Down Goes Brown: Which NHLers could join the one-franchise club?

Connor Brown is confident that things will sort itself out with respect to a new contract with the Maple Leafs, and is staying away from social media outlets and trade rumours.

• Playing career with one team a rarity
• Zetterberg, Keith smart bets to do it
• Will shot at Cup compel Sedins to move on?

You hear the term “franchise player” thrown around a lot these days, typically as a slightly fancier way of saying a player is very good. But actually playing out your entire career with one NHL franchise isn’t easy. Mario Lemieux managed to do it, but Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe didn’t. Nicklas Lidstrom did, but not Bobby Orr or Ray Bourque. Rocket Richard, Joe Sakic and Steve Yzerman made it, but not Mark Messier, Phil Esposito or Marcel Dionne.

And so far, it’s been an especially rough summer for modern-day players looking to join the club. Among the active leaders in games played with one team, as many as four players could have new homes in October. Patrick Marleau has already said goodbye to San Jose after 20 years. Shane Doan has been told that his services won’t be required in Arizona after 22 years with the organization, while Chris Neil got the same message from the Senators after 16. And as of right now, Andrei Markov’s 17-year tenure with the Canadiens appears to be in serious jeopardy.

Some of those players might still get to claim one-franchise status — Markov could re-sign in Montreal, and Doan and Neil could retire rather than sign elsewhere. But this summer has made it clear that playing out a decade or more with one organization doesn’t guarantee anything, and you never know when a player or team will decide that it’s time to sever a long-term relationship.

So today, let’s take a look at the 10 players with the most games played for a single team that they’re still on the roster of, and try to figure out which ones have the best odds of ending their career as a member of the one-franchise club.

Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Canucks

The tenure: 1,248 games for Henrik and 1,225 for Daniel, dating back to 2000

Why they’ll make it: Both sides in this one have been clear: The Sedins will finish their career in Vancouver. The twins have gone on the record to say they don’t want to leave. And the Canucks seem happy to hold onto them, resisting calls to think about moving their two veteran stars to help kickstart a rebuild.

On top of that, there’s another issue in play here: It’s just not easy to take on a pair of high salaries in the same deal. Assuming the twins will want to stay together wherever they play, there just aren’t many teams out there that could add that sort of cap hit. Sticking it out in Vancouver and then retiring as Canucks isn’t just the sentimental choice, it’s the practical one.

Why they won’t: The brothers have just one year left on their contracts, and the Canucks are expected to be a bad team this year and probably a few after that. Trading them today would be all but impossible, but getting a retained-salary deal done at the deadline might be realistic. And even assuming they finish the season as Canucks, the Sedins could head into unrestricted free agency next summer. Maybe they’d want to take a swing at a Stanley Cup somewhere before calling it quits.

Chance of making the one-franchise club: 75%. This will seem low to Canucks fans, many of whom seem to assume that the Sedins playing out their career in Vancouver is a sure thing. Maybe it is. But if Doan and the Coyotes taught us anything, it’s that loyalty has its limits, especially when a rebuilding team wants to go young. Is it really that hard to imagine the twins at least thinking about a discount deal with a contender next summer?

Henrik Zetterberg, Red Wings

The tenure: 1,000 games on the nose, dating back to 2002

Why they’ll make it: A lot of what we just wrote about the Sedins would apply here, too. It’s a veteran player on a rebuilding team that probably won’t have a shot at a Stanley Cup anytime soon.

But there are two key differences. First, Zetterberg already has a Cup ring. And second (and more importantly), he’s signed for four more years at a cap hit north of $6 million. Free agency isn’t on the radar, and even if the Red Wings wanted to trade him, they’d have trouble finding anyone willing to take on that deal.

On top of that, this is the Red Wings; no team holds onto its stars like Detroit. They made sure to do it for everyone from Yzerman to Lidstrom to Alex Delvecchio to Pavel Datsyuk. Well, kind of.

Why they won’t: Datsyuk never played anywhere else, but the Red Wings did trade his rights. That was a unique situation, of course, but it shows that Ken Holland is willing to get creative when it comes to dumping bad contracts. Zetterberg’s deal isn’t awful yet, but it’s headed there fast, and dumping it on a floor team down the line could be the sort of painful decision the rebuilding Wings have no choice but to make.

Chance of making the one-franchise club: 90%. In today’s NHL, I’m not sure you ever go higher than 90 until the player is actually making their way to the podium to announce their retirement. But of everyone on our list, Zetterberg is the most likely to retire with his team.

Ryan Dixon and Rory Boylen go deep on pucks with a mix of facts and fun, leaning on a varied group of hockey voices to give their take on the country’s most beloved game.

Dustin Brown, Kings

The tenure: 964 games dating back to 2003

Why they’ll make it: He’s been a warrior for the franchise, lifting two Stanley Cups as their captain. But let’s face it, the real reason Brown will retire as a King is his contract. With five years left at a nearly $6-million cap hit, and given Brown’s recent performance, it’s one of the worst contracts in the league. Even if the Kings wanted to trade him, no other team is going anywhere near that deal.

Why they won’t: The contract may be untradeable, but that doesn’t mean the Kings are stuck with it. Brown’s deal isn’t weighted down with bonuses, making it relatively straightforward to buy out. New management will no doubt give him a chance to find his game again before going that route, but this team already stripped him of his captaincy. The writing is on the wall here.

Chance of making the one-franchise club: 30%. Brown is a buyout waiting to happen.

Brent Seabrook, Blackhawks

The tenure: 923 games dating back to 2005

Why they’ll make it: Like Brown, Seabrook is a declining player locked into a long-term deal. His may even be worse, as it runs through 2024, so a trade would be tough to pull off. What’s more, Stan Bowman’s strategy has been to relentlessly shed supporting pieces while keeping the Hawks’ core together at all costs, and there’s some indication that he still views Seabrook as one of those core pieces.

Why they won’t: Bowman’s already shown that he can be ruthless when he needs to, and Seabrook still has enough value right now that trade interest from some team desperate for blueline help isn’t impossible to imagine. If that doesn’t happen, a buyout down the line would have to be in play.

Chance of making the one-franchise club: 50%. Marian Hossa’s presumed departure helps the Hawks’ cap crunch a little, but also shifts the spotlight to Seabrook’s deal.

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Tim and Sid
Patrick Marleau talks playing for his first Canadian NHL team
Originally aired July 03 2017

Alex Ovechkin, Capitals

The tenure: 921 games, dating back to 2005

Why they’ll make it: He’s quite possibly the greatest goal-scorer of all-time. More importantly, he’s the franchise. Literally, the entire organization has built its identity around Ovechkin since he entered the league.

Why they won’t: Lately, that identity has been “losing big playoff games.” It’s not fair to lay the blame for all of that squarely at Ovechkin’s feet, but he has to accept some of it. The Capitals can talk all they want about fresh starts or changing the culture, but there’s really only one way to hit the reset button on the last decade.

Chance of making the one-franchise club: 70%. It doesn’t seem like a trade will happen this summer. Brian MacLellan largely shot down the talk, any deal would be tough to pull off, and the window to do something truly creative has already passed. But Ovechkin is only 31 and should have plenty of years left, including after his current deal expires in 2021.

On the one hand, this all feels a little like the mid-’90s in Detroit, when there were calls to trade Yzerman because the Red Wings couldn’t win a Cup with him. Maybe it is, and we look back on the Ovechkin talk someday and laugh. But the thought of the Capitals moving on without their franchise player doesn’t seem all that far-fetched these days.

Tomas Plekanec, Canadiens

The tenure: 921 games dating back to 2003

Why they’ll make it: Plekanec will turn 35 in October, so he could be nearing the end of the line. With one year left on his deal, he could play out the string in Montreal and then retire or head overseas.

Why they won’t: The Canadiens already exposed him in the expansion draft, and as Marc Bergevin recently reminded us, loyalty is for dogs. Even after all these years, Plekanec has never felt like a critical piece of the Canadiens roster; you probably weren’t even expecting to see him show up on this list. Picturing him in some other uniform isn’t all that hard.

Chance of making the one-franchise club: 30%. This sure seems like it will be Plekanec’s last year in Montreal. The question is whether he sticks around the NHL for another year or two somewhere else.

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Duncan Keith, Blackhawks

The tenure: 913 games dating back to 2005

Why they’ll make it: Like Seabrook, Keith is another aging Chicago blueliner on a long-term deal. Unlike Seabrook, he’s unquestionably still a core piece, and he’s more than living up to his contract. Guys like this don’t get moved.

Why they won’t: His back-diving deal runs through 2023, so at some point it could become a problem for the Blackhawks. There are cap-recapture penalties in play, although those can be worked around. It’s not impossible to imagine a scenario where Chicago has to dump an aging Keith on some other team’s cap years down the line.

Chance of making the one-franchise club: 85%. Keith is only 33 and has been a workhorse, so he should have plenty of miles left on him. That’s enough time for things to change, but for now he sure seems like a Blackhawk for life.

Patrice Bergeron, Bruins

The tenure: 899 games dating back to 2003

Why they’ll make it: He’s a great player locked into a long-term contract at a tough-but-reasonable cap hit. The Bruins have their share of issues, but Bergeron isn’t one of them.

Why they won’t: He’s only 31, so there’s lots of runway left here. And it’s fair to say that the Bruins have had an, um, unusual history with star players. That usually involves trading them away early in their career, and Bergeron somehow survived that stretch in Boston. But if Bourque and Orr could wind up elsewhere, surely Bergeron could, too.

Chance of making the one-franchise club: 75%. Wayne Cashman is the all-time leader in games played among players who only suited up for Boston (with 1,027), and he ranks just 265th on the all-time list. But the betting here is that Bergeron sticks around long enough to pass him.

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Boomer & Warrener in the Morning
Karl Alzner with Boomer and Pinder
Originally aired July 12 2017

Mikko Koivu, Wild

The tenure: 843 games, dating back to 2005

Why they’ll make it: Koivu has quietly been the Wild’s most important player for most of the last decade. He’s a consistent two-way force, he’s their captain, and he’s quite possibly the most popular player in Minnesota.

Why they won’t: Koivu’s contract runs out next summer, and with so much money tied up for so long in guys like Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, the Wild will have to be careful about re-upping with the veteran center. The team has made it clear that getting Koivu re-signed isn’t a priority right now and he doesn’t want to negotiate during the season, so there’s at least a chance he makes it to UFA status.

Chance of making the one-franchise club: 70%. Koivu’s their captain and the fans love him, so there’s no way they let him walk just because he’s 34 and his contract is expiring. Wait, that sounded familiar.

That wraps up the top 10. In case you’re wondering, the next players on the list are Anze Kopitar (840 games), Marc-Edouard Vlasic (812), Joe Pavelski (806) and Niklas Kronwall (795).

But just for fun, let’s close out our list with a lightning round of a half-dozen more names. These younger stars haven’t been around as long as most of the names above, but that doesn’t mean we can’t speculate about their long-term futures.

Sidney Crosby, Penguins: 95%. OK, I know I already said that 90 was as high as I’d go, but Crosby has to be the exception. He’s signed through 2025 on a laughably reasonable deal, he’s already won everything there is to win, and everyone in Pittsburgh loves him. Yes, yes, if Wayne Gretzky can be traded then blah blah blah, so he won’t lock him in at 100 per cent. But he’s as close as anyone.

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Sportsnet’s Starting Lineup
Penguins not interested in keeping Kessel?
Originally aired July 12 2017

Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers: 90%. He’s 35 and signed through 2021 on what you’d assume is his final NHL deal. He hasn’t won a Cup yet, and there are teams that are better positioned to do it than the Rangers. But those teams tend to already have goaltenders.

Carey Price, Canadiens: 75%. Sure, it’s tempting to point to the Patrick Roy debacle, but that was two decades ago. Now that Price has signed his big extension, you figure he’s in for the long haul in Montreal. He hasn’t turned 30 yet, so let’s not get crazy on calling anything a sure thing, but there isn’t much to see here.

Drew Doughty, Kings: 65%. He’ll need a new contract after 2019, and he’s only 27 years old so there’s lots of time left for things to play out. Still, Doughty’s the kind of defenceman that teams do anything in their power to hold onto and he already has two Cup rings, so assuming he doesn’t mind waiting through a rebuild, he seems likely to stick around.

Erik Karlsson, Senators: 60%. Deep breaths, Sens fans. Karlsson is in essentially the same boat as Doughty (minus the Cup rings), with plenty of years left in the league. He’ll be worth massive money when it’s time for an extension next year, and based on his Twitter history, he appears to know it. Can the Senators afford that sort of deal? They probably don’t have any choice, and it’s hard to imagine Karlsson playing anywhere else. Then again, we would have said the same about other Ottawa stars.

John Tavares, Islanders: 50%. Hoo boy. He still hasn’t signed that extension, and talks between the two sides have gone quiet (or maybe just private). A trade or UFA exit still seems unlikely here. But remember, we’re setting the odds for Tavares playing anywhere else at any point over the rest of his career, not just within the next season or two. Given that, those 50/50 odds might even be generous to Islanders fans, but they’ve suffered enough over the years.