In Stanley Cup lore, there are few images more iconic than Ray Bourque with the sport’s ultimate prize held raised over his head in the aftermath of the Colorado Avalanche’s 2001 victory.
After receiving the Stanley Cup from commissioner Gary Bettman, Colorado captain Joe Sakic didn’t so much as lift it an inch above his shoulders before handing it directly to Bourque, a first-ballot Hall of Famer and blueline legend who had waited his entire career to have his moment with Lord Stanley’s mug. It undoubtedly helps that broadcaster Gary Thorne made Bourque’s Cup raise that much more special with his brilliant call. His narration – “After 22 years…Raymond Bourque!” – was the perfect addition to an already emotional on-ice moment.
In a way, Bourque’s celebration with the Stanley Cup inspired a new talking point surrounding the trophy. Of course, there had been others in the past who had been the direct recipients of the Stanley Cup from the captain following a victory, and the tradition truly took roots in the early-1990s, but it was Bourque’s moment that really sparked the annual discussion about which player was most deserving of being the second to grab ahold of and hoist the NHL’s Holy Grail.
Last season, the honor went to the Washington Capitals’ Nicklas Backstrom, who was handed the Cup after Alex Ovechkin had his moment. The year prior, it was Ron Hainsey, who had never played in a post-season game before winning the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins. And the year before that, when the Penguins won their first of back-to-back titles, it was Trevor Daley, who had battled through injuries and had his mother’s battle with cancer weighing on him, who received the Cup from Sidney Crosby.
So, who is the recipient of the first Stanley Cup pass following Wednesday’s Game 7? Obviously that depends whether it’s the Bruins or Blues who actually win the thing, but once the champion is decided, it will be up to either Boston’s Zdeno Chara or St. Louis’ Alex Pietrangelo to hand off the hardware. Here are the top-three candidates to receive the first pass depending on the victor:
In 2011, Bergeron, who scored two goals in the Stanley Cup-deciding contest, watched Mark Recchi receive the first pass from Chara. In no way was Recchi an undeserving recipient, but now might be the time for Bergeron to get his first-pass moment. Though he doesn’t wear the ‘C’ in Boston, it often feels as though the Bruins have two captains, with Bergeron the 1B to Chara’s 1A. The longtime Bruins pivot has always done everything right in Boston and he’s a no-brainer to have his jersey retired. With that said, who knows when he’ll get this chance again, so what better time to make it particularly special? Oh, it also doesn’t hurt his case that he delivered what was by all accounts a rousing speech before the Bruins saved their season with a win in Game 6.
If the Bruins win the Cup, Rask is going to be presented with the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. In fact, the only way that doesn’t happen is if Bergeron or Brad Marchand or Bobby Orr himself goes out and scores six goals in Game 7. All right, so the latter can’t happen and two former won't, but you get the point. With that in mind, there may be no better way to reward Rask for his play, which was instrumental in getting the Bruins to this point in the first place, than making him the first player to lift the Stanley Cup after Chara. Unlike Bergeron, who won the Cup as a top-line player in 2011, Rask, who was a backup for that victory, had his first Stanley Cup final as a starter end in devastating fashion. The first Cup pass could help erase that memory.
Unfortunately for Backes, who has waited his entire career to get to this point, he is going to watch Game 7 from the sidelines as a healthy scratch. That has to be tough to stomach, win or lose. But what could surely soothe that sting is if he’s the first player to receive the Cup from Chara, and Backes is certainly deserving. Yes, he didn’t play much in the series – four games and an average of 9:36 in those contests – but Backes is nearing 1,000 games and has never won the Stanley Cup. And it’s not as if there’s no precedent here. Many expected Crosby to pass the Cup to Pascal Dupuis, who missed almost the entire 2015-16 season, after the Penguins’ first of consecutive title wins. That didn’t happen, with the trophy instead going to Daley. Dupuis did get it third, however.
ST. LOUIS BLUES
You can almost guarantee there’s already been hushed conversations about Bouwmeester getting the Stanley Cup from Pietrangelo. And if not conversations – hockey players do tend to be the superstitious type, after all, so they might not risk the so-called jinx – the Blues’ leadership group has definitely at least thought about handing the hardware off to the veteran rearguard. After 1,184 NHL games, more than 700 of which were played without once seeing post-season action, Bouwmeester deserves the chance to lift the Cup. He also deserves it because he’s done brilliant work this post-season in a shutdown role for St. Louis. Alongside Colton Parayko, Bouwmeester has drawn all of the toughest assignments and shut down the opposition’s best, or at least kept them relatively quiet, all post-season.
Steen was the pick in The Hockey News’ Playoff Preview and he is indeed a great choice. He has for years been one of the members of the leadership group. Acquired by St. Louis during the 2008-09 season, Steen has worn an ‘A’ on his sweater since the 2010-11 campaign and has played 710 of his 963 career regular season games with the Blues. To put that into perspective, he is sixth all-time on the franchise’s games played list, will move into third all-time if he plays at least 70 games next season and second all-time if he plays at least 94 games over the next two campaigns. He’s been a mainstay in St. Louis, and if he’s not second, he should definitely be third.
The Blues would be nowhere without O’Reilly, who is St. Louis' top contender for the Conn Smythe Trophy entering Game 7 and has unquestionably been the team’s MVP from the beginning of the season through to Wednesday’s finale. After leading the Blues in regular season scoring, O’Reilly’s seven goals and 21 points leads St. Louis in post-season production. He has been their best player at any position in the final, not to mention their most productive, and he’s given everything. Game 7 of the final will be O’Reilly’s 108th game of the season, which will tie him for the second-most games played in a single NHL campaign in league history. Based on that alone, it can safely be said that no one has given more to the Blues this season than O’Reilly, so he’d be incredibly deserving of being the second player to touch the Stanley Cup should St. Louis win.
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