Kadri‘s day with the Cup in Ontario would look like — the most prominent one is not having to witness a MacKinnon post-playoff-elimination news conference.

Granted, last season’s edition was a bit spicy! But for the most part, there’s no joy in seeing one of the NHL’s most intense competitors vacillating between sullenness and simmering anger, like an emo kid whose parents won’t pay for My Chemical Romance tickets. I want to see this superstar flush with a sense of accomplishment! And then I’d like to see him drink a Mountain Dew and eat a sleeve of Oreos to celebrate.

McDavid can be equally as frustrated by a lack of success, having said things like “I’m sick of losing” and “the regular season doesn’t mean anything” regarding the Oilers’ postseason failures. There’s a bit more pressure on MacKinnon than McDavid this postseason, but another year without a series victory could send McDavid spiraling again.


The aging stars tier

Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars (32 years old)
Matt Duchene, Nashville Predators (31)
Taylor Hall, Boston Bruins (30)
Artemi Panarin, New York Rangers (30)

Only Benn has played for the Stanley Cup in this group, having done so with Dallas in the 2020 bubble playoffs. Panarin arrived in Chicago after the dynasty. Duchene (28 playoff games) has the narrow lead over Hall (25 playoff games) in postseason experience.

Special shoutout to Duchene here, who went from a player that Nashville fans were hoping the Seattle Kraken might take off their team’s roster, to the first 40-goal season of his 13-year NHL career — an increase of 28 goals over last season. It’s times like these I wish the NHL had an award for comeback player of the year. I know that’s partly what the Masterton Trophy covers, but I’d much rather have players like Duchene competing against fellow statistical turnarounds than against someone who overcame a career-threatening injury.


The prime stars ‘win now’ tier

Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers
Filip Forsberg, Nashville Predators
Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames
Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche
Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche
David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins

For various reasons, there’s a sense of urgency for this group to win the Stanley Cup, even if they’re all under 30.

For Gaudreau, it’s the pending free agency. For Pastrnak, it’s the closing window for this iteration of the Bruins. For Aho, it’s the pressure to finally break through in the East. Landeskog, Rantanen and Draisaitl are in the same boat as MacKinnon and McDavid, although with less intense scrutiny.


The prime stars ‘they’ve got time’ tier

Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers
Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers
Kirill Kaprizov, Minnesota Wild
Chris Kreider, New York Rangers
Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary Flames
Mika Zibanejad, New York Rangers

Kaprizov and Tkachuk are young stars with several more playoff journeys ahead of them. The Panthers and Rangers have an upward trajectory that should extend beyond this season.

Winning a Stanley Cup would be fantastic. But they’ve got time …


The Norris candidate tier

Aaron Ekblad, Florida Panthers
Adam Fox, New York Rangers
Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars
Roman Josi, Nashville Predators
Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche
Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins

There’s a basic template for a Stanley Cup champion. You need two great centers, and preferably one of them can play a shutdown role if necessary. You need a competent goalie — they don’t have to steal a round, but they absolutely can’t cost you games. And you need an elite two-way defenseman, such as the ones listed here.

These blueliners have varying degrees of postseason experience. Heiskanen and Josi have played for the Stanley Cup before. Fox, meanwhile, appeared in the expanded playoff qualification round in 2020 for three games, before winning the Norris Trophy in 2021.

There are other defensemen right under this elite tier — Justin Faulk and Torey Krug of the Blues, Devon Toews of the Avalanche, Mattias Ekholm of the Predators and Noah Hanifin of the Flames come to mind — but these are the ones who best fit the template. All of them are worthy of the Cup.


The Vezina candidate tier

Frederik Andersen, Carolina Hurricanes
Sergei Bobrovsky, Florida Panthers
Darcy Kuemper, Colorado Avalanche
Jacob Markstrom, Calgary Flames
Juuse Saros, Nashville Predators
Igor Shesterkin, New York Rangers

I mentioned how the goalie in the Stanley Cup champion template doesn’t necessarily have to be one that can steal a series … but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have one!

All of the goalies here have the ability to be the X factor in a series. You might scoff at Andersen given his playoff history, but let’s see what happens now that he’s out of Toronto. You might sneer at Bobrovsky’s inclusion, but it’s hard not to list him when he was an architect for one of the biggest first-round upsets in NHL history.

From this list, there are two goalies we’re fascinated by this postseason: Kuemper, who has been one of the best goalies in the NHL since January and has the weight of the Avalanche’s aspirations on his shoulders; and Shesterkin, who might inspire more than a few long shot Conn Smythe wagers from giddy Rangers fans. Note that Saros left Tuesday’s game due to an injury, but his listing here is our remaining hopeful that he’ll return in time for the postseason.

As we said at the top, you might have noticed some names missing in the previous tiers.

There’s a reason for that.


Yes, all of them.

Well except for Jake Muzzin and Kyle Clifford. They have their Stanley Cup rings. No one else does.

Jason Spezza, who is ninth among active scorers (994), does not. Neither do “old guy without a Cup” candidates Mark Giordano (38) and Wayne Simmonds (33). Aging star John Tavares (894 career points) does not, nor do current stars Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Morgan Rielly and T.J. Brodie.

The Toronto Maple Leafs as a franchise technically do not qualify for one of these tiers. It only feels that way. They have 13 Stanley Cup championships, the last one coming in the 1966-67 season. The Panthers, Wild and Predators have combined for [checks math] no Stanley Cup championships. Toronto has a drought, but it’s not like it’s never rained there.

That said, and with due respect to former Leafs legend Joe Thornton: There is no other group of guys whose lifting of the Cup would cause more seismic activity than the 2021-22 Toronto Maple Leafs.

Yes, it would mean getting past the first round. Yes, it would mean surviving four rounds of the Toronto media treating every victory like a gold medal in the world juniors and every loss like a reason for relegation. But if the Leafs win the Stanley Cup, then we are all freed from these decades of “plan the parade” jokes and the same skipping record of misery every postseason.

We would shed a tear as we shed this tier, and all be better for it.

Jersey Foul of the week

This Electrical Tape Edit Foul comes from reader Tommy Sullivan, who is, you guessed it, from Boston:

This is some next-level conception here. Dougie Hamilton wore No. 27 for the Bruins from 2013-14 to 2014-15. Boston traded for Hampus Lindholm at the deadline and gave him No. 27. So Tommy puts two and seven together and goes “HAM,” using Dougie’s last name to create a jersey with Mr. Lindholm’s first name. Ingenuity.


Video of the week

I love retirement nights. Especially for players who stuck it out with one team for their entire careers. You always hear about what an honor it is for guys who were able to play for just one franchise in their NHL run because it happens so infrequently, especially in the cap era.

To do that, and to go out on your own terms, is really special, as was the case with Ryan Getzlaf and the Anaheim Ducks.

The Ducks produced more footage of Getzlaf’s retirement night than Joseph Kosinski shot during the making of “Top Gun: Maverick” … which was 800 hours, incidentally. There was Getzlaf arriving at the arena and being greeted by Make-A-Wish kids and fans and Anaheim’s owners; and Getzlaf seeing all the towels on the seats in the arena; and messages from Ducks fans and former teammates and a rather funny J.S. Giguere; and a cute video involving his children, who made a “dad to-do list” that included fighting a dragon. It was a lot!

But the above video from the Getzlaf retirement ceremony is just the best. Teemu Selanne drives out in some kind of armored assault Honda four-wheeler with Ducks colors and presents Getzlaf with this lovely parting gift.

Usually, these guys get a silver stick or some painting or maybe some bottles of wine. Getzlaf is looking at this thing like a kid getting a drone on Christmas morning: with a mix of surprise, appreciation and anticipation of mischief.

It’s just a shame there isn’t a sidecar attached for when Corey Perry retires.


Winners and losers of the week

Winner: Marc-Andre Fleury

Fleury will be the starting goaltender for the Minnesota Wild when they open the playoffs next week against the St. Louis Blues. His former team, the Vegas Golden Knights, will have the opportunity to watch that game on television. The Knights traded Fleury to create cap space in order to acquire more veterans from outside the organization, and because they had decided to have Robin Lehner as their primary goaltender.

Lehner didn’t finish the season due to multiple injuries. The Golden Knights remained in a tangled mess of salary-cap headaches. And, once again, Fleury will start in a Game 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Loser: Jack Eichel

I don’t want to dump on Jack here. Lord knows the city of Buffalo will handle all the reveling in enough schadenfreude about Eichel leveraging a trade to a Stanley Cup contender that then missed the playoffs. We have to remember that his 33 games were his first since early March 2021. We have to remember the adjustment to a new team in a new conference. We have to acknowledge that Jack had 10 points in nine games from March 24 through April 14.

But we also have to acknowledge that he had one secondary power-play assist in the Knights’ last six games, in which they won once; that he missed on three shootout attempts; and then he served up a turnover that directly led to a Caleb Jones goal against Chicago in their elimination game. Just like when he was with the Sabres, it’s wait ’til next year.

Winner: Logan Thompson

For two consecutive games, the 25-year-old Golden Knights goalie was seen face down in his crease in crushing disappointment. He gave up winning goals in two shootouts that were allowed to happen only because his team couldn’t secure the bag during precarious late-season games. He played his heart out in emergency conditions, following Robin Lehner‘s decision to have shoulder surgery that ended his season.

There are many reasons Vegas flopped down the stretch. Logan Thompson wasn’t one of them.

Loser: The shootout

Am I going to take this opportunity to once again rail against the shootout? About playoff berths being determined without a single pass being attempted or a defenseman playing their position? As the fate of a regular season rests in the quivering hands of a skills competition? As the most critical moment of the season is decided by something so antithetical to actual team play that it has existed in the regular season for 17 years without anyone even attempting to port it over to the Stanley Cup playoffs, as a remedy for marathon overtimes? Why yes, I believe I shall.

Winner: Timely Kings

The Los Angeles Kings might not defeat the Edmonton Oilers in their playoff series without Drew Doughty in the lineup. But getting to the playoffs is an accomplishment in itself. Kudos to GM Rob Blake for smartly adding Phillip Danault and Viktor Arvidsson in the offseason, as they ended up third and fourth in team scoring.

His team outlasted Pacific Division rivals for the No. 3 seed, closing the deal with five wins in six games down the stretch. That playoff race, and this playoff series, is going to pay off down the line with their young players who need this experience.

Loser: Untimely injuries

Are we going to have to bubble wrap goalies before the playoffs? The Penguins hope Tristan Jarry is ready to go. The Predators are worried they might not have Juuse Saros for the first round. The Hurricanes’ Frederik Andersen is expected to miss the first few games of their series. I guess it’s only fitting that in a season that saw more goalies appear in NHL games than ever before, we end up with a slew of goalie absences entering the playoffs.

Winner: Brad Marchand

I can think of no greater compliment to the unique talents of Brad Marchand than winning the NHL Player Poll as the skater his peers hate to play against but would want as a teammate.

It reminds me of a conversation I once had with someone on the Flyers when Chris Pronger was traded there. At the time, Pronger was the Tom Wilson of his day when it came to suspension-worthy infractions and general bludgeoning. I asked this Flyer why they’d want Pronger on their team, based on his reputation as an injurious miscreant. His response was that Pronger did those things so they wouldn’t have to do them. (Being a Hall of Fame talent probably didn’t hurt either; and Marchand’s slowly building that case for himself, too.)

Loser: Edginess

When did the NHLPA Players Poll get so benign? The 2017-18 poll asked questions about the NHL standings format and which arena had the worst ice. In 2018-19, the poll asked who the best and worst trash-talkers were — Marchand, naturally, won both categories — and whether the NHL should have nicknames on the backs of their jerseys. We vote that the Player Poll should have more pointed questions about NHL rules and soft criticism of their peers!


Puck headlines

  • Really good piece by Peter Baugh on Colorado Avalanche forward Nazem Kadri. “I know Naz just wants to play his heart out for this team and really wants to win the Cup this year for Colorado. He really feels like, unlike Toronto, the Avs and Joe Sakic and [Jared] Bednar gave him another chance.”

  • When the President of the United States mistakenly refers to the commissioner of the NHL as “Batman,” you can be excused for giggling, Victor Hedman.

  • Just a lovely column by Shireen Ahmed about the late Guy Lafleur and how he created hockey fans during his playing days. “Lafleur’s kindness and his generous spirit brought people in. And many of them stuck around because of it. There are not many players who had such an impact on fans and even opposing teams alike.”

  • Brandon Sutter opens up about long COVID-19, which has sidelined him for the season. “It’s just been dealing with immune system stuff, which a lot of people who are going through it at home, too, have had what they’re calling ‘long COVID’ stuff. It’s not a lot of fun.”

  • Why the Canucks’ shortsighted postponed games might have cost them the playoffs.

  • A data-driven follow-up to our story on the goal-scoring boom. For the record, the impact of young offensive players isn’t necessarily just in their own offensive output, but as noted in our reporting, it’s the lack of defensive prowess that previously would have kept them in the minors but is now overlooked as the NHL is in an offensive era.

  • ICYMI, my conversation with new PHF commissioner Reagan Carey. I wish I shared her optimism about future collaboration with the PWHPA.

  • Finally, our favorite cross-sports moment of the week, as Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons was invited to drop the ceremonial first puck at a Hershey Bears game … except no one remembered to tell him how the ceremony was supposed to go.

From your friends at ESPN

Pond hockey and climate change, in a great article by Dan Murphy. “We all want the same things. We all want clean air and clean water and a good place for our kids. We might need to discuss how to get there, but we all want the same stuff. I think that’s a role that sports can play and bring everybody back to the same place.”

Source : ESPN.com

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