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Down Goes Brown: Five NHL Franchise Lifers Who Went Out With A Whimper

Sean McIndoe
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Down Goes Brown: Five NHL Franchise Lifers Who Went Out With A Whimper

Buffalo Sabres superstar Gilbert Perreault versus the Montreal Canadiens in the mid-1970s. Source: Getty Images

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Down Goes Brown: Five NHL Franchise Lifers Who Went Out With A Whimper

Sean McIndoe
By:

The Sedins have made their intentions clear. The twin stars want to remain in Vancouver despite the fact the Canucks have little to no chance at contending for the Stanley Cup this season – or in the foreseeable future. Here are five other star players who stuck with their one-and-only NHL team to the end, even though they were nowhere near Cup contention.

The Sedins made news this week with an article in The Players' Tribune that seemed to all but rule out the possibility of the twins finishing their career anywhere but Vancouver. With the Canucks expected to finish near the bottom of the standings this year, there had been talk the team could make a Ray Bourque-style trade to send its franchise players to a Stanley Cup contender. That door seems closed now.

That means the Sedins will join players like Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom and Jean Beliveau in the fairly exclusive club of star players who spent their entire career with the same franchise. Of course, those situations were a little different – those players stuck around to play their final seasons for a contender. The Sedins know that likely won't be the case for them.

It's far less common for a star to go down with the ship, playing out their final seasons with the only team they've ever known even though they realize they don't have a shot at finishing with a Cup or even a playoff run. But it's not unheard of – Shane Doan's recent retirement was one example. Here are five more.

Thomas Steen, Winnipeg Jets

Steen is a reasonably direct comparable to the Sedins – a Swedish forward on a Canadian team who had never won a Cup and clearly wasn't going to if he stayed put. Steen broke in with the Jets in 1981, but by 1994 he was nearing the end of the road with no title in sight.

Of course, the mid-'90s Jets were in even worse shape than today's Canucks. Not only were they a bad team, having finished no higher than fourth in their division since 1990 and failing to win a playoff round since 1987, but they were on the verge of packing up and moving to Arizona. 

So it was no surprise when Steen's name showed up in trade rumors as the 1993-94 deadline approached. The Toronto Maple Leafs were mentioned as a potential destination, and would've made sense – they were a borderline Cup contender that was shopping for veteran help up front. But the deal never happened (the Leafs landed Mike Gartner instead), and Steen returned for one last partial season after the 1994 lockout, during which the Jets finished last in the Central Division for the second straight year.

At the time, that was assumed to be the last season for the Jets in Winnipeg. When a goodbye rally was held after the season, Steen's number was retired to a loud ovation. That made him the first Swedish player to be honored by an NHL team, not to mention a rare case of a player having his number retired when he was still technically active. While the team ended up making a surprise return for one more season in Winnipeg in 1995-96, Steen did not.

So take solace, Canucks fans. Barring a miracle run, the Sedins may be headed towards a Steen-like finish to their careers. But at least you'll still have a team to cheer on after they're gone.

Gilbert Perreault, Buffalo Sabres

Perreault spent 17 seasons in Buffalo. Like the Sedins, he never won a Cup, making it to the final just once. By 1986, Perreault and the Sabres hadn't won a playoff round in three years and were coming off a last-place finish in the Adams Division.

Perreault was still a reasonably productive player in the latter half of his career, scoring 90 points in 1983-84 and following that up with 83 points in 1984-85. Even as a 35-year-old in 1985-86, he was still good for 21 goals and 60 points, all while taking on a more defensive role under coach Scotty Bowman. If the Sabres had been interested in shopping him, they probably would've had plenty of suitors. But there's little indication that they seriously considered it, and Perreault finished what he thought would be his last season in 1986.

That's where things get a little weird. The league had made changes to the pension rules that would make Perreault eligible for a $250,000 bonus if he played 20 more games. He announced his return, and played out those extra games before retiring for good in November. He insisted that the second retirement wasn't just about money, and he was probably telling the truth. At the time, the Sabres were 4-13-3 and well on their way to another last-place finish, and the team was chafing under Bowman. When Perreault announced he was leaving, he told reporters that he no longer had the same desire to play the game.

Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit Red Wings

After several years of missing the playoffs, Zetterberg finally…oh wait, we can't do this one until 2019. OK, let's try another Red Wings star instead.

Alex Delvecchio, Detroit Red Wings

Delvecchio's career lasted an astounding 24 seasons, and he held the record for most games played with a single franchise until Lidstrom edged past him in his final season. Unlike Steen and Perreault, Delvecchio already had a Cup by the time his career was winding down – three of them, in fact, all with the great Red Wings teams of the early '50s.

But by the end of his career, the Wings weren't great anymore, or even all that good. After losing the Stanley Cup final to the Montreal Canadiens in 1966, the Wings didn't win another playoff game for 12 long years. That stretch included the end of Delvecchio's run. When he hung up his skates a few games into the 1973-74 campaign at the age of 40, the Wings had missed the playoffs for three straight years.

While the Red Wings are notorious for scooping up other team's franchise players at the end of their career – see Mike Modano, Daniel Alfredsson and Borje Salming, among many others – they tend to be unfailingly loyal to their own stars. In addition to Delvecchio and Lidstrom, Yzerman also ranks among the single-franchise leaders, and Gordie Howe would top them all if not for his brief comeback with the Hartford Whalers. In Delvecchio's case, there was no talk of him going elsewhere; on the day his playing career ended, he was immediately named the team's new coach, and would later assume the GM role as well.

Mike Richter, New York Rangers

Believe it or not, no retired goaltender has played more games with just one team than Richter's 666 with the Rangers. There's a good chance his record will be broken once Henrik Lundqvist hangs up the pads. If so, Rangers fans had better hope that Lundqvist's career ends on a brighter note than Richter's did.

By the end of the 1996-97 season, Richter was 30 years old and just three years removed from leading the Rangers to their first Stanley Cup since 1940. The team had won at least one playoff round in every season since, and had just made a trip to the conference final. Plus, they'd signed Wayne Gretzky. Things were looking up.

But then it all fell apart. Mark Messier bolted for Vancouver, the team's highly paid roster imploded, and even an incoming Glen Sather couldn't right the ship. Despite Richter playing reasonably well, the Rangers finished under .500 and missed the playoffs in each of the next six seasons.

So did the team ever consider moving on from their Cup-winning goalie? Well, here's the strange part: they did. Twice.

Richter was technically the property of two other teams during his career. In 1998, he was left unprotected in the expansion draft and claimed by the Predators. And in 2002, the Rangers actually traded him to the Oilers. But both moves came when Richter was headed to unrestricted free agency, and both times he re-signed with the Rangers. The two moves were essentially paper transactions, meant to exploit the league's shortlived UFA compensation loophole.

According to the rumor mill, the team did think about moving Richter in a more traditional deal, with one rumor sending him to the Blues for Mike Van Ryn or Barret Jackman in 2001. But it never happened, and Richter retired in 2003, a full half-dozen years after his last playoff action.

Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh Penguins

Lemieux's case is just a little bit different than the rest of our list. It's fair to say that it was exceedingly unlikely he'd be traded late in his career, mainly because such a move would have required the approval of the team's owner…who was Mario Lemieux.

Still, it's easy to forget that one of the greatest playoff performers in the history of the sport actually ended his career with a long post-season drought. Lemieux's first retirement ended with a dramatic comeback midway through the 2000-01 season, and he helped the Penguins make a push to the conference final. But while he'd play until 2006, he'd never return to the playoffs.

In fact, the Penguins were absolutely awful during Lemieux's final four seasons in the league, never even reaching the 70-point mark. That was hardly his fault; when he was healthy, he was nearly as dominant as ever, including 91 points in 67 games in 2002-03. But injuries sidelined him for most of the other three seasons, and the Penguins' perilous financial situation doomed the team to repeated last-place finishes. Lemieux retired for good midway through the 2005-06 season, fourteen years after his last Stanley Cup win.

The next year, the Penguins topped 100 points and returned to the playoffs, and won a Cup soon after. Clearly, Mario had been holding them back all along.

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Down Goes Brown: Five NHL Franchise Lifers Who Went Out With A Whimper