Over the course of its history, the NHL has developed a long list of playoff traditions that hockey fans now hold dear: the playoff beard, the post-series handshake, the color-coordinated fans, and most important of all, booing Gary Bettman.
Recent years have seen another playoff staple emerge: the sympathetic old guy who hasn’t yet won a Cup.
That’s a veteran player who’s had a long and well-respected career, but is nearing the end of the road without ever having won a ring. As the playoffs drag on and the player gets closer to finally achieving his ultimate goal, it becomes almost impossible not to root for him. (Unless he's playing against your favorite team, in which case you’re still allowed to hope he breaks his hip.)
As an added bonus, when one of these guys is on the roster of the eventual champion, he immediately becomes the favorite to earn one of hockey’s greatest honors — being the first guy the captain hands the Cup to.
The most famous example of this was in 2001, when 40-year-old Ray Bourque finally won his first Stanley Cup in his 22nd season. That led to this scene, which still ranks as one of the best feel-good moments in sports history:
More recently, an emotional Teemu Selanne earned his first Cup in his 15th season in the league, which in hindsight, we will apparently refer to as the halfway point of his career. But this isn’t just a club for the superstars; grinders can earn the honor, too — like veteran fourth-liner Dallas Drake, who won his first Cup in his final NHL game at age 39.
Who’ll get to play the role this year? There’s no shortage of candidates. Here are 10 veteran players vying to be this year’s sympathetic old guy who finally gets a ring.
The Penguins were already riding a massive win streak (now up to 15 and counting). Adding the best player available at the deadline, along with the earlier acquisitions of Brenden Morrow and Douglas Murray, to a lineup that already featured Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and James Neal just didn’t seem fair.
Of course, there are no sure things, and the Penguins roster isn’t perfect. They may have the best cast of forwards in the league, but we all know that the goaltending and blue line are shaky, and [Checks the Penguins’ goals against during the last three games.] oh man. I think we’re all screwed.
But let’s not panic quite yet. After all, while the Penguins might be the consensus favorites right now, they have a long way to go before they’re crowned champions. And if they falter, they’ll have good company, because the recent history of NHL sure-things isn’t all that impressive.
So before we start planning the Penguins’ coronation, let’s take a look back at five other big moves that had everyone ready to just hand over the Stanley Cup. As you’ll see, the hockey gods have a habit of throwing a surprise our way.
At 35 years old, his best days are clearly behind him. The only NHL team he’s ever played for, the Calgary Flames, hasn’t made the playoffs since 2008–09 and isn’t likely to break that streak this year. His contract is up at the end of the season, unrestricted free agency beckons, and the experts all seem to agree that it’s time for the Flames to finally trade him before next week’s deadline.
But should he go? And if so, where? Iginla has a no-trade clause and could veto any deal. Does he want to uproot his family just to be some team’s short-term rental? How would that affect his legacy in Calgary? What kind of message is he sending to his fans if he leaves? Then again, with the Flames going nowhere and only a few chances left to win his first Stanley Cup, what kind of message is he sending if he stays?
What to do, what to do.
Luckily, Iginla isn’t the first player to be in this situation. NHL history is filled with similar cases — star players, firmly identified with one team, who found themselves facing a possible move late in their career. And thanks to those players and the various choices they made, we have a pretty good idea about the different ways Iginla could go, and what those decisions would mean for him.
I’m here for you, Jarome. So I’ve put together a list of the possible ways that the last few years of your career could play out. Sit back, grab a coffee, review the options, and then choose the one that’s best for you.
We’re still two weeks away from the NHL’s April 3 trade deadline, but there’s a good chance action could pick up over the next few days. Recent history has shown a trend toward a quieter deadline day, with most of the bigger dealsgoing downin advance. And because of this season’s modified post-lockout schedule, this week’s annual GM meetings are taking place before the deadline instead of after.
So now seems like a good time to get an early jump on the speculation with a look at 10 of the players who are showing up in trade chatter. Not all of them will be traded (let’s face it, there’s a decent chance none of the top players will), and we all may have moved on to 10 different guys by next week, but right now, these are some of the bigger names driving the rumor mill.
We’ll use the same format as we did earlier this week — expectations, reality, and whether it will continue — but add a special fourth category to deal with the possible fallout if the player continues to struggle.
Here’s a general rule about hockey fans: They hate just about everyone.
If you’re an NHL player, it doesn’t take much for hockey fans to turn against you. Sidney Crosby? Too whiny. The Sedins? The whole twin thing is creepy. Alexander Ovechkin? Once he scored a goal and then looked happy about it, so screw that guy. Basically, if a player has ever signed a big contract or won a fight or expressed an opinion, some large bloc of fans have already added him to their enemies list.
But every once in a while, a player manages to stick-handle through the neutral zone trap of hockey hatred and break in alone on the goaltender of positivity and — holy crap, that was a terrible metaphor, but I’m leaving it in because you get the point.
Anyway, here are a dozen of the NHL’s most universally admired active players, the reasons we love them, and a suggestion for why we should all just turn against them now and get it over with.
After an exhaustive six-hour training camp, the NHL makes its long-awaited return Saturday. And while it’s been easy to forget over the past few months of lockout negotiations between grim-faced men in suits, hockey is a sport played on ice by actual hockey players.
Let’s take a look at some of them now. Here are 10 players who’ll be especially interesting to keep an eye on over the next few months: