They say the Stanley Cup is the toughest trophy to win in sports. The players below would surely agree with that assessment. Among the NHL’s remaining post-season contenders, here’s a team-by-team look at players desperate to claim their first-ever NHL championship.
Boston Bruins: David Backes
This one’s pretty easy. Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and the rest of the Bruins’ core veterans have Cup rings from the team’s 2011 championship. Backes, meanwhile, spent a decade in St. Louis where his best playoff showing was a berth in the West final in 2016. Ever the team player, the 34-year-old Backes offered to take on the role as the Bruins’ enforcer late in the season. Brave? Stupid? Maybe a bit of both, but there’s no denying the man’s desire and willingness to sacrifice.
Carolina Hurricanes: Justin Faulk
Nobody in Carolina has been with the team longer – or mentioned more often in trade speculation – than 27-year-old defenseman Justin Faulk. The veteran of eight NHL campaigns and 559 regular-season games is finally getting his first taste of the playoffs, and he’s making the most of it, averaging more than 26 minutes per game.
Colorado Avalanche: Erik Johnson
Drafted first overall by St. Louis in 2006 and an NHL regular by 2007, Johnson had to wait until 2014 for his first taste of the NHL playoffs. Then he had to wait another five years for his second taste, and here we are. The Avs’ elimination of Calgary represents Johnson’s first playoff series victory. He’s one of just a few players in their 30s on a young Avs team.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Brandon Dubinsky
There’s 31-year-old captain Nick Foligno, who’s the heartbeat of the team. There’s Cam Atkinson, who just put an exclamation point on his sixth straight 20-plus goal season with a career-best 41. And there’s Sergei Bobrovsky, a two-time Vezina Trophy winner as the Blue Jackets netminder. But let’s go with Dubinsky, who’s been slugging away in Columbus since 2012. He made it as far as the second of the playoffs with the Rangers a couple times, but this spring represents his first foray into Round 2 with the Blue Jackets. Which makes sense, since this spring also represents the franchise’s first-ever foray into Round 2.
Dallas Stars: Jamie Benn
One of the league’s preeminent power forwards for the past decade, Benn struggled to his lowest full-season output since his rookie year of 2009-10. But the 29-year-old Stars captain still has some gas left in the tank, and the anyone-can-win-it playoff vibe following the shocking exits of top seeds Tampa Bay and Calgary should provide plenty of motivation. Benn’s best post-season showing to date was his one-and-only appearance in the second round in 2016, when he scored five goals and 15 points in 13 games.
Nashville Predators: Pekka Rinne
There’s a long list of deserving Cup candidates in Nashville, from Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis and P.K. Subban on the all-star defense corps to veteran inspirations such as Brian Boyle, Wayne Simmonds and Dan Hamhuis. But Rinne has been the Preds’ backbone for 10 years, and Nashville’s maturity from expansion team to playoff contender coincided with Rinne’s arrival and ascension. His playoff performances in recent years have been spotty – he was great in leading the Predators to a 2017 Cup showdown against Pittsburgh, then struggled in the final series. He won the Vezina Trophy last season, then was pulled three times in Nashville’s second-round loss to Winnipeg. Which Rinne will we see for the rest of the 2019 post-season?
New York Islanders: Josh Bailey
Bailey has been a regular in the Isles’ lineup since 2008-09, playing nearly 800 regular-season games in that span. Meanwhile, he had appeared in just 22 playoff games prior to this spring, with the highlight coming in the form of a second-round advancement in 2016. He was a force against Pittsburgh in Round 1, scoring three goals in New York’s four-game sweep, including the overtime winner in Game 1.
St. Louis Blues: Jay Bouwmeester
The Blues are brimming in deserving veterans, but none more so than Bouwmeester. He spent the first decade of his career in Florida and then Calgary, without getting a sniff of playoff action. It’s been better since he landed in St. Louis in 2012, with this spring marking his sixth post-season berth, but the farthest he’s gone was to the West final in 2016. Bouwmeester is 35 and has played close to 1,200 regular-season games. He doesn’t have too many opportunities left.
San Jose Sharks: Joe Thornton
Google “NHL greybeard” and surely the 39-year-old Thornton and his battle-scarred and bewhiskered face appears. The Sharks were “the best team that couldn’t win the big one” for the longest time before finally shaking that label when they advanced to the 2016 final against Pittsburgh. They didn’t win, but they proved their big-game chops enough to silence the critics. Remember when Ray Bourque finally won a Cup with Colorado in 2001? Thornton has entered that sentimental territory in San Jose.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Patrick Marleau
Thornton’s longtime linemate moved on to Toronto a couple years ago, and Marleau is playing the “veteran leader” role on a young Leafs team that has its own 50-year Cup jinx to overcome. If the Leafs shock the hockey world and take the title, there’ll be plenty of love for John Tavares, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner & Co., but the Cup ring will surely be the highlight of Marleau’s accolade-filled career.
Vegas Golden Knights: Deryk Engelland
Let’s go with the local guy. Engelland, who made Las Vegas his home while playing in the minors there in the early 2000s, broke into the NHL as a no-nonsense defender with Pittsburgh before taking his two-fisted talents to Calgary. When the Golden Knights picked him in the expansion draft, he became of the faces of the team, a Vegas resident who was outspoken in his support for the city. It also helped that he chipped in more offense than expected, while still playing the role of team protector. He’s 37 years old and a pending UFA so it might be his last chance, at least with the Knights.
Washington Capitals: Nick Jensen
Considering the Capitals are the defending champions, there aren’t too many players to pick from. So we’ll go with Jensen, who joined Washington at the trade deadline. Of the few Caps regulars without a Cup ring, he’s playing the biggest role and most important minutes.