Wednesday marks the start of what is sure to be a nerve-wracking few days, weeks and, for the fortunate ones, months for fans of the 16 teams who made their way into the post-season. For fans of the league’s other 14 teams, though, the next few months will provide the type of stress-free enjoyment that only comes during the playoffs. But there’s also the chance for fans of teams who aren’t post-season bound this year to find a new rooting interest, if even for a couple months.
In some cases, that will mean hopping on a bandwagon of a team one hopes to see have some success. For that, there are many teams to choose from. The upstart Edmonton Oilers are loads of fun to watch and it’d be foolish to pass up any chance to catch a glimpse of Connor McDavid in action. The Capitals will enter the playoffs trying to finally shake the narrative that they can’t win the big one and that will have some paying close attention to Washington. And what about hopping on the wagon with the defending champion Penguins? Seeing Sidney Crosby do what Sidney Crosby does best is always a treat, and he could be on his way to leading Pittsburgh to consecutive titles.
But there is another way to guide one’s rooting interests with the playoffs set to start Wednesday, and that’s by focusing on the players who have been to the post-season many times before and are still waiting for their taste of championship glory. But which veteran players should fans be supporting as the post-season begins?
Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks
Imagine two players, both of whom have been two of the most consistent scorers over their NHL careers, combining for more than 2,700 regular season games, playing nearly 300 post-season contests and entering the playoffs only to reach the final for the first time in their respective careers. Now imagine that same duo has to watch the Stanley Cup slip away. That’s Marleau and Thornton.
It’s hard to know how much longer either has in the NHL. Marleau and Thornton are both still productive big league players, but time is starting to catch up to the 37-year-olds. Eventually, they’ll run out of years to chase the Stanley Cup, and it wouldn’t be all that surprising if this was one of the final kicks at the can either have.
For Thornton, failing to win a Cup thus far is the only blip on an otherwise Hall of Fame calibre resume, but you have to imagine it stings that much more for Marleau, especially as he’s spent his entire career in San Jose. He’s watched the team go from struggling franchise to Cup contender and is now in the twilight of his career without a championship.
Sharks fan or not, there’d be something special about watching Thornton and Marleau win it all.
Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
It’s almost criminal that Lundqvist doesn’t have a Stanley Cup ring at this point in his career. As far as goaltenders of his generation go, there has been no netminder who has performed as consistently only to fall short when the post-season came around. Lundqvist is an 11-time 30-game winner in the regular season, the 10th-winningest goaltender all-time with 405 victories and reached the 400-win mark faster than any other netminder in league history.
Beyond his regular season numbers, Lundqvist is also one of only 18 goaltenders to see at least 100 games in the playoffs. His 116 post-season outings are the 12th-most for any goaltender in league history. The only netminder with more playoff experience to never win a Stanley Cup is Curtis Joseph and the only other active netminder to play at least 100 post-season games is Marc-Andre Fleury. He has two Stanley Cups while Lundqvist is still waiting for his first.
It’s not as if Lundqvist has fallen apart in the playoffs, either. Matter of fact, his .921 save percentage is the second-best of any 100-playoff game goaltender with only Dominik Hasek boasting a better mark. And Lundqvist has seen his share of heartbreak. The Rangers have been to the Eastern Conference final three times in the past five years and New York lost in the final in 2013-14.
Mike Fisher, Nashville Predators
Fisher was 26 in 2006-07 when the high-powered Senators captured the hearts of many Canadian fans with their run to the Stanley Cup final, and on that run, Fisher played quite well, potting five goals and 10 points along the way. Ottawa came up short in the final, however, and in the decade since Fisher has seen a whopping zero games with the chance to hoist the Stanley Cup on the line. Sure, he’s played 45 games in the post-season since then, but not a single one has come beyond the second round.
Like any veteran player, there’s no telling when Fisher’s career might come to a close. He’s in his first season wearing the ‘C’ in Nashville, but his past two contracts have been two-year deals and, with his 36th birthday on the horizon, he’s entering those one-year-at-a-time seasons.
Fisher has always been the heart-and-soul type player any team would love to have and he’s been a leader everywhere he’s been. That said, he’s failed to win a title at any level since his major junior career began. It’d be sweet redemption if a decade after his last shot at a Stanley Cup, Fisher could finally raise the trophy.
Andrei Markov, Montreal Canadiens
There is only one player older than Markov participating in the upcoming post-season who has yet to win a Stanley Cup: Mark Streit, who enters the playoffs as a hired gun, picked up for a song at the trade deadline. So, why does Markov land on this list and Streit doesn’t?
Well, Streit has been effective throughout his career, but Markov has a sizeable edge in both games played and production while spending his entire NHL tenure with the same franchise. From the time he was 24, Markov was a top pairing blueliner for the Canadiens and now, more than a decade later, he’s still searching to have some semblance of post-season success with the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge.
Markov has been a solid playoff performer, too. In his 83 career games, he’s potted five goals and 31 points while averaging over 23 minutes per game. And in his most recent trips to the playoffs, at age 35 and 36, Markov scored two goals and 12 points in 29 games while averaging 24:30 per game. The deepest Markov has been in the post-season is the Eastern Conference final, which has happened twice, and he doesn’t have many years left to make a run for the elusive Stanley Cup.
Jay Bouwmeester, St. Louis Blues
Bouwmeester doesn’t make many headlines. He’s not a Norris Trophy contender, he doesn’t score a ton and when he’s playing his best he’ll often go unnoticed because he’s playing mistake free hockey. He doesn’t really possess that superstar quality that makes him the player you pick out of a group to cheer for, but consider Bouwmeester’s journey to a shot at the Stanley Cup.
Bouwmeester broke into the league in 2002 as a 19-year-old and was immediately thrust into a top role with the Panthers. He continued to be a top defender in Florida for the next five seasons before being moved to the Flames in 2009. Over the next three seasons in Calgary, Bouwmeester remained an effective, big-minute blueliner, but he was moved at the deadline in 2013 to St. Louis. It was with the Blues that Bouwmeester would get to play his first playoff game, more than a decade after he started his career.
All told, Bouwmeester played an almost unfathomable 764 games before finally seeing playoff action. No player in league history has ever had to wait as long to get their taste of the post-season, and it’s worth noting that Bouwmeester’s entire playoff experience up until that first game with the Blues consisted of 18 AHL post-season games. He hadn’t even seen action beyond the regular season in major junior.
Imagine waiting that long to get to the end of the rainbow and there’s no pot of gold to be found. That has been Bouwmeester’s experience. His first playoff game was the closest he had ever been to the Stanley Cup and it took until 2015-16, 13 seasons after his career began, for him to see the second round or third round. Bouwmeester might not be the first choice for fans to cheer for, but one can’t deny that he’s put in the time to at least deserve some playoff glory in his career.
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