Stanley Cup Final 2017: How a Title Would Change Each Star's Legacy

Carol Schram@pool88Featured ColumnistJune 8, 2017

Stanley Cup Final 2017: How a Title Would Change Each Star's Legacy

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    We're down to a best-of-three series.

    The 2017 Stanley Cup Final between the Nashville Predators and Pittsburgh Penguins is tied at 2-2. Neither team has lost at home, and Game 5 goes down on Thursday in Pittsburgh.

    The series is going to six or seven games, with so much on the line.

    The Penguins are looking to become the first team in nearly two decades to win back-to-back Stanley Cups. The Predators played their first season in 1998-99, right after the Detroit Red Wings won those back-to-back Cups. Nashville is going after the first title in franchise history—and the first pro sports championship for its music-centric city.

    Going into Game 5, the bragging rights remain very much up in the air, and many players have a lot on the line when it comes to their athletic legacies.

    Here's a look at how a Stanley Cup win will affect the long-term reputation of the key players from both Pittsburgh and Nashville—where they stand and how their reputations could change if they're able to finish the job and win this year's championship.

Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

    Years in NHL: 12

    Sidney Crosby played his first game in the NHL as an 18-year-old rookie after being chosen first overall in the 2005 draft.

       

    Stanley Cups to Date: Two

    Crosby won the Stanley Cup with the Penguins in 2009 and 2016.

    He also reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2008 and the Eastern Conference Final in 2013.

         

    Other Significant Awards and Achievements

    • Conn Smythe Trophy (2016)
    • Two Hart Trophies (2006-07, 2013-14)
    • Three Lester B. Pearson/Ted Lindsay Award Trophies (2006-07, 2012-13, 2013-14)
    • Two Art Ross Trophies 2006-07, 2013-14)
    • Two Rocket Richard Trophies (2009-10, 2016-17)
    • World Junior Championship: Silver 2004, Gold 2005
    • Olympics: Gold 2010, 2014
    • World Championship: Gold 2015
    • World Cup of Hockey: Gold 2016

          

    What a 2017 Stanley Cup Would Mean to His Legacy

    A third Stanley Cup title would add to a long list of achievements by the Pittsburgh Penguins captain, who turns 30 in August.

    Crosby enjoyed tremendous success early in his career but had to battle to reclaim his status as one of the top players in the game after dealing with his serious concussion issues, as well as that nasty jaw injury in 2013.

    Since captaining Team Canada to a title at the 2015 World Championship, Crosby has strung together the most successful streak of his career, also winning the 2016 Stanley Cup and the gold medal at the World Cup of Hockey.

    If he keeps that going with another Cup win in 2017, Crosby would have more Stanley Cups than his team's owner, Mario Lemieux, and continue to build his case to eventually be known as one of the greatest hockey players of all time.

    One thing's for sure: In the Sid vs. Ovi rivalry we've watched over the last 12 seasons, Crosby has the definite edge.

P.K. Subban, Nashville Predators

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    Years in NHL: Eight

    Drafted 43rd overall in 2007, P.K. Subban played his first two NHL games in February 2010. He first claimed his full-time spot on the Montreal Canadiens blue line during the 2010 playoffs.

         

    Stanley Cups to Date: None

    This is Subban's first time in the Stanley Cup Final.

    He played in the Eastern Conference Final with the Montreal Canadiens twice (2010, 2014) and reached the second round on one other occasion (2015). 

          

    Other Significant Awards and Achievements

    • Norris Trophy (2013)
    • World Junior Championship: Gold 2008, 2009
    • Olympics: Gold 2014

          

    What a 2017 Stanley Cup Would Mean to His Legacy

    A Stanley Cup win for P.K. Subban would be monumental on a number of levels. First, it would mark a huge win for the Nashville Predators, who appeared to be taking more of a long-term approach to their blue line when they acquired Subban in exchange for their former captain, Shea Weber, in June 2016.

    At that time, it was the Montreal Canadiens that were apparently in win-now mode and thought the old-school Weber would be the player to help get them to a Stanley Cup while Nashville got younger.

    A Stanley Cup for Subban in his first season with the Predators would also be a win for NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and his strategy of driving expansion in the United States sunbelt. Furthermore, it's a sharp reprisal to Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin, for whom "the trade was a tacit admission that Subban's over-the-top personality was a distraction," Pat Hickey wrote for the Montreal Gazette.

    Subban's personality has been a No. 1 hit in Music City. He has fit in perfectly with Nashville's showbiz vibe and the jubilant support of the star-studded fanbase as the Predators aim to bring home the city's first major pro sports title.

Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Years in NHL: 11

    Evgeni Malkin was drafted second overall in 2004 behind Alexander Ovechkin, right before the 2004-05 NHL lockout. He stayed in Russia for two years, playing with his home team, Metallurg Magnitogorsk, before joining the Penguins as a 20-year-old at the beginning of the 2006-07 season.

          

    Stanley Cups to Date: Two

    Just like Crosby, Malkin has won the Stanley Cup with the Penguins in 2009 and 2016. He also reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2008 and the Eastern Conference Final in 2013.

    The Penguins have made the playoffs every year since Malkin joined the team in 2006. He didn't play in the 2011 postseason after undergoing right-knee surgery in February.

          

    Other Significant Awards and Achievements

    • Conn Smythe Trophy (2009)
    • Calder Trophy (2006-07)
    • Two Art Ross Trophies (2008-09, 2011-12)
    • Hart Trophy (2011-12)
    • Lester B. Pearson Trophy (2011-12)
    • World Junior Championship: Silver 2005, 2006
    • World Championship: Gold (2012, 2014), Silver (2010, 2015), Bronze (2005, 2007)

              

    What a 2017 Stanley Cup Would Mean to His Legacy

    He didn't join the Pittsburgh Penguins with as much fanfare as teammate Crosby, but Malkin showed he was a force to be reckoned with soon after arriving on North American shores—first being named rookie of the year in 2007, then exploding for an amazing 36 points in 24 games and being named playoff MVP when the Penguins captured the 2009 Stanley Cup.

    Since then, Malkin has often lived in Crosby's shadow as Pittsburgh's "other" No. 1 center—reclaiming Top Dog status only when Crosby was dealing with his concussion issues during the 2011-12 season.

    For most of this year's playoffs, though, the situation has been different. Despite dealing with injury issues that kept him out of Pittsburgh's last 13 regular-season games, Malkin came out strong when the postseason began, taking an early lead in the playoff scoring race.

    Coming into the Stanley Cup Final, Malkin's 24 points had him four points ahead of Crosby and gave him an inside track on his second playoff MVP award. But Malkin has faltered in the first four games of the series. He scored in each of the first two games against Nashville but has just four shots on goal—well below his average of 2.4 shots per game in these playoffs and 3.13 shots per game when Pittsburgh steamrolled to the 2016 Stanley Cup.

    If Malkin can be a difference-maker and help Pittsburgh earn two more wins to capture back-to-back Stanley Cups, the lull will be forgotten. Instead, the championship will reaffirm his status as not just Crosby's right-hand man but one of the best players in the game.

Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators

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    Years in NHL: Nine full time

    Pekka Rinne was drafted in the eighth round by the Predators in 2004, 258th overall. The Finnish netminder came to North America to start the 2005-06 season. He spent all but three games in the AHL during his first three seasons. In the 2008-09 season, he played 52 games at the NHL level as he locked down his position at the Predators starter.

          

    Stanley Cups to Date: None

    This is Rinne's first time in the Stanley Cup Final. He has previously reached the second round three times—in 2011, 2012 and 2016.

         

    Other Significant Awards and Achievements

    • Vezina Trophy: Runner-up in 2010-11 and 2014-15, third place in voting in 2011-12
    • Hart Trophy: Fourth place in voting in 2010-11
    • World Championship: Silver (2014)

          

    What a 2017 Stanley Cup Would Mean to His Legacy

    At 34, this may be Rinne's only chance to win a Stanley Cup.

    A workhorse through most of his NHL career, Rinne dialed his workload back to only 61 starts during the regular season. He still ranked in the top 10 in starts, saves and minutes played, but it was hoped that the lighter workload would keep Rinne fresher for the playoffs.

    Rinne gave up eight goals on 36 shots for a .778 save percentage in the first two games of the Final and was pulled for the first time in the playoffs, looking like he might not have been fresh enough to get all the way to the end of the road. But he bounced back spectacularly in Games 3 and 4 and once again made himself the front-runner for the Conn Smythe Trophy if Nashville goes on to finish the job.

    As the longest-serving Predator and lone remaining member of the Predators' original core three that was built around him, Ryan Suter and Shea Weber, a Stanley Cup in Nashville might mean more to Rinne than to any other player on the team. If he wins the Conn Smythe, he'd make history as the first Finn to capture the honor.

    Rinne would also be the fifth-oldest player to earn the Conn Smythe, behind Tim Thomas (2011, age 37), Glenn Hall (1968, age 36), Patrick Roy (2001, age 35) and Scott Stevens (2000, age 35).

Matt Murray, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Years in NHL: Two

    Matt Murray was drafted in the third round, 83rd overall, by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2012. He'd played just 13 regular-season games before taking over the Pittsburgh net on the run to the 2016 Stanley Cup, so he's still technically a rookie as he plays for his second championship.

          

    Stanley Cups to Date: One

    Murray started 21 of Pittsburgh's 24 games on the way to the 2016 championship, posting a 15-6 record, a 2.08 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage with one shutout.

         

    Other Significant Awards and Achievements

    • AHL Best Goaltender, 2014-15
    • World Under-18: Bronze, 2012

          

    What a 2017 Stanley Cup Would Mean to His Legacy

    It's a lofty comparison, but Murray could, in one way, go one better than legendary Montreal Canadiens goaltender Ken Dryden if he's able to win his second Stanley Cup before the end of his official rookie season.

    Dryden was a 1964 draft pick who elected to finish his college education at Cornell before joining the NHL. He had success, winning an NCAA title and three ECAC championships between 1967 and 1969, but he was still assigned to the AHL when he started his pro career in 1970.

    Like Murray, Dryden was a late call-up in the year of his first playoff run. He had played just six games with the Canadiens when he got the nod to start in the postseason ahead of two-time Stanley Cup winner Rogie Vachon and outduelled the Boston Bruins to bring the Cup back to Montreal in 1971. 

    Dryden won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 1971 and went on to win the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year during the 1971-72 regular-season, but the Canadiens failed to defend their championship when they fell to the New York Rangers in the quarterfinals.

    Murray wouldn't be where he is without the help of his partner Marc-Andre Fleury, who capably got Pittsburgh through its first 14 playoff games while Murray was recovering from an injury he suffered as he warmed up for Game 1 of the first round.

    If Murray can record two more wins, his back-to-back cups as a rookie will establish a new goaltending standard for the beginning of a career. He just turned 23 and is off to an unprecedented start in his NHL career.

Mike Fisher, Nashville Predators

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    Years in NHL: 17

    The only player on this list who played NHL games in the '90s, Mike Fisher was drafted in the second round by the Ottawa Senators in 1998, 44th overall. Impressively for a second-rounder, he has never played in the minor leagues. He made the Senators as a 19-year-old and has been in the NHL ever since.

          

    Stanley Cups to Date: None

    This is Fisher's second trip to the Stanley Cup Final. In 2007, he finished fourth in team scoring, with 10 points, when the Senators lost the final to the Anaheim Ducks. Fisher also reached the Eastern Conference Final with Ottawa in 2003 and made the second round twice, in 2002 and 2006.

    Since being traded to Nashville midway through the 2010-11 season, Fisher has reached the second round three more times.

    All told, Fisher has 132 games of playoff experience. That's more than any other Predators player and not far off Crosby's 146 games or Malkin's 147 games. 

         

    Other Significant Awards and Achievements

    • Selke Trophy: Third place in voting in 2005-06
    • World Championship: Silver 2005, 2009
    • Nashville Predators captain: 2016-17

         

    What a 2017 Stanley Cup Would Mean to His Legacy

    What a moment it would be if Mike Fisher is the player who is handed the Stanley Cup by Bettman as captain of the 2017 championship team—especially if it happens in front of the rabid fanbase in Nashville.

    Fisher has been a heart-and-soul player during his six-and-a-half seasons with the Preds. His commitment to a hardworking, defense-first game is what earned him the Nashville captaincy at 36 after Weber was traded to Montreal.

    It's a huge accomplishment for any player to deliver a championship in his first season wearing the C, but it'd be extra special if it happens for Fisher as the franchise's and the city's first pro sports championship.

    As the husband of country superstar Carrie Underwood, Fisher is already half of one of Nashville's power couples. His wife's committed support has increased his profile—and the team's—among a non-traditional fanbase, and he has earned atypical face time for an NHL player when he has walked red carpets with Carrie and sat next to her at awards shows.

    Fisher turned 37 on June 5—and celebrated by being named the second star in Nashville's 4-1 win over Pittsburgh, in which he tallied one assist and went 13-for-23 in the faceoff circle, often matched up against Crosby.

    Fisher's contract is expiring; he'll be an unrestricted free agent on July 1. If he decides to retire with the Stanley Cup in hand, there might not be a better way to leave the game.

Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

    Years in NHL: 11

    Phil Kessel was drafted fifth overall by the Boston Bruins in 2006. Shortly after his 19th birthday, he made the team out of training camp. Despite being diagnosed with testicular cancer midway through his rookie season, he missed just 12 games in 2006-07—and he is riding a seven-season iron-man streak that's up to 610 consecutive regular-season games.

         

    Stanley Cups to Date: One

    In his first season with the Pittsburgh Penguins, 2015-16, Kessel led his team in goals (10) and points (22) as part of the famed HBK Line when Pittsburgh captured the Stanley Cup. Despite Kessel's offensive contribution, Sidney Crosby was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

    Kessel also reached the second round of the playoffs with the Boston Bruins in 2009. 

          

    Other Significant Awards and Achievements

    • Masterton Trophy (2007) 
    • Olympics: Silver 2010

         

    What a 2017 Stanley Cup Would Mean to His Legacy

    Kessel is never going to conform to our athletic stereotype of a chiseled god, but that hasn't stopped him from being one of the most prolific scorers—and consistent players—in hockey.

    During his six years with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Kessel was a lightning rod for criticism because general manager Brian Burke had paid dearly to acquire him and because the Leafs remained mired near the bottom of the NHL standings. In Pittsburgh, he seems to have responded well to his lower-profile role.

    Kessel's regular-season goal totals have declined from his 37-goal peak, but his 70 points this season made for his best tally in four years—and the third-best of his career.

    More importantly, Kessel has once again been a reliable point producer in the playoffs—third on the Penguins with 19 points, including two game-winning goals.

    However, he has been quiet through the first four games of the Final, with just one assist, and he was a minus-four during Pittsburgh's two losses in Nashville. If he can turn it around and play a meaningful role as the Penguins rally to win a second straight championship, he'd cement a reputation as a big-game player who can find that extra gear when the stakes reach their highest point.

           

    All stats courtesy of NHL.com. Award information from Hockey Reference.

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