The more teams there are in the NHL, the tougher it is to win the Stanley Cup. And the more star players who miss out on the big prize. Here are five guys who are rapidly approaching last-chance saloon.
The Stanley Cup handoff is one of hockey’s warm traditions, either our final morsel of mystery in a long season or a time of uplifting sentimentality. Sometimes it’s both.
Whatever the case, it’s always an homage of respect when the captain of the winning team identifies a peer and passes the world’s most iconic trophy to No. 2 in the pecking order. Joe Sakic to Ray Bourque in 2001, Steve Yzerman to Scotty Bowman in 2002 and Scott Niedermayer to brother Rob in 2007 are some of the more indelible moments.
More often than not in recent years, the honor has gone to a veteran who’s tasting ultimate NHL glory for the first time. Last season it was 36-year-old Michal Handzus, in 2012 35-year-old Willie Mitchell got the call and in 2008 38-year-old Dallas Drake had his turn.
This year’s list of greybeards seeking Cup No. 1, and that second spot in the Cup handoff, is dotted with stars. For some, it may be their final opportunity. Here are some players to watch, ranked in order of tears of joy fans would shed (with five being outright sobbing):
Jarome Iginla, 36, Boston. One of the most respected players of any generation, he’s the latter-day Bourque with a wider smile. Everyone loved Raymond and everyone would be giddy for ‘Iggy.’ 5 tears.
Saku Koivu, 39, Anaheim. His slick play made him a favorite long before his stirring comeback from cancer in 2002. How can you not root for a Hollywood ending to his career? 5 tears.
Shane Doan, 37, Phoenix. Doan isn’t universally embraced – he’s a repeat offender in terms of supplemental NHL discipline and Kings fans love to boo him – but he has built up enough of a good-guy reputation over the years to elicit some gushiness. 3.5 tears.
Daniel Alfredsson, 41, Detroit. Except for large pockets in Ontario (yes, we mean you Sens and Leafs fans), Alfredsson is admired for his effort and contributions to the community. He’s an underdog who beat the odds, a storyline that would be punctuated with a Cup. 3.5 tears.
Kimmo Timonen, 39, Philadelphia. It’s hard to believe he’s already played 15 seasons and more than 1,000 NHL games, but this campaign might be his last in North America. He has been a remarkably efficient and effective blueliner for each of his teams, the kind of inoffensive, loyal player for whom you’re genuinely pleased. 3 tears.
Other over-35 vets still in need of a Cup (but who won’t get the handoff this year): Ryan Smyth, 38, Edmonton; Ed Jovanovski, 37, Florida; Olli Jokinen, 35, Winnipeg.
And then there’s Todd Bertuzzi, 38. While he could conceivably get his first this year, the still-vilified winger wouldn’t supercede Alfie in the pecking order. Would he?
Who are you hoping to see hoist the Cup for the first time?