NHL: 8 Players Getting Their Last Shot at a Stanley Cup in 2011-12
It's a warm day in June, and you arrive at your office. Today is a day like no other day. This is a day during which you get to live your dream. You have waited longer for this day than any other person in history.
Today you're going to play for the Stanley Cup, and you know that if you don't hoist the silver chalice tonight, it is possibly your last night ever to compete for your dream and your goal.
On this day—June 9, 2001—you get to raise the cup above your head, and if you're Raymond Bourque, who spent a lifetime in the NHL—playing 1,612 games before hoisting the cup—you are the player who has played the most games before achieving a Stanley Cup championship. You are the hockey world's hero.
Raymond Bourque had that rare opportunity to finish his career with the cup.
Each year, dozens of players wind up their careers hoping to win the cup before they retire or, like Bourque, before being traded to a contender to have that chance.
Here are eight players hoping to raise the big chalice before they finish.
Dwayne Roloson: A Twist Away from the Cup
Dwayne Roloson was traded to the Edmonton Oilers for a first-round pick in 2006. At the time he was acquired from the Minnesota Wild, he was still considered a great goalie—37 years old, but with a couple of good years left.
Roloson had been an All-Star goalie. He backstopped the Wild to the division playoffs in 2003, but Minnesota lost to the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in four straight games. It was billed to be a goaltenders' battle, and Roloson came up short to an up-and-coming J.S Giguere.
In 2006 "Roli" had been demoted to the backup goalie on the Wild, mainly greasing the bench. At the trade deadline, he was picked up by the Edmonton Oilers. Roloson struggled in the regular season, leaving fans doubting Kevin Lowe's choice.
Lowe was vindicated when "Roli" led the Oilers to a Stanley Cup finals appearance. During the playoff run, he played 18 games and had a 2.33 goals against and .927 save percentage. In the first game of the finals against the Carolina Hurricanes, he twisted a knee and was not able to finish the playoffs. The Oilers lost in seven games, the closest Roloson would ever be to the Stanley Cup.
A few years later, he signed as a free agent with the New York Islanders, and it looked like he would be a conference-bottom-dwelling young-goalie trainer for the rest of his career, with little hope of seeing either the playoffs or the cup.
In a career twist of fate, the Tampa Bay Lighting recognized that they were light on goaltending and traded for a 41-year-old Roloson in January 2011. Who trades for a 41-year-old goalie? Steve Yzerman, hockey extraordinaire and new general manager of the Bolts.
Roloson immediately improved the depth between the pipes and had four shutouts in his first 11 games, making Yzerman seem like a wizard. Roli led the Lightning to the Eastern Conference finals by beating the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals, but Tampa Bay lost to the Boston Bruins in the seventh game of the Eastern Conference finals.
In the summer of 2011, Roloson at 42 is the last active player born in the 1960s, and he signed a $3 million, one-year deal with the Bolts.
He has to be thinking, "Bring on the cup."
Roloson has already been in the hunt twice and has proven he can elevate his game to be a difference maker in a Stanley Cup run.
The Bolts can contend, and Roli can battle to win his ultimate reward—to have his name on the Stanley Cup.
Daniel Alfredsson: Short of a Trade Will Be Ringless
Daniel Alfredsson, at 38 years of age, is in the twilight of his NHL career. Drafted in 1994 as the lackluster 133 choice overall, the young Swede had hidden talent about which most general managers had no idea.
In his first year, Alfredsson won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year and instantly became the de facto leader of the Ottawa Senators, leading the team in scoring with 61 points.
Alfredsson is a player who any team would still want. If he gets a bit of space, he is one of the most dangerous shots in the NHL and one of the best overall players in open space.
He has 1,023 points in 16 years of play.
Last year, in an injury-shortened season, he finished with 31 points in 54 games. Alfredsson is still the team leader and can be counted on to make opportunities happen. He is still a player that commands respect and is deadly if he gets open space or a breakaway.
Alf was part of the Ottawa Senators drive to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006-2007 season. The Spezza, Heatley and Alfredsson line scored a combined 279 points during the regular season.
That year, they were Canada's team and lost to Anaheim Ducks in five games in the Stanley Cup finals.
Although the Senators have made the playoffs eight times in the last 10 active seasons, they have entered a rebuilding phase that will probably mean they won't be contenders soon.
A trade is Alf's only chance at the chalice.
Adrian Aucoin: Defensive Linebacker Fading into the Sunset
Adrian Aucoin is spending his 17th year in the NHL. He was drafted in 1992 by the Vancouver Canucks and has been the foundation of several blue lines over the years.
He played for Vancouver in their rebuilding years from 1994 to 2000. Then he went on to play for the New York Islanders and Chicago Blackhawks in their rebuilding years from 2001 to 2007.
He has been a consistent 20- to 30-point scorer throughout his career and finished the 2011 season with 22 points.
Adrian is a solid contributor who had a huge slap shot and has played over 1,000 games. He is a true leader on the Coyotes.
If he had played in a major market instead of spending his time around the smaller clubs, he would be a household name along with Subban, Gonchar and Kaberle.
Phoenix is a developing team and certainly could make a cup run with the right kind of changes, as they were forced to trade away Ilya Bryzgalov (.921 SVP) to the Flyers and picked up Mike Smith (.899 SVP) from Tampa Bay. Certainly, goaltending could be an issue.
With no real ownership, Phoenix is still kicking, but it will be difficult to improve. Aucoin might try to get himself to a contender before the deadline if he wants a chance at a Stanley Cup ring.
Johan Hedberg: One Stop from the Cup Again
Johan Hedberg is at the pinnacle of his career at 38 years old. He is 364 days younger than his New Jersey Devils mentor Martin Brodeur. Hedberg wants to see himself standing under the Stanley Cup this year.
Hedberg is currently the starting goalie with the Devils and has helped them start the season 4-2-1, with a 1.86 GAA and a .937 SVP.
Hedberg is the goalie that replaced Martin Brodeur. Think about that for a moment—replaced Martin Brodeur.
Hedberg was drafted in 1994 by the Flyers at the distinguished position of No. 218 overall. He spent most of the 1990s in the AHL or IHL.
The Penguins acquired Hedberg at the trade deadline in 2001. The following year he won 25 games as the Pittsburgh netminder and seemed to have found his niche. But after an injury-plagued season the following year, he was traded to Vancouver.
In 2006 he joined the Atlanta Thrashers as their starting goalie.
He then took on the Maytag Repairman job of being Marty Brodeur's backup, which would normally mean long stretches of warming the pine. But Brodeur had a shoulder injury, and Hedberg had 35 starts last year.
Johan playing at his current level might lead his Devils deep into the playoffs.
At 38 years young, Hedberg certainly hopes that he can lift the cup sooner rather than later, as only time can tell how long he can play at this level.
Steve Staios: Lunch-Pail Defenseman Missing the Cup
Steve Staios is another one of those lunch-pail defensive workaholic players who has moved around several teams in the NHL. He was drafted in 1993 at 27th overall by the St. Louis Blues.
He played for Boston, Vancouver and Atlanta before ending up with the Edmonton Oilers in 2001.
During the magical drive to the Stanley Cup finals in 2006, he scored one goal and had five assists. The team came up one game short of winning the famed Stanley Cup.
Almost, but no silver chalice.
Now with the Islanders, Staios quarterbacks a rebuilding team with lots of promise, but at the age of 38 he has to be worried his cup-chasing days are over.
He can hope for a trade, or that his young Isles have a magical year—soon.
Andrew Brunette: Finally May Sip the Champagne from the Stanley Cup
Andrew Brunette is a consistent iron horse right winger who has a great shot at Lord Stanley's chalice. He was drafted by the Washington Capitals at 174th overall in the 1993 NHL draft.
He spent most of the early 1990s in the minors, finally breaking full-time into the NHL in 1998 with the Nashville Predators.
He has been a work horse, only missing three games in the last 10 years and playing through an ACL injury to finish out his 2009 season.
He also has been consistent in the scoring department, scoring over 40 points in all but his first season.
Andrew must have had a fist-pump day to find out he was signed on the first day of free agency this summer by the contending Chicago Blackhawks.
Chicago is currently first in its division and second in its conference. While Andrew can't bet on the champagne yet, this has to be his best chance since joining the ranks of the NHL.
Jason Blake: One More Kick at the Can
Jason Blake is 38 years old and hoping for a run at the Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks. Jason spent most of his playing career in the Eastern Conference with the New York Islanders and Toronto Maple Leafs.
Blake had to be running around in circles quacking after being traded from the bottom-dwelling Leafs to the Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks are real contenders, and the Maple Leafs are a few years away from contending.
Anaheim finished the 2010-2011 with a very respectable 99 points. Over the summer, the trade situation has to look like a draw and the Ducks should be able to compete for a playoff spot.
Anaheim is more of a hard-working team that does not have a single superstar, and depending on how well they gel and work together during the playoffs will determine how high they soar.
Anaheim is Jason Blake's best chance to finally wear a Stanley Cup ring.
Sami Salo: A Big Reason Vancouver Is Capable of Making Another Run
Sami Salo is a great two-way defenseman known for shutting down the big guys on the opposing team. At 37 years old, and after 12 years of banging people around in the NHL, he has to be hoping this is the year that he raises the cup.
Salo is now hanging out with the Vancouver Canucks and is a regular top-line opponent and one of the keys to the Vancouver defensive squad.
Last year in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals, he came very close to the cup. In fact, he was skating around an arena with the cup in the building—it just left with the Boston Bruins.
Salo is big, strong and fast, but like many players in the NHL, this season might be his best chance to a cup. The Sedin twins are locked up for the next few years and should power the offense.
Cory Schneider is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year. If Schneider continues to play as Vancouver's No. 1 goalie with the small contract, he will receive major offers from teams needing starting goalies. This is a guy who is playing in front of Roberto Luongo.
It is very difficult to win a Stanley Cup without two incredible goalies. Currently, Luongo's play is questionable at best, and his best years may have passed.
This year is probably Sami Salo's best chance at the cup.
Bringing the Cup Home
Each year, as time slips by, several players can see the hope of their 20s and work of their 30s slip into the obscurity of having a great career but never holding the ultimate prize—the Stanley Cup.
The desire for the Stanley Cup has driven players, managers and coaches to extreme measures to try and improve their teams to overcome the huge hill to climb to obtain the cup.
To win the cup, you need skill, determination and luck.
In the last 20 years, only two teams have been able to repeat a cup quest.
Will this be the year for one of these cup challengers?
Only time will tell.