One of the best storylines in the 2013 NHL playoffs is the pursuit of a first Stanley Cup championship that several veteran players (several of whom are future Hall of Famers) are in the midst of during the conference semifinals.
Winning a title for a veteran player that has never tasted that kind of success is a strong motivator for teams, especially ones that have captured a Stanley Cup recently and need a boost to get their hunger level up to where it was before they earned a championship ring.
Let's look at the three veterans most desperate for a Stanley Cup championship in this lockout-shortened season.
3. Daniel Alfredsson, Ottawa Senators
Current Series: Down 3-1 to Pittsburgh in Round 2
Alfredsson is one of the most respected players around the league and has been a very consistent offensive player throughout his career. Since his rookie year in 1995-96, Alfredsson has tallied 59 points or more in 13 seasons.
When the Senators lost a number of key players with significant injuries in the early part of the regular season, including top defenseman Erik Karlsson, No. 1 center Jason Spezza and starting goaltender Craig Anderson, there were rumors and speculation involving possible trades that would allow Alfredsson to go to a championship contender.
To his credit, the Ottawa captain remained loyal and decided to stay with the only team he's played for throughout his NHL career.
Unfortunately for Alfredsson, his club is just one win away from being eliminated by the Penguins. After a 7-3 loss to Pittsburgh in Game 4 on Wednesday night, he admitted that making a comeback is going to be a tough challenge for the Senators (via Erin Nicks of NHL.com):
Alfie when asked if they can come back. "Probably not. They have too much depth." #Sens— Erin Nicks (@erinnicks) May 23, 2013
As a future Hall of Famer who has made a great impact on the sport as a leader and an elite forward, Alfredsson is one of the veterans around the league who deserves a championship the most.
Will Alfredsson return to Ottawa for next year?
Unfortunately for Alfredsson, Ottawa is not a championship-caliber team right now and won't be for a few years until the team's young players start to enter their prime. He's already 40 years old and his contract expires at the end of the season (per Capgeek).
It's hard to imagine Alfredsson ever lifting the Stanley Cup if he remains in Ottawa for his entire career, which is too bad because he deserves to win a championship after accomplishing almost everything else you could strive for.
2. Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks
Current Series: Tied 2-2 with Los Angeles in Round 2
Joe Thornton has always been a player who dominates in the regular season, but even though his teams have made the playoffs in 13 of his 15 NHL seasons, none of them have been able to reach the Stanley Cup Final.
After failing to help some talented Boston Bruins teams make deep playoff runs in the early 2000s, the team traded its captain to San Jose, where Thornton has tallied 664 points in 593 games, including a Hart Trophy as league MVP in the 2005-06 season.
Since Thornton's Sharks teams, many of which were high seeds and had more talent than most of their Western Conference opponents, have only reached the Western Conference finals twice during his tenure with the club, he often gets unfairly labelled as a player who doesn't perform in the postseason.
But he has tallied 69 points in 79 games with the Sharks prior to this season, and if players such as goaltender Evgeni Nabokov and star teammate Patrick Marleau played up to expectations in the playoffs from 2005-06 through 2009-10, Thornton might have a championship ring already.
In this year's playoffs, "Jumbo Joe" has been fantastic. He has nine points (one goal, eight assists) in eight games and when Thornton is on the ice, the Sharks have scored 17 goals and allowed just one.
Will the Sharks reach the Cup Final this year?
Thornton knows that his time to win a Stanley Cup, which is one of the few awards he has yet to win in his remarkable NHL career, is running out. He could become one of the greatest NHL players to never lift the Stanley Cup, which is certainly a motivating factor for him.
To his credit, the Sharks captain is stepping up his game when his team needs it most. As one of the best players of his generation, Thornton deserves an opportunity to play in and win a Stanley Cup Final.
1. Jarome Iginla, Pittsburgh Penguins
Current Series: Up 3-1 over Ottawa in Round 2
Jarome Iginla authorized a trade to the Pittsburgh Penguins in March after spending 15-plus memorable seasons with the Calgary Flames to do one thing: win the first Stanley Cup of his career.
The veteran winger came close to winning a championship during the 2003-04 playoffs when the Flames made an unexpected run to the Stanley Cup Final. Calgary took a 3-2 lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning in that series, with Iginla playing a key role in the overtime-winning goal in Game 5. After losing Game 6 at home in double overtime, the Flames lost the series in Game 7.
In the seven seasons he spent in Calgary after that Cup Final disappointment, Iginla went to the playoffs four more times and never advanced to the second round. At 35 years old, the future Hall of Famer won't have many more golden opportunities to win the Stanley Cup with a star-studded team like the Penguins.
Jarome Iginla on chasing the Cup. “Each year that goes by you definitely feel a bit more urgency, and it is a dream for sure.” #NHLTrade— NHL (@NHL) March 28, 2013
The career stats for Iginla are amazing. He has scored 20-plus goals 14 times and 35-plus goals eight times. His 530 goals are the third most among all active players and he's tallied 61 points (32 goals, 29 assists) in 64 career playoffs games, including this season.
Not only does Iginla deserve a Stanley Cup for his on-ice performance, he also should get another opportunity to win one because of his exceptional professionalism and the respect he has for the game as well as his fellow players. He's the definition of class and someone every young player should model their on- and off-ice work habits after.
Iginla deserves a Stanley Cup more than any other player in the NHL. As a member of a Penguins team that is favored to win the Eastern Conference, this could be the season when he finally lifts the best trophy in sports.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Nick was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs, and he is also a credentialed writer at the 2013 NHL playoffs in Boston.