If you ask any young hockey player what they want, more than anything, their answer will likely be to win the Stanley Cup. Precious few have the chance to play a game in the NHL, and even fewer get the chance to hoist the greatest trophy in sports.
Many NHL players have had illustrious careers. They were first-ballot Hall of Famers, but the Stanley Cup eluded them for their entire careers. For every Ray Bourque or Kimmo Timonen who gets one at the twilight of their career, there are dozens who don’t. Despite their great accomplishments, their lack of a Cup has almost seemed to define them.
They deserve to be celebrated for what they accomplished. Let’s honor them here:
#10. Darryl Sittler
Sittler does own one notable NHL record that’s unlikely to be broken any time soon: 10 points in one game. He broke Maurice Richard’s record of eight with six goals and four assists against the Bruins in 1976. Throughout his career, Sittler was a consistent scorer who was equally adept as a goalscorer and a playmaker.
He eclipsed the 90 point mark eight times in his career, and finished in the top 10 in points five times. However, he suffered from a poor group of supporting forwards and never reached the Stanley Cup Final.
#9. Adam Oates
Adam Oates enjoyed a 19-year career playing for seven franchises, accumulated impressive point totals in the process. A playmaker with tremendous vision and playmaking ability, Oates led the NHL in points on three different occasions (finishing in the top ten 12 times). He scored more than 30 goals just once in his career, but was such a strong passer that he finished in the top ten in points seven times.
The closest Oates came was 1998 with the Capitals and 2003 with the Ducks, losing to the Red Wings and Devils, respectively. Oates was mostly past his prime by that time, with his first appearance coming at the ripe age of 35.
#8. Mark Howe
Though he has won four Stanley Cups as a member of the front office of the Red Wings, the Cup avoided Mark Howe for his entire playing career. He began his career as a forward in the WHA, at one point playing with his father Gordie.
Howe is best known for his work on the Flyers’ blue line from 1982 to 1992, where he finished as the runner-up for the Norris Trophy three times. If it were not for Paul Coffey and the high-powered Oilers, Howe would likely be known as the best offensive defenseman of the 1980s. Over his career in Philadelphia, he eclipsed the 50 point mark six times.
#7. Henrik Lundqvist
The list of accolades Henrik Lundqvist has compiled throughout his 13 years in the NHL is simply outstanding. Vezina winner? Check. Olympic gold medalist? Done in 2006. The record for most wins by a European goaltender? Set in 2016 and currently sits at 459. NHL record 20 wins in 13 consecutive seasons and 30 wins in 11 of his first 12 seasons in the league? Lundqvist did it.
At 38 years old, there’s little left for Lundqvist to prove to the hockey world… besides winning the Stanley Cup. Despite reaching the playoffs 11 times throughout his career and the Final in 2014, he was never able to host the cup while in the prime of his career. With the end of his contract in 2020 came the end of an era in New York as he signed a one-year deal with the Washington Capitals to have one last shot at that elusive Cup.
While there still is time for Lundqvist to win it all, his window has shrunk to make the task seemingly impossible. Even if he is unable to finish this task, he will still go down as one of the best NHL goaltenders of all time to never win the Stanley Cup.
#6. Peter Stastny
Hailing from Czechoslovakia, Peter Stastny and his brothers Anton and Marian were some of the first European players to make a big impact in the NHL. Arriving in the NHL in the 1980-81 season at the age of 24, Stastny exploded 109 points and won the Calder Trophy.
He would go on to score at least 100 points in six of the next seven seasons, and finished in the top 10 in points on six different occasions. Despite his high-scoring efforts, he never reached the Final in the NHL. His entire prime was played with the Quebec Nordiques, where his vision and passing abilities helped make him the franchise’s all-time leader in points.
#5. Pavel Bure
Only thirteen men in the history of the NHL have led the league in goals three times or more. Few, if any, did it with a worse supporting cast than Pavel Bure. Playing 12 seasons in the NHL, Bure’s teams made the playoffs just five times. The Canucks made one big run to the Final in 1994, where Bure led the playoffs in goals and finished second in points.
Were it not for a bad knee that forced him to retire at the age of 31, Bure could have found his name on the Stanley Cup later in his career. Bure was known for his blinding speed and shot who could create offense all by himself, something he was forced to do in Florida.
#4. Borje Salming
Stastny was one of the first great Europeans in the NHL, but Salming was the first. Many Europeans credit Salming for being the one to pave the way for Europeans to be welcome in the NHL. It was a difficult road for him to pave, however.
Salming was subject to constant abuse and dirty play from opponents who questioned his toughness and ability to play the North American game. To his credit, Salming never backed down and carved out one of the greatest careers of any European in the NHL.
He finished in the top five of Norris Trophy voting on seven different occasions, and was named to the second All-Star team on five different occasions. Despite his efforts, he never played a Stanley Cup Final game.
#3. Gilbert Perreault
The big, smooth-skating centerman was the driving force behind one of the greatest lines of the 1970s, the French Connection. Flanked by Rick Martin and Rene Robert, the line terrorized opponents with their skill. Perreault was an effortless skater who could set up his linemates just as well as score.
He was a very consistent scorer who put up over 80 points nine times, and finished in the top 10 assists and points on five different occasions. The Sabres’ all-time leader in goals, assists, and points made one appearance in the Final where Buffalo was defeated by the Flyers.
#2. Marcel Dionne
Marcel Dionne could flat-out score. Though he checked in at just 5’9″, he was able to rack up points in the NHL at a consistent basis. He formed the Triple Crown line with Charlie Simmer and Dave Taylor doing the hard work on the wings, and Dionne doing the scoring at center.
He scored 1,771 points in his career (6th most all-time), and finished in the top 10 in goals, assists, and points nine teams each. Unfortunately, Dionne’s legacy has come to be known by his lack of success in the playoffs. Not only did his teams not have success in the postseason, but Dionne’s individual performance also left a lot to be desired compared to his regular season production.
#1. Brad Park
If Brad Park played during any other era in hockey history, he would be much more revered. Unfortunately for Park, his career lined up right alongside that of Bobby Orr, and Park was doomed to be in his shadow. Park finished as the runner-up in Norris Trophy voting an unprecedented seven times.
A sublime two-way defenseman, Park could move the puck with the best of them and played a rough, physical style in his own end. He scored at least 50 points on 10 different occasions, and actually finished 9th in the entire NHL in points in 1974.
Park made the Final on three different occasions, but fell to a dynasty each time. Once to the Big Bad Bruins, and twice as a member of the Bruins against the Canadiens.
Honorable Mention: Jean Ratelle, Pat LaFontaine, Cam Neely, Mats Sundin
Eugene Helfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who is actually from Tampa Bay. He has written about the Lightning for six years, covering everything from their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, to their crushing first-round exit in 2019, to their redemption in the bubble in 2020. While he is happy to talk about just about anything from cows to cars to video games, hockey will always remain one of his favorite pastimes.