Patrick Marleau Image by: Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images
Ray Bourque’s moment with the Stanley Cup remains one of the most iconic images in NHL history, and these five veterans could get their chance to re-create that scene this post-season.
For more than 20 years, spanning more than 1,500 games, Ray Bourque was a fixture of the Boston Bruins. He was the team captain, a five-time Norris Trophy winner in Boston and one of the greatest offensive defensemen in the history of the game. But as the Bruins sunk in the standings as the end of the 1999-2000 campaign rolled around, Boston made the difficult decision to part ways with the legendary defenseman.
Unlike many trades involving a longtime fan-favorite, though, fans in Boston genuinely wanted to see Bourque succeed with the Colorado Avalanche. Reason being is that despite his best efforts with the Bruins, the Stanley Cup continued to elude him. He had brushes with the sport’s greatest prize, of course. In the 1988 playoffs, Boston got all the way to the final before the Edmonton Oilers swept them. And the Bruins returned to the final again against the Oilers two years later, but it was another series in which Bourque and Boston fell short, this time by a margin of four games to one.
In Colorado, though, Bourque had the opportunity to be a part of an absolute powerhouse, and the hope of many was that the Avalanche would be able to provide him with the opportunity to finally win a Stanley Cup. The first time around, Colorado was unsuccessful, but Bourque stuck around for one last season with the Avalanche and finally was able to lift the Stanley Cup in what was one of the most iconic moments in finals history. It was the perfect end to an extraordinary career.
Each season provides fans with the opportunity to witness a similar moment — a veteran who has battled his entire career finally lifting the trophy that all play for — and this campaign is no different. Here are five players who could at long last have their Stanley Cup moment this post-season:
Excluding Jaromir Jagr, who is technically still active despite being waived and heading to the Czech Republic to finish the campaign, no player in the NHL has more games under his belt than Marleau. The 38-year-old has skated in 1,555 big-league games over the course of his 20-year career and he has been one of the most dangerous offensive weapons over that time. Since 1997-98, when Marleau made his debut with the San Jose Sharks, he has scored 508 goals and 1,115 points. Only four players — Jagr, Joe Thornton, Jarome Iginla and Marian Hossa — have been more prolific. Yet, a Stanley Cup still eludes Marleau.
He's come close, to be sure. It was only two years ago that the Sharks fell short in the Stanley Cup final, and San Jose enjoyed several years where they were considered one of the top contenders. But now in Toronto, Marleau is attempting to get his Cup with the young, upstart Maple Leafs. Getting out of the Atlantic Division won't be easy for Toronto, particularly with Boston and Tampa Bay playing such great hockey, but the speed and skill the Leafs possess make them a threat. And with time running out in his pursuit of a championship, Marleau could very well take his game to another level in the post-season.
Some considered San Jose's season over when Thornton, 38, fell injured in late January, but the Sharks have managed to take the loss of their veteran pivot in stride. In fact, the Sharks were in second in the Pacific Division at the time of Thornton’s injury and remain in second spot a month later. That's good news with Thornton a possibility to return late in the season or by the time the playoffs roll around.
If there's any single veteran player who is deserving of a championship, it’s Thornton. Besides Jagr, Thornton is the highest-scoring active player in the NHL. He broke into the league with the Bruins in 1997 and has since accumulated 397 goals and 1,427 points across 1,493 games. He’s a Hart Trophy and Art Ross Trophy winner, a defensively sound center and one of the fiercest competitors of his generation. He should be a no-brainer for the Hall of Fame. The only thing missing from his resume is the Stanley Cup. Like Marleau, Thornton has come close with San Jose, but his days in the NHL are likely numbered. Thornton winning a Cup would be a Bourque-esque sendoff.
He hasn't signed on the dotted line yet, but several months after hanging up the skates for what seemed like the final time, Fisher announced he's on the comeback trail and the belief is he will be in Nashville's lineup by March. The timing couldn't be better for Fisher or the Predators, either. For Fisher, 37, coming back at this point in the season allow him to be well-rested with none of the bumps and bruises that would've certainly come along with an arduous campaign, while Nashville adds to the already considerable depth of their lineup by bringing aboard a versatile veteran forward who will embrace whatever role is asked of him.
Fisher certainly understands how great this opportunity is, too. He has been to two Stanley Cup finals — the first with Ottawa in 2007, the second last season with Nashville — but the Predators are more prepared to challenge for a title than any team Fisher has been a part of in the past. He might not play big minutes, but after a career that is almost sure to span 1,100-plus games by the end of the season, Fisher has put in the time worthy of ending his career on a high note.
It's likely only a matter of days before Nash changes addresses. The New York Rangers have made it clear that he's on the market, and Nash has had no problem drawing interest. And wherever Nash goes, you can rest assured that the team will be an honest contender for the Stanley Cup, which would give the soon-to-be 34-year-old the chance to finally hoist the chalice.
Nash may not fit in the same mold as Marleau or Thornton, but it's worth remembering that there was a time when he was considered among the league's top superstars. In recent years, plagued by injury trouble, Nash's production has dipped to its lowest levels, but he continues to provide size and goal-scoring acumen. Among active players, only Jagr, Marleau and Alex Ovechkin have more goals than Nash, who is only three seasons removed from a 42-goal campaign and won the Rocket Richard Trophy as a sophomore.
Despite only skating in four playoff games in the first nine seasons of his career, Nash has managed to come close to a Cup. The Rangers fell in the 2014 final to the Los Angeles Kings. Moving to contender this year will undoubtedly give Nash his best chance since.
Guaranteed he's not among the first names that come to mind when dreaming up a list of veteran skaters who are deserving of a Stanley Cup, but you won't find many players who have been as much of a workhorse as Bouwmeester with as little reward to show for it. The 34-year-old ranks 10th among active skaters in games played and 737 of his 1,101 games came consecutively — for a time, he was the NHL’s modern ironman. But that streak and Bouwmeester’s incredible effort across his career is all the more impressive when taking into consideration how much he’s played.
Since the 2002-03 season, only Zdeno Chara has seen more ice time than Bouwmeester, who debuted that season with the Florida Panthers. Statistically, maybe Bouwmeester doesn't stand out in the same way as other defensemen, but he has always been a steady presence and reliable rearguard.
Bouwmeester should simply be due for some playoff success, too. He has only seen 49 games of playoff action in his career and only once has he played beyond the second round. If the Blues make a deep run and deliver a surprise Cup victory, Bouwmeester should be first in line to hoist the trophy after captain Alex Pietrangelo.
BONUS: Jarome Iginla
Massive caveat here: Iginla has only just returned to the ice — he’s skating with the Boston Bruins’ AHL affiliate in Providence — and there's no guarantee he signs a contract before the trade deadline. That said, who wouldn't want to see Iginla lift the Stanley Cup before he skates off into the sunset? There are a few players who are as beloved as Iginla and few who would elicit a Bourque-like response from fans around the league. Iginla hasn’t suited up since last season and even that was the worst year of his career. Still, it would be amazing for a contender to bring him aboard as a depth option, because even if he doesn't play much, Iginla — a 625-goal scorer with 1,300 points to his name — should get to enjoy Stanley Cup glory at least once before he officially retires.