It took 764 career regular-season games with three teams for Jay Bouwmeester to finally make the playoffs. At 35, with 75 post-season games under his belt, Bouwmeester can finally call himself a Stanley Cup champion.
Bouwmeester sat third in games played by an active player without a championship, with the veteran defender playing 1,184 regular-season contests before finally getting a legitimate shot at the title. After Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo lifted the Cup himself, he passed it off to Bouwmeester, a reward for years of hard work and durability but with nothing to show for. Playing in a second-pairing role with Colton Parayko, Bouwmeester proved he still had a lot left in the tank, even if he's not as effective as he once was.
Bouwmeester's path to glory is a heartwarming one. Everyone loves to see a veteran get rewarded after years of paying his dues on teams that never really contended for a title. But he's not alone: there are many players with a long history in the NHL seeking their first championship. Here's a breakdown of the longest-standing veterans still chasing their first Stanley Cup victories:
Patrick Marleau, Toronto, 39 (1,657 GP)
Marleau's name has been in the rumor mill recently as the Maple Leafs look to clear cap space to sign Mitch Marner long term. To date, Marleau played in just one Cup final with the Sharks back in 2016, coming up short against Pittsburgh. Not the offensive threat he was a decade ago, Marleau still has leadership and durability as both a winger and a center at his disposal. It's expected Marleau will land with a California-based team next season, but with just one year left on his contract, his time is running out. His best shot at a championship is with his former team from San Jose.
Joe Thornton, San Jose, 39 (1,566 GP)
The Sharks did their best to try and rally together to win the Stanley Cup for Thornton this year but ultimately fell to St. Louis in the Western Conference final. An unrestricted free agent this summer, Thornton will need to take a discount from $5 million if he wants to stick around with the Sharks and contend for one last shot at the Stanley Cup. Thornton will be 40 in July, and he's always been a big playoff performer, but he is still chasing his first Stanley Cup to add to his resume as a future Hall of Famer after missing out in 2016.
Dan Hamhuis, Nashville, 36 (1,088 GP)
A sound defender playing a shutdown role in Nashville these days, Hamhuis was one victory away from winning the Stanley Cup with Vancouver in 2011. His early-career playing style of throwing big hits has worn down his body over the long term and, despite having one year left on his contract, the Predators do have a bit of a logjam on the back end next season with Dante Fabbro seeking a full-time spot. Nashville has been good the past few years but just hasn't done enough to win the Cup, and Hamhuis isn't going to make them much better.
Ryan Suter, Minnesota, 34 (1,073 GP)
Suter has consistently been one of the better minute-munching defensemen in the NHL over the past few years and did a lot of the heavy lifting this season when injuries stifled the Wild's playoff hopes. He's still seeking his first Stanley Cup final appearance, and that may be a challenge in Minnesota, a team that looks set for further mediocrity. Suter still has six more years on his contract, and his cap hit of $7.54 million will not be attractive as he nears 40.
Jason Spezza, Dallas, 36 (1,065 GP)
Spezza has always been one of the best playoff performers and looked solid in a depth role in Dallas' run this year, albeit a short one. But since reaching the Stanley Cup final in 2007 with Ottawa, Spezza has failed to battle for another championship. Spezza will not return to Dallas next season and will be a UFA, and after a drastic drop in production over the past few years and a couple of trips to the press box, you have to wonder how many suitors there will be for him this summer. But if a team wants solid leadership in their bottom six, he's more than capable of being a serviceable center.
Jason Pominville, Buffalo, 36 (1,060 GP)
Having spent his entire career split between Buffalo and Minnesota, Pominville has never had the chance to truly fight for a Stanley Cup. After posting a full-season career-low of 31 points with the Sabres this year, Pominville, a pending UFA, won't have a big lineup of teams seeking his services for next season should he not choose retirement. The former all-star was a fan favorite in Buffalo and could return for another season, but he'd be doing so knowing a Cup wouldn't be in the horizon.
Dion Phaneuf, Los Angeles, 34 (1,048 GP)
Phaneuf will have a new home next season, with the Kings currently exploring options to move his contract. Phaneuf was once viewed as one of the toughest defensemen to play against due to his ability to put up solid offensive numbers and throw big hits. Nowadays, he's a depth defender just trying to do his part to stay in a lineup, recording just six points in 67 games with the Kings this season. He has never played for a Stanley Cup but might add value to a team looking for some added toughness on its third defense pairing.
Roberto Luongo, Florida, 40 (1,044 GP)
Luongo is the lone active goalie with 1,000 starts in the NHL. His days as a No. 1 look to be over, especially if the Panthers sign Sergei Bobrovsky. The Panthers still aren't ready to battle for a Cup and while the talent base is there – and having Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin would be huge – Luongo likely won't get a chance to win Lord Stanley's mug again after coming one win short back in 2011 with Vancouver, losing to Boston. He's just 11 wins away from 500, but that might be the last big achievement in his career.
Brent Burns, San Jose, 34 (1,043)
Burns is easily one of the best defensemen of his time, which is funny given that Minnesota drafted him as a right-winger. He has led all defensemen in points on two occasions – including a career-high 83 this season. But Burns has just one Stanley Cup final appearance to his credit, joining Marleau and Thornton on San Jose's unsuccessful run in 2016. Burns still has a few more good years in him, but do the Sharks have what it takes to fight for the ultimate prize?
Henrik Lundqvist, NY Rangers, 37 (857 GP)
Perhaps the greatest seventh-round pick in NHL history, Lundqvist came oh so close to tasting glory in 2014 in a super playoff run by the Swedish netminder. But that's it, and now we're looking at one of the best players to never win the Stanley Cup. Unfortunately for Lundqvist, the Rangers are still a few years away from being a serious contender, even with star prospect Kaapo Kakko. Lundqvist will spend the next few years playing in a 1A/1B goalie situation, but it would be great to see one of the league's most popular figures lift the Cup at least once.
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