6 Players over 30 We Want to See Lift the Stanley Cup

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistJanuary 20, 2021

6 Players over 30 We Want to See Lift the Stanley Cup

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    Bruce Bennett / Staff

    It's one of the hardest sports trophies to win.

    And when each and every NHL playoff tournament ends, there's a particularly poignant moment when a championship team's popular first-timer has the Stanley Cup handed to him for a celebratory skate.

    Steven Stamkos was that man for the Tampa Bay Lightning a few months back, following the giddy likes of Ray Bourque, Dave Andreychuk, Doug Weight and many others in the last 20 years.

    But there's an equally gut-wrenching moment elsewhere.

    Whether it's on the beaten team in the Stanley Cup Final or the losing sides of the other series-ending handshake lines, dozens of other veterans end their seasons and sometimes even careers without ever hoisting the chalice.

    That harrowing reality prompted the B/R hockey team to gather again to compose a list of the half-dozen players beyond age 30 we'd most like to get a chance to receive the greatest of all on-ice handoffs.

    Take a look at our picks and let us know in the comments who else you deem worthy.

Brent Burns

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    Rocky W. Widner/NHL / Contributor

    It's not as if Brent Burns hasn't had things to celebrate.

    In fact, the 35-year-old defenseman won the Norris Trophy in 2017, was a finalist for the award two other times and has been an All-Star six times since debuting with the Minnesota Wild in 2003.

    He's played more than 1,000 regular-season games, scored more than 200 goals and is only six games away from reaching triple digits in the postseason as well.

    But he's never been a part of the ultimate team picture at center ice.

    In fact, the mammoth 6'5", 230-pounder has advanced to the Stanley Cup Final just once in 15 NHL seasons, losing with the San Jose Sharks in six games to the Pittsburgh Penguins following the 2015-16 campaign.

    The Sharks were one of seven teams that didn't qualify for the modified 2019-20 postseason, just one year after they'd reached the Western Conference finals before losing to the Stanley Cup-winning St. Louis Blues.

    Burns is signed through 2024-25 at $8 million a season, so a full-on San Jose rebuild might be necessary if he's to get another shot before he retires.

Henrik Lundqvist

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    Mark Blinch / Contributor

    Some players get to the playoffs and don't produce in the same manner as in the regular season.

    Henrik Lundqvist is not one of those players.

    The 38-year-old Swede has played in 130 career postseason games, posting a 2.30 goals-against average and .921 save percentage—both better than his lifetime regular-season marks—alongside 10 shutouts that are second among active goaltenders behind only Marc-Andre Fleury.

    In spite of the numbers, Lundqvist has only had one direct shot at a title, advancing to the 2013-14 Stanley Cup Final with the New York Rangers before falling in five games to the Los Angeles Kings.

    He made his last two playoff appearances with the Rangers in 2019-20 before the team bought out his contract. He signed a one-year deal with the Washington Capitals, who won the Cup in 2018 and are in the upper echelon of teams with a chance to win again this season.

    Lundqvist's future, though, is in doubt after a lingering condition required open-heart surgery earlier this month.

    He said he would not return to the ice with the Capitals this season, and it seems far from guaranteed that another NHL team will call with an offer for a near-40 goalie with potentially serious medical concerns.

Ryan Miller

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    Brian Babineau / Contributor

    Here's another nod to the netminders.

    No active NHL goaltender has played more seasons without a Stanley Cup than Ryan Miller, now 40, who was drafted No. 138 overall by the Buffalo Sabres way back in 1999.

    Miller debuted with the Sabres in the 2002-03 season and was a stalwart in Buffalo for many years, though he never got close to a championship and, in fact, only reached the postseason with the team four times.

    He was dealt to the St. Louis Blues near the trade deadline in 2014 and reached the playoffs with his new team, but they were eliminated in one round by the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks.

    Six subsequent seasons with the Vancouver Canucks and Anaheim Ducks have yielded only two more tries at the postseason, but Miller has appeared in just four games, and his teams have failed to win a round.

    He was signed to a one-year, $1 million contract by the Ducks prior to this season, but Anaheim has failed to reach the playoffs for the last two seasons, leaving Miller as a long shot to get a first chance at the trophy in 2021.

Joe Pavelski

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    Bruce Bennett / Staff

    It's one thing for a veteran to hang on long enough to take part in a championship win.

    It's another thing for a veteran to be among the best players on his team and still lose.

    That's the scenario Joe Pavelski had to deal with in the brief 2020 offseason, following a long run by his Dallas Stars that resulted in a six-game loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Final.

    All Pavelski did for the Stars was play 27 games and score 13 goals, including a Game 5 tally that not only helped Dallas win a game to prolong the series but also gave the 36-year-old a record for career playoff goals (61) by an American-born player.

    The extended season with the Stars followed 13 with the San Jose Sharks, including a 24-game run to the brink of a Cup—along with the aforementioned Brent Burns—before a loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016.

    Another deep playoff run is surely possible for Pavelski again this spring, but another trip to the title round is no guarantee considering the Stars share a division this season with the Lightning and only one team from the group will advance to the playoff final four.

Carey Price

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    Elsa / Staff

    Carey Price is not without awards.

    His fellow players voted him the league's best goalie in a 2019-20 poll, and the NHL's general managers voted to award him the Vezina Trophy—symbolic of the league's best goalie—following the 2014-15 season.

    But as far as the ultimate team prize goes, he's never been particularly close.

    The 33-year-old has spent his entire career with the Montreal Canadiens and is the storied team's all-time leader in wins, but Les Habitants have advanced to the Eastern Conference Final just twice in his 13 seasons before losing to the Philadelphia Flyers (2009-10) and New York Rangers (2013-14).

    He posted a microscopic 1.78 goals-against average and .936 save percentage for the 12th-seeded Canadiens in the 2019-20 playoffs, helping them to a qualifying-round upset of the fifth-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins before a six-game loss to the top-seeded Philadelphia Flyers in the official opening round.

    Grouped with six other Canadian teams in the 2020-21 North Division, Montreal would need to finish among the top four in the regular season, then win two postseason divisional rounds before giving Price an unlikely, but surely not impossible third career crack at the final four.

Joe Thornton

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    Bruce Bennett / Staff

    You name it. Joe Thornton's virtually done it all.

    He was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1997 draft. He was the league's point-scoring leader and its most valuable player in 2005-06. And he was a member of an Olympic goal medal-winning team in 2010.

    But he's never had his hands on the game's most celebrated trophy.

    Thornton never approached the Stanley Cup Final during seven seasons with the Boston Bruins, while his San Jose Sharks were upset by the eighth-seeded Edmonton Oilers following his MVP season in the 2006 playoffs, and those same star-studded Sharks lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins for the Cup in 2016.

    Four more seasons with the Sharks didn't get him any closer to a title, so Thornton finally changed scenery after the 2019-20 season when he signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs as a free agent.

    The Leafs are a popular dark-horse pick to be among the league's elite in 2020-21, perhaps giving the now-41-year-old one last legitimate run before he hangs up his skates.

    Fingers crossed.