It is that time of year again, the snow is starting to melt and the days are getting longer. For a lifetime Toronto Maple Leafs fan this hasn’t meant much in the last decade more or less which is all the more reason why I am a hockey fan first and foremost and a Maple Leafs fan second. The month of April means the NHL playoffs are upon us and few things are sweeter than the feel of the 1st round of the playoffs were some of the greatest hockey we’ve ever witnessed happens, not to mention the odd monumental upset.
That being said, one thing that makes winning the Stanley Cup so unique is that it is commonly said to be the hardest trophy to win in professional sports and not everyone is going to get the chance to win it. Here is a list counting down starting from ten as the best 10 players to never win the Cup despite Hall of Fame careers – or in some cases once they are eligible. Some of these players were still very good in the postseason despite falling short while others may have not kept their foot on the gas pedal long enough. One of these players has the potential to be removed from this list as early as June should they win this year. We’ll start with #10:
#10 Jean Ratelle – All I know is that Ratelle belongs on here somewhere. This was a guy who won the 1972 Pearson Award (now known as the Lindsay Trophy) as the most outstanding player voted by the players. Not bad considering Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito both had remarkable seasons that year too. The knock on Ratelle is that he had some horrible playoff years with the New York Rangers – who were a fine team – before being traded to Boston and stringing together some good postseasons under the guide of coach Don Cherry. The Bruins faced the uneviable task of never being able to get over the hump against the mighty Montreal Canadiens in those years.
#9 Eric Lindros – Even if his overall career value and longevity lags behind some of these other players the truth is there have been few who have had the prime that he’s had. Lindros had the misfortune of a boatload of injuries which forced him to retire prematurely and even then he was really nowhere near the same player after 2000 when Scott Stevens drilled him. However, the 1995 MVP played the game with brute force, intimidation and skill like we’ve rarely – or never – seen before or since. His career numbers fall behind some of the other guys on this list but at his peak he was a behemoth and it almost seemed like it was inevitable he would win his Cups. Unfortunately the closest he got was 1997 when the Detroit Red Wings shut him down in the final. His playoff resume leaves a lot to be desired.
#8 Norm Ullman – The best player I can think of who played his best years in the original 6 era that belongs on this list. Ullman joined the Red Wings in the 1955-’56 season right after they won the Cup and played in 5 different Cup finals with nothing to show for. This, despite the Red Wings still having Gordie Howe, Alex Delvecchio, Terry Sawchuk and Marcel Pronovost for the most part. Ullman was great for a long time but to make matters worse he was traded to Toronto in 1967-’68 the year after they won as well. He played up until the mid 1970s, and quite effectively as well and while – like Ratelle at #10 – had some poor playoff showings early in his career made up for them a bit with great runs in 1963, 1964 and 1966. Still, the Cup eluded him.
#7 Gilbert Perreault – You’d have a hard time finding such a beautiful skater in NHL history as the headliner of the famed “French Connection Line” with Richard Martin and Rene Robert. Perreault was a lovely player to just simply watch. He was the type of player who was aesthetically fun to watch. Not to mention a heck of a player himself as a career Buffalo Sabre. This was part of the problem, Buffalo almost always went up against one of the great teams of the 1970s in the postseason such as Montreal, Philadelphia or even the New York Islanders in 1980. Despite Perreault’s greatness the furthest he could lead them was a Cup final loss to Philadelphia in 1975. While he had 1326 regular season points in the NHL he was still productive in the postseason with 103 points in 90 games. It is fair to say Perreault did his part.
#6 Joe Thornton – He’ll always be the type of player we remember as someone who couldn’t take a great team over the top. Playing with a fine – and contending team – like the San Jose Sharks for a decade will lead to a lot of criticism, especially if you’ve never even reached the Cup final. When he was a Boston Bruin in his younger years you could forgive him. After all he played in the 2004 playoffs with reported broken ribs. Since that time though Thornton won the MVP, had a couple more seasons north of 100 points and had over 90 assists twice. That’s selected company that last one, as is leading the NHL in assists three times. Thornton will get into the Hall of Fame because he has been good for so long and his numbers back this, but he has had at best moderate success in the postseason with 100 points in 132 games. The Sharks aren’t winning in 2015 but what concerns you the most is that he’s never had even just one postseason where he carried a great team.
#5 Peter Stastny – A marvelous talent and a pioneer for defecting and coming over to North America to play hockey. 1239 points in 977 career games with 105 points in 93 playoff games. Stastny did his part, including a couple of decent runs and even though like Thornton his teams never made the Cup final, the truth is the Quebec Nordiques in the 1980s were not the San Jose Sharks of the last decade and were never among the top 2 or 3 elite teams. Stastny scored that big overtime goal in 1985 to eliminate the hated Canadiens and in the regular season no one other than Wayne Gretzky had more points in the 1980s than him.
#4 Dale Hawerchuk – Had a career like Stastny’s except got going in the NHL when he was younger and unfortunately his Winnipeg Jets were usually playing the Flames or Oilers in the postseason. Hawerchuk routinely had over 100 points in a season and shares a record with Gretzky as the only two players to score at least 80 points in 13 consecutive seasons. Could he have done more in the postseas? He had 99 points in 97 games, which is somewhat acceptable under the circumstances since he was carrying that Jets team on his back with little help. I know that he could play on my team anyday of the week and after some more decent years in Buffalo he could have won a Cup with Philadelphia in 1997 during his last season had Lindros not gotten shut down. Either way, he belongs here.
#3 Alex Ovechkin – He’s going to crack 500 goals sometime next year when he’s 30 years old and that alone is amazing as well as his electrifying career. Ovechkin still has several years to wipe himself from this list permanently with a Cup win and it could happen in a couple of months. He’ll have to find a way to get past the 2nd round of the playoffs though, which he hasn’t done yet. Leading the NHL in goals 5 times puts him in some very exclusive company but Steve Yzerman himself put up some gaudy offensive numbers for a long time and people were growing impatient until he won a Cup. Like Lindros, someone as good as Ovechkin should win once in his career and it probably bothers him that his peers such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have their name on the Cup at his expense in 2009. Washington coach Barry Trotz seems to have Ovechkin playing better defense so it is possible sacrificing some offense in the name of team success could be his next step. It worked for Yzerman.
#2 Brad Park – If you are doing a list of the top 10 defensemen of all-time Park is lurking just outside the top 10 of that list. If it is top 15, he’s on there. That is pretty elite company but he is the best defenseman never to win the Cup, so take that as a mixed blessing. Park just might be the best playoff performer on this list though. The fact that he was never a bride but always a bridesmaid was almost a theme of Park’s career. He finished 2nd in voting for the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman 6 different times. He reached the Cup final three different times and whether he was with the Rangers early in his career or Boston later on, he was always good in the postseason. His best chance came in 1978 when he had 20 points in 15 playoff games yet Boston lost to mighty Montreal again and Park’s chances of winning the playoff MVP went out the window with that loss.
#1 Marcel Dionne – Here is a guy who almost religiously had 100 points a season in the NHL with three times having at least 130. He had 50 goals and at least 100 points in 5 straight seasons and he had 1771 career points in the regular season good for 6th all-time to this day. Even for a higher scoring era in the 1970s and 1980s Dionne stood out. The albatross on him was that he was never able to get a mediocre Los Angeles Kings team out of the first round of the playoffs. In fact he neve got them out of the 2nd round once. For a guy who scored 717 career goals, I’d expect more. Yes it is true the Kings were not a deep team and outside of the famed “Triple Crown Line” with Dave Taylor and Charlie Simmer they did not have the secondary support. However 45 points in 49 career playoff games is the worst playoff career on this list. So why is Dionne ranked #1? Because he scored at a breakneck rate and that is too hard to ignore. I would have just liked to have seen Dionne take the Kings deep at least once to prove he could do it. Daniel Briere managed to, why couldn’t Dionne?Tags: Stanley Cup