It’s been a rough few weeks for Old Guys Without a Cup.
This is supposed to be their time of year to shine. The Old Guy Without a Cup – aka the OGWAC – is often one of the very best stories of the playoffs. Once the field has narrowed a little bit, fans can start focusing on the remaining veterans who are chasing an elusive first championship.
From Lanny MacDonald to Ray Bourque to Teemu Selanne to Kimmo Timonen, grizzled old guys seeking their first ring make for an irresistible subplot to the post-season. And if all goes well, the season ends with one of them getting the ultimate post-season honour: The first Cup handoff.
Up until recently, this was shaping up to be a banner year for the OGWAC. But the season’s best candidate, Jarome Iginla, wound up with the Kings and didn’t even make the playoffs. Shane Doan wasn’t traded at all. And then last week we lost the San Jose combo of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, as well as guys like Andrei Markov, Scott Hartnell and Dominic Moore.
But don’t fear. There are still some decent options left among the final eight teams. We need some arbitrary cutoffs here, so let’s go with Cup-less players who are 35 or older and/or debuted before the 2005 lockout. We also want guys who are actually playing some role in this year’s playoffs, so they’ll need to have dressed for at least one game to qualify. (Apologies to Chris Neil, Vernon Fiddler and Matt Hendricks.)
So who are the best OGWAC stories to root for heading into round two? Let’s count down the top 10.
This is just Upshall’s fifth trip to the playoffs in a 14-year career, and this time he’ll get a second-round matchup with the team that drafted him – he broke in with the Predators way back in 2002.
He’s 33 and still reasonably productive, so maybe the clock isn’t ticking too loudly on Upshall’s championship hopes. But he’s on a one-year deal, and where he winds up next is anyone’s guess, and there’s no guarantee that it’s with a contender.
One of three members of the 2011 Canucks to make our list, Burrows has been to the brink of a championship. But at 36, it clearly wasn’t going to happen for him in Vancouver, and he became the classic deadline-day OGWAC pickup.
How you feel about that probably has a lot to do with what team you root for. Burrows can be, to put it politely, a divisive player, and if you’re a fan of someone like the Bruins or Blackhawks, maybe you can’t bring yourself to forgive his past sins. But he fits the Old Guy profile, even if (as we’ll see in a bit) he’s not the top choice from his own team.
Kesler clocks in as the youngest player on our list; he doesn’t turn 33 until August. But he’s been in the league since 2003, when he broke in as a 19-year-old with the Canucks. And like Burrows, nobody on our list can say they’ve come closer to getting their hands on the Cup than Kesler, who won 15 playoff games with the 2011 Canucks but couldn’t get them to that crucial 16th.
With the writing on the wall for the Canucks’ long-term chances, Kesler forced a move to Anaheim three years ago. He and the Ducks have made it as far as the conference finals in 2015, and they looked good sweeping aside the Flames in round one.
There’s no question that the Ducks are a team built to win right now. But to do it, they’ll have to get past a good young Oilers team that doesn’t have so much as a single Old Guy story on the roster.
No. 7: Jay Bouwmeester, Blues
Like another player who shows up further down this list, Bouwmeester is a former holder of the “most games without a playoff appearance” record. He snapped that streak in 2013, and is now on his fifth post-season run with St. Louis. His closest call so far came last year, when the Blues lost to the Sharks in six games in the conference final.
Bouwmeester’s not all that old – he won’t turn 34 until training camp – but he’s been in the league since 2002 and ranks 16th among active players in games played. This won’t be his last shot, but he’s certainly waited long enough for a skate with the Cup.
No. 6: Kevin Bieksa, Ducks
The Ducks’ oldest player is also their best Old Guy Without a Cup story, with apologies to Kesler. Bieksa hasn’t been in the league as long, but he’s three years older and was yet another member of that agonizing near-miss in Vancouver.
And unlike Kesler, who’s locked into a long-term deal, Bieksa could be running out of chances on a contract that expires next summer. He’s even been rumoured to be in the expansion-draft mix, which would presumably torpedo his short-term Cup hopes.
Nash is only 32, but he’s already in his 14th NHL season. So far, you could divide his post-season career into two distinct phases. There’s the Blue Jackets half, in which he made only one four-game appearance for the hapless franchise. And then there’s the Rangers half, where he’s been in the mix every year while getting constant grief for not producing enough.
That criticism has never been especially fair – he’s generally played well in the playoffs, even when the pucks weren’t going in – but it’s the life of a high-paid star. The eight-time 30-goal scorer has never managed more than five goals in a post-season, and he’s been hearing about it for years.
This could be the year that changes; with a pair of goals against Montreal already under his belt, he’s off to a decent start.
But at this point in his career, Nash would probably trade flashy numbers for a chance to finally skate with the Stanley Cup.
Fisher is a guy who’s probably older than you think; he’ll turn 37 during the Stanley Cup final, and he’s somehow been in the league since way back in 1999.
The Predators’ centre had some long runs with the Senators, including a trip to the final in 2007, and last night was his 119th career playoff game, the most of any skater on this list. But he’s yet to make it out of round two in Nashville, just like everyone else who’s ever played for the franchise. His contract expires at the end of the season and he’s been talking about a possible retirement for a few years now, so this could very well be his last shot.
Hainsey hasn’t had to worry much about the agony of defeat over the years; last week’s Game 4 loss against the Blue Jackets was the first playoff defeat of his 14-season career.
Of course, it was also just his fourth game. Up until two weeks ago, Hainsey held the NHL’s all-time record for the most games played by someone who’d never dressed for the post-season. A trade-deadline move to Pittsburgh spelled the end of that (with the mark reverting back to poor Guy Charron for a fourth time), and Hainsey has been logging nearly 20 minutes a game for the Penguins so far.
Hainsey hasn’t had the sort of near-miss heartbreak that some other guys on this list have been through. But it’s hard not to get behind a guy who’d spent his entire career toiling for also-rans like the Blue Jackets, Hurricanes and Thrashers before finally getting this year’s shot with the Penguins.
No. 2: Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers
Lundqvist is just about the archetypal Old Guy Without a Cup story. He’s been a star in this league for over a decade, and he’s come agonizingly close to the Cup. He’s won 11 playoff series as a starter, including three trips to the conference finals. And in 2014, he dragged the Rangers all the way to the final, only to see his best shot at a Cup end in sudden death.
The sight of a despondent Lundqvist slumped on the ice as the Kings celebrated next to him was one of the saddest scenes in recent hockey history.
Lundqvist is 35 years old, and while he put together a nice rebound season after a shaky start, there’s some harsh reality at play here. This Rangers’ run may not be his last shot, but there won’t be many left, and this is probably the best chance he’ll have. He’s done everything in the NHL short of winning a Cup, and the sense of urgency is palpable.
In other words, it’s pretty much the ideal OGWAC story, and in any other season Lundqvist would be a slam dunk as the top pick for this list. But he takes second spot this time because some things are bigger than hockey.
No. 1: Craig Anderson, Senators
Anderson doesn’t seem all that old, partly because he only became a full-time starter in 2009–10. But he’s been in the league since 2002, and will turn 36 in three weeks. With one year left on his deal, this could be his last shot at a Cup. More importantly, by now you know the story of Anderson and his wife Nicholle’s battle with cancer, and it’s impossible not to root for them.
The oddsmakers have the Senators as underdogs to go all the way, and that’s probably fair; there’s a good chance they don’t make it past Lundqvist and the Rangers, let alone win three more rounds. But if they do, there won’t be a dry eye in the house when Anderson takes his lap with the Cup.