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Nick Haydon The Hockey Writers

Published on Friday, May 1, 2020





9 Stanley Cup Stories: The Long Road to NHL Glory

Often described as the most difficult trophy to win in sports, the Stanley Cup captures the dreams of players from childhood. For all who claim Lord Stanley, the dream comes true after years of hard work: countless hours driving to practice, training outside the rink, and honing skills on the ice. But the path to victory differs for every player. Some win early in their careers, others late. Some win numerous championships (11 if you are Montreal Canadiens’ legend Henri Richard), and still others lift that 34.5 pounds only once (or never).

Individual talent is no guarantee of team success, either. Across many generations, talented NHLers have toiled away for years with one team, only to come up short in the postseason. Fortunately, some of these players joined other teams, and the change of scenery propelled them across the finish line. The nine players on this list highlight the incredible team effort that must manifest for a team to win a Stanley Cup.

Related: Bobby Orr’s Flying Goal

Here are nine NHL players who dedicated significant time to a franchise (five-plus seasons), never secured a championship, but finally won a Stanley Cup with a different organization.

Dominik Hasek

The Chicago Blackhawks selected arguably the greatest goaltender in NHL history 199th overall in the 1983 Draft. He only played 25 games for the Blackhawks before joining the Buffalo Sabres for an iconic nine-season tenure from 1992 to 2001. During that span, he posted out-of-this-world numbers. He ranked fifth with 234 wins in 491 starts, first in save percentage (SV%) with .926, third in goals-against average (GAA) with 2.22, and first in shutouts with 55.

He captured a jaw-dropping six Vezina Trophies in those nine seasons as well. The Sabres made the playoffs eight seasons with Hasek in net, including one Stanley Cup Final appearance in 1999. But, despite this incredible success, Hasek never won the Stanley Cup with the Sabres.

Instead, Hasek would have to wait until his tenure with the Detroit Red Wings to claim hockey’s ultimate prize in 2002. He would win one more Cup with the Red Wings in 2008 before retiring five days later. He finished his career with a .922 SV% (tied for first all-time), 2.20 GAA (second all-time), and 81 shutouts (tied for sixth all-time).

Brett Hull

Drafted 117th overall in 1984, Brett Hull scored 741 career goals, enough to place him fourth behind Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, and Jaromir Jagr. He played 19 seasons in the NHL and suited up with five separate teams, including the Calgary Flames, Detroit Red Wings, Dallas Stars, and Phoenix Coyotes. But he will forever be remembered as a St. Louis Blue, playing 11 seasons in the city known as the Gateway to the West.

Related: Longest Stanley Cup Droughts

Hull scored 527 goals and played 744 games with the Blues. With him, every season the Blues made the playoffs. In fact, in 102 postseason games, he notched 67 goals (yes, you read that correctly) and 50 assists. Even with his stellar play, the Blues never clinched a berth into the Stanley Cup Final. He eventually signed with the Stars after the 1997-98 season. In Game 6 of the Final, he scored the overtime goal to clinch the Stars’ first Stanley Cup.

After three years with the Stars, Hull signed with the Red Wings in 2001. He would win his second Cup that season, scoring 10 goals and 8 assists in 23 games at 37 years old. He played two more seasons with the Red Wings before retiring in 2005. Though he never won a Cup with the Blues, the organization retired his number, 16, in 2006 and he remains the team’s all-time goals leader.

Rob Blake

At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, Rob Blake patrolled the blue line for 21 NHL seasons. He dedicated 14 seasons to the Los Angeles Kings, the team that drafted him 70th overall in 1988. From 1989 to 2001, he played twelve consecutive seasons with the Kings, logging 662 games, 429 points, and 1,051 penalty minutes. He even won a Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenseman in 1998. But, despite the Kings’ six postseason appearances, including a trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 1993, he never won the Cup in Los Angeles.

Instead, Blake won his first and only Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche in 2001. He suited up for five seasons with the Avalanche before returning to the Kings in 2006. After a final two seasons with the San Jose Sharks, he retired in 2010, meaning he played in four separate decades. In 2014, he was elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame and is a member of the Triple Gold Club (players who have won an Olympic Gold Medal, World Championship, and Stanley Cup).

Rob Blake Colorado Avalanche
Rob Blake, Colorado Avalanche, Oct. 13 2001 (Jeff Vinnick/Allsport)

Blake’s 805 games with the Kings rank him seventh on the franchise’s all-time list. He served as captain of the team for five years and now leads the organization as general manager.

Ron Francis

An offensive juggernaut, Ron Francis sits fifth in points (1,798) and second in assists (1,249) in NHL history. He also logged 1,731 NHL games, placing him fourth on the all-time list. The Ontario native carved out an iconic career spanning 23 years. Because of his incredibly long NHL tenure, it is easy to forget that he spent his first 10 seasons with the Hartford Whalers after the team drafted him fourth overall in 1981. In 741 games with the Whalers, he scored 264 goals and 557 assists (821 points). The Whalers clinched a playoff berth six times with Francis but never made it past the second round.

Ron Francis Hartford Whalers
Ron Francis captained the Whalers for almost six seasons (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Whalers traded Francis to the Penguins over halfway through the 1990-91 season. The Penguins clinched two consecutive Stanley Cups in ‘91 and ‘92 after he joined, and he played for eight years in the Steel City, amassing 613 points in 533 games. Francis would stay in the NHL until 2004, eventually returning to the Whalers (now the Carolina Hurricanes) in 1998. He eventually retired with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2004.

Related: Boston Bruins Coaching History

Though Francis forged one of the best and longest careers in NHL history, he never played for any team as long as he did for the Whalers. But, it would take that trade from Hartford to Pittsburgh for the Hall of Famer to win the Stanley Cup.

Rod Brind’Amour

Another NHL legend with a lengthy career, Rod Brind’Amour played for 20 years. Now, he is remembered as perhaps the greatest Hurricane ever, but he did lace them up for 11 years before joining the Canes. Drafted ninth overall by the Blues in 1988, he stayed for two season before the team traded him to the Flyers in 1991. He skated with the Flyers for nine years (1991-2000), netting 601 points in 633 games. In fact, he produced his career-high 97 points (35 goals, 62 assists) in the 1993-94 season.

Brind’Amour made the playoffs three times with the Blues and five times with the Flyers. Neither team ever made it past the third round but not because of his lack of production. He posted 73 points in 87 games. Nevertheless, after years of playoff stagnation, the Flyers traded him to the Hurricanes in 2000.

Thus, Brind’Amour began his 10 year career in Carolina for which he is known. He suited up for 694 games, notching 174 goals and 299 assists. He now ranks fifth in games played, third in assists, and fourth in points in franchise history. He donned the “C” on his sweater for the 2005-06 season and led the team to the organization’s first Stanley Cup later that year with 18 points at 35 years old.

Brind’Amour finished his career with the Hurricanes, retiring in 2010. He now serves as the team’s head coach, striving to win the the Canes first Cup since 2006.

Ray Bourque

It would be an oversight not to include Ray Bourque on this list. The Boston Bruins drafted him eighth overall in 1979, and the 6-foot, 223-pound defenseman carved out a Hall of Fame career for 21 years with the black and gold. He won the Calder Trophy in 1980 and five Norris Trophies between 1979 and 2000. He leads the franchise in games played (1,518), assists (1,111), and points (1,506).

Despite his generational talent, the Bruins never lifted Lord Stanley during his 21-year tenure. The team played 19 times in the postseason with him, even losing in Game 5 of the Final in 1988 to the Edmonton Oilers. The Bruins would return to the postseason 10 more times through 2000. But, nearing 40 years old, Bourque was traded to the Avalanche for the chance to win the Cup.

Ray Bourque Colorado Avalanche Joe Sakic
Ray Bourque lifts the Cup with Joe Sakic after the Avalanche defeated the New Jersey Devils 3-1 in game seven of the Finals (Photo by B Bennett/Getty Images)

In his final season, 40-year-old Bourque hoisted the Cup with the Avalanche. He posted an impressive 10 points in 21 postseason games, and his performance helped produce an iconic moment: Joe Sakic handing Bourque the Stanley Cup after a long, long wait.

Chris Pronger

At 6-foot-6, 220 pounds, more than Chris Pronger’s physical stature was intimidating. He could hit and produce offensively at a more-than-decent rate. The Whalers selected him second overall in 1992, and, after two seasons, he joined the Blues in 1995 after being traded. He spent nine of his 18 NHL years in St. Louis, producing 356 points in 598 games. He won a Norris Trophy and Hart Trophy during his time with the Blues. His plus-140 leads the franchise, and this year the Blues announced the organization would retire his number 44.

The Blues, though, could not win the Cup, and Pronger would be be traded to the Edmonton Oilers in 2005. The Oilers and Pronger would lose in the Stanley Cup Final to the Hurricanes in 2006. After that season, the Oilers traded him to the Anaheim Ducks, where he would play three seasons.

In his first season, Pronger would help the Ducks win the organization’s first Stanley Cup. He posted three goals and 12 assists in 19 games at 32 years old. He would play five more seasons in the NHL before his unfortunate retiring in 2013. Pronger was inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2015 and made the list of the NHL’s 100 Greatest Players in 2017.

Ed Belfour

484 wins, .906 SV%, 2.50 GAA, and 76 shutouts – those are the numbers that define Ed Belfour’s 17-year NHL career. Looking back, it is hard to believe that he went undrafted. He earned a Calder Trophy, two Vezina Trophies, and an induction to the Hockey Hall of Fame. But, the Stanley Cup eluded him for 10 years.

Belfour donned the iconic Blackhawks jersey for eight years from 1989-97. During that stint, he moved his name up the franchise record books, now sitting fourth in wins (201) and shutouts (30). The Hawks made seven playoff appearances with him between the pipes and even lost to the Penguins in the ‘92 Cup Final. Nevertheless, the Blackhawks never lifted Lord Stanley during his time.

Related: Top 3 All-Time Capitals Goalies

After a short stint with the San Jose Sharks, Belfour signed with the Dallas Stars in 1997. He took the Stars to the Western Conference Final in his first season, losing to the eventual-champion Red Wings. Next season, he and the Stars were determined. Driven by his stellar goaltending, the Stars won the franchise’s first Cup in 1999. Belfour posted a .941 SV%, 1.26 GAA, and one shutout in the Cup Final.

Ed Belfour Dallas Stars
Goaltender Ed Belfour of the Dallas Stars (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images/NHLI)

For a player passed over in the NHL draft, Belfour solidified his name on the list of all-time great goalies. Though he led the Blackhawks for eight memorable years, he would taste victory with the Stars after 10 years in the NHL.

Denis Savard

Denis Savard’s cover photo on fittingly depicts him in the Blackhawks uniform. He spent 13 of his 17 NHL seasons in the Windy City and achieved significant personal success. He posted an astonishing five 100-plus point seasons, including a career-high 131 in 1987-88. He is among the franchise’s top-five leaders in goals (377), assists (719), and points (1,096). But, his personal achievement never translated to team success. The Blackhawks lost in the Conference Final three times between 1980 and 1990.

On June 29, 1990, the Blackhawks dealt Savard to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Chris Chelios. While this acquisition benefitted the Blackhawks, it also would lead to Savard winning his first and only Stanley Cup with the Canadiens in 1993. His third year with the Canadiens was his last, and he joined the Tampa Bay Lightning for parts of two seasons before returning the Blackhawks in 1994. He played his last NHL game in 1997 with the team that originally drafted him 3rd overall in 1980.

Savard’s 1,338 points in 1,196 games establish him as ninth on the list of points per game for skaters who played 1,000 or more games. He was inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2000 and named to the NHL’s list of 100 Greatest Players in 2017. But, as a testament to his time in Chicago, the Blackhawks retired his number 18 in 1998. Though he won his Stanley Cup with the Canadiens, he will forever be remembered as a Blackhawk.

An Accomplishment Worth Remembering

The Stanley Cup eludes the grasp of countless NHL players. But, the men on this list demonstrate that the pursuit is well worth it. After dedicating some of their best years to franchises that could not claim hockey’s ultimate prize, these NHLers won with another organization, either in a last ditch effort before retirement (Bourque) or as the result of a controversial trade (Savard). Nevertheless, a beautiful aspect of the game shines through in these stories: only a team can win the Stanley Cup.

The post 9 Stanley Cup Stories: The Long Road to NHL Glory appeared first on The Hockey Writers.


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