We may be days away from seeing the presentation of the Stanley Cup. It’s a scene that hockey fans know well: Gary Bettman wanders out, talks for way too long, forces the winning captain to pose awkwardly for photographs, and then finally relinquishes the trophy as the boos rain down around him.
And then, seconds later, all of that is washed away by one of the hockey world’s favourite traditions: the captain picking out a teammate to receive the first Cup handoff.
It’s a great sight. And it’s evolved into one of the highest honours that a player can receive. It typically goes to a respected veteran, often an Old Guy Without a Cup, or in many cases someone who’s had to overcome adversity to get to the moment. Depending on the circumstances, there may even be tears involved.
Hockey fans eat this stuff up. So today, we’ll relive those moments with a ranking of each and every Stanley Cup handoff dating back to 1994.
Why 1994? Because while it may seem like a longstanding tradition, the sight of a captain handing the Cup off to a teammate is relatively new one.
Before Bettman came along, it was far more common for the Cup to be accepted by the captain and his alternates together, at which point they’d quickly be mobbed by teammates, coaches and front office staff. (The Calgary Flames‘ 1989 win was a typical example of what things used to look like.)
That started to change with Bettman’s first presentation in 1993; the Montreal Canadiens still surrounded the Cup, but captain Guy Carbonneau made a point of making sure that Denis Savard got the first touch. It wasn’t until the New York Rangers’ win in 1994 that the winning captain handled the duties on his own, which quickly became the standard.
So that gives us 21 handoffs to work with, each one meaningful, and each one no doubt memorable for fans of the winning team. But some have stood the test of time more than others. So let’s count them down, all the way to a shocking pick for No. 1. (Spoiler: You will not be remotely shocked.)
#21 – 1997: Detroit Red Wings
Who: After the Red Wings wrapped up their first Cup win in 43 years, Steve Yzerman takes an extended skate before handing the Cup to… owner Mike Ilitch?
Why: Because Yzerman knew who signs the checks, I guess.
Bonus points: Two members of the Russian Five, Igor Larianov and Slava Fetisov get the Cup next and skate with it together.
Overall score: 1.0/10. Ilitch had been the owner for 15 years, some of them tough, and I guess we can give some points for creativity here. But an owner? Thankfully, the trend did not catch on.
#20 – 2006: Carolina Hurricanes
Why: Wesley was 37 years old and had been with the franchise for 12 years, not counting a brief stopover in Toronto that absolutely nobody remembers.
Bonus points: Wesley was once traded for three first-round draft picks, which then-Whalers GM Jim Rutherford justified by pointing out the team was terrible at drafting.
Overall score: 2.5/10. Not all that memorable. But in fairness, nothing could have lived up to the sight of Brind’Amour stealing the Cup from Bettman.
#19 – 2004: Tampa Bay Lightning
Who: Nobody had ever played longer without reaching the final than Lightning winger Dave Andreychuk, so he was the obvious choice for first handoff honors. But there was a problem: He was already the Lightning captain. So he went with the next oldest guy, Tim Taylor.
Why: Taylor was the other veteran on what was a young Lightning team.
Bonus points: We need more hockey players named after sitcom characters.
Overall score: 3.9/10. This is your semi-regular reminder that it’s really weird that nobody ever talks about Andreychuk making the Hall of Fame.
#18 – 2009: Pittsburgh Penguins
Why: Guerin wasn’t exactly a classic pick; he already had a Cup ring from his days in New Jersey, and he’d only been with the Penguins for a few weeks. But on a very young team, Crosby didn’t have all that many options.
Bonus points: The 17-year age gap between Crosby and Guerin is a Cup handoff record that may never be broken.
Overall score: 4.2/10. Would Sergei Gonchar have been a better pick? I think he might have.
#17 – 1996: Colorado Avalanche
Who: The 1996 final was among the worst ever, one most fans would rather forget, so it makes sense that it’s one of the few years where a video of the full Cup presentation is hard to find. This clip picks up after Bettman has made his appearance, but does capture Joe Sakic turning around to hand off to Curtis Leschyshyn.
Why: This one seems weird; Leschyshyn wasn’t a veteran, or a star, or coming off any particular adversity, and at 26 I’m pretty sure he’s the youngest player to ever get handoff honors. My first thought was that he just happened to be the guy standing there when Sakic turned around. But according to this forum post, Sakic was actually fulfilling a promise he’d made the night before, in recognition of a friendship dating back to their rookie season as Quebec Nordiques.
Bonus points: This video seems to show Adam Foote making a grab before Sakic shrugs him off.
Overall score: 4.4/10. Not a bad moment, given the explanation. But it’s fair to say that Sakic’s next opportunity would end up being slightly more memorable.
#16 – 2013: Chicago Blackhawks
Why: He’d only been there since the trade deadline, but the 36-year-old Handzus had undisputed OGWAC status on a Blackhawks team where most of the roster had already won in 2010.
Bonus points: “There you go big boy!” [butt slap]
Overall score: 4.5/10. Handzus had just missed a Cup in 2012, leaving the Kings a season before they won it all.
#15 – 2007: Anaheim Ducks
Who: The 2007 Ducks featured one of the greatest Old Guy Without a Cup stories of all-time: Teemu Selanne, who was days away from turning 37 and making his first ever appearance in the final. He was one of the league’s most universally beloved players around the globe, and the NHL has prominently featured the image of a sobbing Selanne finally having his Cup moment in its marketing ever since.
Which is why it’s kind of weird to look back and realize he didn’t actually get first handoff honors. You might remember him getting it. I know I did. So did a few other people I asked. But he didn’t. Instead, Scott Niedermayer handed off to his brother Rob.
OK, granted, handing the Stanley Cup to your brother is an undeniably cool moment, and it’s hard to blame the Niedermayers for taking it. But Selanne would have been such a perfect choice, as evidenced by how many of us have apparently just decided to go ahead and remember it that way anyway.
Bonus points: Seriously, the number of hockey fans who remember a moment that never happened is weird, right?
Overall score: 4.8/10. Teemu Selanne getting the first handoff in 2007 is the Berenstein Bears book cover of NHL history.
#14 – 2011: Boston Bruins
Who: In one of my all-time favorite presentation moments, Zdeno Chara takes the Cup in front of a nuclear-hot Vancouver crowd that’s on the verge of rioting, and then skates around while literally yelling the word “YAY!”. He then hands off to Mark Recchi.
Why: Recchi already had two Cup rings, but at 41 he was by far the oldest Bruin.
Bonus points: YAY!
Overall score: 5.3/10. Tim Thomas might have been a better pick, but given that he’d had no idea what to do with the Conn Smythe he’d just won, Chara probably made the right call.
#13 – 2008: Detroit Red Wings
Who: In his first handoff as Red Wings captain, Nicklas Lidstrom goes with veteran forward Dallas Drake.
Why: Drake was a classic OGWAC story, winning his first title in what turned out to be the final game of a 16-year career.
Bonus points: Drake had been a Red Wings draft pick (in the same draft where they picked Lidstrom), but was traded right before the team started winning Cups. He’d just returned as a free agent for his final season.
Overall score: 5.6/10. As always, Lidstrom makes the right play.
#12 – 2014: Los Angeles Kings
Who: Dustin Brown goes with a somewhat unusual choice of handing off to an injured player who hadn’t played in the final: defenceman Robyn Regehr.
Why: Injury status aside, Regehr was a longtime veteran who’d come close with the Flames in 2004.
Bonus points: I like how Regehr’s standard-issue hockey nickname of “Reggie” somehow morphed into “Reginald” over the years.
Overall score: 5.8/10. This one came down to Regehr or fellow first-time veteran Marian Gaborik. Either was a solid choice.
#11 – 2003: New Jersey Devils
Who: In his third and final handoff, Stevens chooses longtime teammate Scott Niedermayer.
Why: Niedermayer had been a key part of all three Devils championships, and while he wasn’t exactly “old”, he was close enough that this made for a solid choice.
Bonus points: The Star Wars music is a nice touch.
Overall score: 6.1/10. By the way, Niedermayer is the only player to appear on this list as both ends of the handoff.
#10 – 2012: Los Angeles Kings
Who: Brown celebrates the first Cup in franchise history by handing off to veteran defenceman Willie Mitchell.
Why: This was Mitchell’s first Cup at the age of 35, and he’d overcome career-threatening concussion issues to get it.
Bonus points: Mitchell’s one-legged Cup dance is excellent.
Overall score: 6.3/10. Be sure to stick around for Mitchell’s handoff to Simon Gagne, who touches the Cup for the first time in his life and immediately almost drops it.
#9 – 2000: New Jersey Devils
Who: In his second time through the Cup presentation process, Stevens hands off to veteran Randy McKay.
Why: McKay was a longtime Devil, one who’d spent much of his career doing the thankless job of logging fourth-line minutes and, occasionally, playing the enforcer role.
Bonus points: ESPN kindly decides to give this one the silent treatment, allowing us all to hear Stevens dropping f-bombs throughout.
Overall score: 6.7/10. Somewhat surprisingly, McKay is the only tough guy to ever get first handoff honors.
#8 – 1994: New York Rangers
Who: As mentioned, this was the first of what became the traditional Cup presentations, so we didn’t really appreciate it at the time. But Mark Messier gets a one-on-one transfer from Bettman, laughing manically all the way, then takes the Cup for a quick skate before turning around and seeking out Kevin Lowe.
Why: Lowe and Messier had been teammates for five Cups in Edmonton, so this felt fitting.
Bonus points: To Sportsnet’s own Nick Kypreos for sneaking in the first kiss on the Cup before Messier can lift it.
Overall score: 6.8/10. The Rangers were stacked with veterans, so Messier had plenty of options. You could also have made a strong case for Steve Larmer.
#7 – 1999: Dallas Stars
Why: Because Modano was the greatest player in franchise history. Also, everyone outside of Dallas already kind of assumed he was the captain.
Bonus points: Seriously, you’re thinking “Wait, Modano wasn’t the captain?” right now, aren’t you?
Overall score: 7.2/10. Sometimes the simple answer is the right one.
#6 – 2010: Chicago Blackhawks
Who: After accepting the Blackhawks’ first Cup in 47 years, Toews hands off to Marian Hossa.
Why: Hossa had been chasing the Cup for years, and was making his third straight final appearance with this third different team.
Bonus points: The booing Flyer fans are a nice touch.
Overall score: 7.5/10. Can’t argue with this pick.
#5 – 1995: New Jersey Devils
Who: Half the Devils seem to be lobbying for the honors, and a few even get a hand on the Cup, but after a short skate Stevens turns and passes off to John MacLean.
Bonus points: Two other longtime Devils, Bruce Driver and Ken Daneyko, get the Cup next. This really feels like the one that established the Cup handoff as a meaningful hockey moment.
Overall score: 8.1/10. The handoff was only slightly spoiled by Lou Lamoriello deciding MacLean wasn’t doing a good enough job and immediately firing him.
#4 – 2002: Detroit Red Wings
Who: In Yzerman’s third and final hand off, he once again goes to a non-player. But instead of Ilitch, this time it’s coach Scotty Bowman.
Why: Bowman hadn’t officially announced that this was his last season, but it had been heavily rumoured since mid-season.
Bonus points: Bowman breaking out the skates for his last Cup as a coach will never stop being cool.
Overall score: 8.8/10. The 2002 Red Wings were a ridiculous team that included a few solid OGWACs, including Luc Robitaille, Steve Duchesne and Dominik Hasek. Instead, Yzerman went with the guy who had more Cups than anyone. And it works.
#3 – 2015: Chicago Blackhawks
Who: Toews goes with one of the most obvious choices in recent years: defenceman Kimmo Timonen.
Why: Timonen was 40 years old, playing in what he’d already announced was his final season, and had overcome career-threatening health problems just to be playing at all. This is as close to the archetypal first handoff as you can get.
Bonus points: I love the way Timonen’s initial attempt to give the Cup to someone else is met by Toews ordering him to skate it around some more first.
Overall score: 9.2/10. Timonen waited a long time for his moment. (Literally. The Cup showed up late that night.)
#2 – 1998: Detroit Red Wings
Who: After one of the most awkward presentations of all-time (in which Yzerman and Bettman somehow end up facing the wrong way), the Wings captain instantly redeems himself by handing the Cup to Vladimir Konstantinov.
Why: Following their 1997 Cup win, the Wings were struck by tragedy when a limo accident resulted in serious injuries to Konstantinov, Fetisov and team massage therapist Sergei Mnatsakanov. Fetisov was able to resume his career, but Konstantinov’s injuries were life-threatening and his recovery was a much longer one. A year later, he was still in a wheelchair when the Red Wings completed the repeat.
Bonus points: Even the Washington crowd gives Konstantinov a big ovation.
Overall score: 10/10. This was pretty much perfect.
#1 – 2001: Colorado Avalanche
Who: In what stands as easily the most memorable handoff of all-time, Sakic doesn’t even bother to lift the Cup before delivering it directly to Ray Bourque.
Why: Bourque was in his 22nd and final NHL season, and this was his first Cup. We all knew the moment was coming – Bettman even calls it out during his preamble – and the whole thing goes off perfectly, from the crowd reaction to Gary Thorne’s classic call.
Really, try to make it through that clip without crying at least a little bit. Just try.
Bonus points: Did you make it through? You did? Then enjoy this alternate angle that zooms in on Bourque’s son Ryan sobbing while his dad lifts the Cup. Yep, there you go, welcome to tear town.
Overall score: No number could do it justice. This one raised the bar so high that it’s almost impossible to imagine a moment coming along to top it.