This just might be the year that Alex Ovechkin finally gets to hoist the Stanley Cup.
The longtime leader of the Capitals played a huge role in his team finally erasing years of playoff stigmatization by Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins, winning their second round series in six games.
Washington is going to Eastern Conference finals for the first time in 20 years. That pre-dates Ovechkin and the core of a very good Caps team by many years.
At this time of year then, when 16 teams battle hard only to get whittled down series by series, a certain sentimentality starts to creep in.
That is, the thoughts about players with many games of NHL seniority who have yet to lay their hands on hockey’s Holy Grail.
It all started, we believe, with Ray Bourque back in the 90s. He was a good and loyal soldier for years with Boston, but it took an emotional trade to Colorado for him to finally win it all.
Of the 16 teams involved in the post-season this year, we found at least one old guy from each — except Pittsburgh — who has never won it all. Here are the top 15 Old Guys Without A Cup, with honorable mentions in italics after.
15. Deryk Engelland – Vegas Golden Knights
At 36 years old, defensive workhorse Deryk Engelland slots right into the first defining criteria — the player must be at least 30 and the older the better. He also ticks off a few other boxes, like some talent (109 points in 548 games) as well as a few unsuccessful runs in the post-season. Engelland, who was drafted way back in 2000 by the New Jersey Devils, also paid the price in the minors, spending seven full seasons in either the ECHL or AHL before hitting the big time with Pittsburgh in 2009-10. He just missed the 2009 championship and then played four hard-nosed, two-way seasons with the Pens, but with no playoff success. He appeared in just 13 post-season games before leaving in free agency to Calgary in 2014. The old warhorse became instantly popular in Cowtown and would have his greatest success with the Flames in three seasons, scoring 39 points in 236 games and playing in 15 playoff games, 11 of them in 2015. Left unprotected in the expansion draft, he had a homecoming of sorts with the Knights, as he at one time played with the Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL. He is the surprising Golden Knights assistant captain and leading them into the Western Conference finals. Is this finally his year?
14. Blake Comeau – Colorado Avalanche
Blake Comeau is the kind of quiet everyday, second or third line player not many take notice of, until he burns someone with a big goal. The 32-year-old Avalanche veteran has scored 121 goals and added 164 assists in 720 NHL games with five different NHL teams. Of those 121 markers, 19 have been game winners. This past season with the Avs, Comeau scored 13 goals and 21 assists in 79 games, with three of his snipes being the ultimate game-winner. For all his NHL experience with first the New York Islanders, then Calgary, Columbus, Pittsburgh and now Colorado, Comeau has played in 17 playoff games. He was on a pretty good Blue Jackets team in 2013-14 that would lose in six to Pittsburgh. He changed sides in 2014, donning the Penguins colors and would eventually be part of a five-game loss to the New York Rangers in the first round of the 2015 playoffs (just before the Pens got hot again). He signed as a free agent with Colorado in 2015 and had to endure two tough seasons before getting back to the playoffs this year, scoring twice in six games as the Avalanche bowed to Nashville.
13. Dion Phaneuf – Los Angeles Kings
Yes, we are going to take it on the chin for this selection, based on all the social media and regular media vitriol directed Phaneuf’s way since he starred with Calgary all those years ago. Heck, he even suffered the slings and arrows of former NHL bad boy Sean Avery. There is no denying, though, that Phaneuf’s body of work at the NHL level — sans Stanley Cup — stands up to some scrutiny. He’s played 981 games in the NHL and tallied 488 points, 136 of them goals. He’s been an All-Star and gotten Norris Trophy votes on eight occasions, too. At every stop except his brief late season and playoff stint with the Kings, he’s played well over 20 minutes per game and dishes out hits and blocks shots on a regular basis. Yet, the 33-year-old’s only long run in the post-season occurred with Ottawa last year. He tallied 30 points in 81 regular season games, then tacked on five points in 19 playoff games as the Senators bowed to Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference final. In 55 post-season contests, Phaneuf has 21 points. We wonder if he’ll get a sniff and some redemption, like that other former Maple Leafs whipping boy, Phil Kessel.
12. Rick Nash – Boston Bruins
Another year, another disappointing exit from the playoffs for Rick Nash. After he joined the high-flying Bruins at the deadline this year, it was thought that finally, this was the year he would get to raise sport’s most recognizable championship bauble. But no, the Bruins nipped the Leafs in seven, but couldn’t muster enough against Tampa and fell 4-1. This Bruins team was deep with talent and Cup-winning experience (Chara, Bergeron, Marchand, Krejci, etc.) and had as good a shot as any to win it. As for Nash, the author of 437 goals and 805 points in 1,060 regular season games, the window gets ever more narrow to go the distance. He has played 89 playoff games and been to the Stanley Cup finals once, with the Rangers in 2014. The knock on him is that he hasn’t been the post-season performer he is in the regular season, scoring just 18 goals and 28 assists. However, he is still a big body who is tough to handle and has hands enough to score. Honorable mention: David Backes.
11. Braydon Coburn – Tampa Bay Lightning
Heading into his fourth conference final with a fantastic Lightning team, no-nonsense rearguard Braydon Coburn has to feel that this could be the year. He’s been a reliable and durable blueline presence in the NHL since being drafted eighth overall by the Atlanta Thrashers in 2003. Since then, he’s toiled in 850 games, tallying 205 points and an overall +40. The 33-year-old native of Shaunavon, SK, has also logged 1,228 hits and 1,050 blocked shots over the breadth of his career. In 2010, he went to the Stanley Cup finals with the Philadelphia Flyers, registering four points, 58 hits and 38 blocked shots in 23 games, only to lose to L.A. Coburn made a return appearance to the Big Dance with the Bolts in 2015, this time against the favored Chicago Blackhawks. It was a long and winding road as Tampa needed two seven-game series to get to the final, ultimately losing 4-2. Coburn needs to be part of eight more wins to ultimately end his own personal Stanley Cup drought. He’s got a good shot with this team. Honorable mentions: Dan Girardi, Ryan Callahan and Anton Stralman.
10. Brandon Dubinsky – Columbus Blue Jackets
It’s kind of fitting that we are including Dubinsky in the same list as Rick Nash, as they were traded for each other in the summer of 2012. That year, Dubinsky left the Rangers, where he had limited playoff success, to go to the Blue Jackets with Nash going the other way. Now 32, Dubinsky, along with a few other Blue Jackets veterans, is still waiting for the big push to a championship. After being drafted 60th overall by the Blueshirts in 2004, the Anchorage, AK born Dubinsky played on some decent teams, but only went as far as the second round, twice. In 31 playoff games with New York, he had 17 points. Dubinsky, who has 424 points in 762 games and has been in the Selke Trophy conversation on four occasions, has also been on some good Blue Jackets clubs in the last six seasons, but with even less playoff success. A great face-off man, he’s seen action in 17 games, registering eight points. Honorable mention: Jack Johnson.
9. Travis Zajac – New Jersey Devils
If we had to pare this list down to just a couple of people we’d like to see raise the big trophy in June, longtime Devil Travis Zajac would easily be one of them. He’s seen plenty of upheaval on a team he debuted with in 2006-07, when he was playing with Martin Brodeur, Patrik Elias, Brian Rafalski, Scott Gomez and Jamie Langenbrunner. Never a big scorer, the Winnipeg native has no less been one of the team’s rocks, a player who has rarely missed a game and doesn’t take many nights off. He’ll turn 33 in four days and to this point he’s played in 842 NHL games and scored 461 points, while also being a combined +18. Zajac is a great two-way forward who has been a top-10 Selke Trophy candidate, too. He was integral to the Devils long run to the Stanley Cup final against Los Angeles in 2012, registering 14 points in 24 games and winning 54.2 percent of his face-offs. That, unfortunately, was as close as he’s gotten in 12 seasons. With the Devils on the upswing, maybe he gets another shot. Honorable mentions: Brian Boyle, Cory Schneider, Drew Stafford and Andy Greene.
8. Pekka Rinne – Nashville Predators
The Predators are where they are in the playoffs because of the play of veteran netminder Pekka Rinne, not in spite of it. The 35-year-old Finnish star netminder has only known one team in his 567-game career and that’s Nashville. He’s never won anything of signficance in the NHL, even though he has been nominated for the Vezina three separate times and is in the running again this year after yet another superb campaign. Rinne started 59 games for the front-running Predators this season, recording a NHL high eight shutouts along the way. Smashville needs to win game 7 against Winnipeg to return to the Western Conference final again and we think Rinne can get them there. He is 7-5 this post-season, with two shutouts and a 2.94 goals against average. Last year, he went 14-8 in Nashville’s ill-fate foray into the finals against Pittsburgh, also posting two shutouts and a 1.96 GAA. We can’t think of a more deserving guy on their roster. Honorable mentions: Scott Hartnell, Mike Fisher.
7. Blake Wheeler – Winnipeg Jets
Lining up against Rinne Thursday night in the Music City for the right to move on will be Jets’ grizzled veteran Blake Wheeler. The 31-year-old Plymouth, MN native is going to want to have a say in his team’s victory, as he enjoyed a career year with Winnipeg. Formerly a first round pick (5th overall) by the Coyotes in 2004, Wheeler posted a career best 91 points, including a NHL leading 68 assists. Where some players tail off a bit after 30, this year marked the third season of steadily increasing production for Wheeler. It bodes well for him, since the opportunities to win with this team are coming, if not this year, then for a few years to come. So far in the Jets ride to a 3-3 stalemate with Nashville, Wheeler has kept up the torrid pace he set during the regular season, with three goals and 10 assists in 11 games. Before this year, he had been involved in only 25 total post-season contests, registering seven points. It’s going to be a great game 7. Honorable mention: Paul Stastny, Matt Hendricks.
6. Claude Giroux – Philadelphia Flyers
If the Flyers ever get the goaltending to carry them further than one round in the playoffs, look out. At just 30, Claude Giroux is the youngest old guy on this list, but considering he’s already played 738 games (677 points) and been to a Stanley Cup final, he has the background. Philadelphia picked him 22nd overall in 2006 and other than 38 games in the AHL, he’s been with just the Flyers since the 2008-09 season. In Giroux’ first full season, 2009-10, he scored a respectable 47 points in 82 games, and then hopped along for a magical ride to the Stanley Cup final against Chicago. In that post-season, Giroux finished tied for third in team scoring with 10 goals and 11 assists in 23 games. Alas, it would be the last time he would get to the Big Dance. However, he’s been more productive in the post-season than in the regular, with just under a point per game (65 points in 69 total contests). He’s still young enough to lead his team to glory, too.
5. Ryan Kesler – Anaheim Ducks
A few of the Ducks old warhorses — Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Francois Beauchemin — have tasted the sweet nectar of final victory. However, there are also a couple of battle-hardened veterans, Ryan Kesler included, who have known only post-season bitterness. It was a tough choice between the hard-nosed Kesler and back-up goalie Ryan Miller, for sure. Both Kesler and Miller were part of that great Vancouver Canucks team in 2011 that looked like it would grab its first title, but ultimately fell short to Boston. Kesler was full value in 25 games that spring, logging 17 points and getting his nose dirty enough in the tough areas with 47 penalty minutes. Otherwise, the 33-year-old Michigan native has been to two other Western Conference finals with Anaheim and has skated in a total of 101 playoff games, recording 65 points. He had a down year in 2017-18, so we have to wonder if he’ll be around long enough for another shot at winning it all. Honorable mention: Ryan Miller, Jason Chimera.
4. Mikko Koivu – Minnesota Wild
There are several players on the Wild itching for a championship, not to mention long-suffering head coach Bruce Boudreau. For our money, though, we’d like to see an unsung and quiet guy like Koivu finally get to kiss the famous mug in celebration. He was drafted sixth overall by the Wild in 2001 and has been the breathing heart of the organization since he joined the team in 2005-06 after one season in the minors with the Houston Aeros. He’s been the team’s captain since the beginning of the 2009-10 season and one of its most consistent and durable contributors over 925 regular season and 55 post-season games. A great two-way center who’s been in the Selke running a few times, Koivu has posted 659 points and a combined +70, while winning 54.2 percent of his face-offs in the regular season. Come playoffs, he has 28 points but is -17, though he does draw all the tough checking assignments. As a member of the Wild he’s only been as far as the second round of the playoffs (twice). What a shame. Honorable mentions: Ryan Suter, Zach Parise and Devan Dubnyk.
3. Patrick Marleau – Toronto Maple Leafs
In the history of the NHL there aren’t that many players who have seen as much action, or have had as much regular season success, without winning a championship as Toronto’s Patrick Marleau. He’s played 1,575 regular season contests — and not showing depreciable signs of slowing down — and tallied 1,129 points. He’s also seen 184 playoff games, but has only been the finals once, scoring 72 goals and 53 assists. For years, he was a key cog on many a contending San Jose Sharks club, only to fall short when the chips were down. In 2015-16, when he was already 36, the Sharks finally made it to a Stanley Cup final. Marleau, who had 25 goals and 48 points in the regular season, put up five goals and eight assists in 24 playoff games, but it didn’t help as San Jose lost in six to Pittsburgh. He was acquired by Toronto this year and the 38-year-old didn’t disappoint, scoring 27 goals for the second straight year (and fifth straight campaign playing all 82 games). He then led the Leafs in the goal scoring department during their disappointing seven-game loss to Boston, with four, as well as an assist. We hope he still has something in the tank for next year.
2. Joe Thornton – San Jose Sharks
Riding shotgun with Patrick Marleau in the Old Guy Without A Cup wagon is Joe Thornton. He, too, has played a pile of regular season games and had great personal success (four All-Star nominations, MVP and Art Ross Trophies), but has yet to win it all. And, at 38 — 39 before the 2018-19 season kicks in — it’s less and less likely he’ll ever touch the vaunted silver chalice. In 1,493 regular season games, Jumbo Joe has scored 397 goals and added 1,030 assists. Like his old linemate Marleau, he’s seen plenty of playoff action, recording 123 points in 160 games. He was an offensive catalyst in the Sharks only trip to the finals in 2016, assisting on 18 goals and scoring three himself in 24 games. This year, Thornton played in just 47 games due to injuries and he didn’t play in any of his team’s 10 playoff games. We believe the window to a championship is all but closed for Joe. Honorable mention: Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns, Joel Ward.
1. Alex Ovechkin – Washington Capitals
It is clear watching 32-year-old Alex Ovechkin play hockey that he truly loves the game. And it was awesome to finally see the Great 8 and the Washington Capitals shrug off their biggest antagonists in the post-season, Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins. It was like a broken record the last two seasons, with Sid the Kid and the Pens disposing of the Caps in the second round. Pittsburgh also did the trick in the same round in 2009, on the way to winning the Cup. But, this year was decidedly different, as OV and the boys were able to solve netminder Matt Murray and keep Crosby from wrecking them single-handedly in the deciding game 6. And so it is now, the Capitals are in the conference final for the first time in 20 years. However, for all his scoring exploits — 661 combined goals — and individual accolades (three Hart Trophies, seven Rocket Richards), Ovechkin is still eight wins away from realizing his career long dream of winning the Cup. We are rooting for him. Honorable mention: T.J. Oshie.