No Stanley for Old Men: 2022 Edition

The NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs started last night, and that got me thinking about which NHL veteran I would like to see win the Stanley Cup this year. Yes, Joe Thornton, who has played for 24 years now in the NHL, is my obvious choice for “greybeard” who I want to see win the Cup.  But there are many other worthy veteran NHLers that have toiled year-in and year-out and also deserve to sip champagne from hockey’s ultimate prize.

Here is a list of the oldest player from each playoff team who has yet to win the Stanley Cup, and why we should be rooting for each of them this spring. 

Players Age 30 to 33

True, being in their early 30s is not the end of the road for these players. They each likely have five to eight years left in their NHL careers — but not necessarily five to eight more playoff runs, especially if they end up on a perennially-bad team like the Coyotes or Senators. But none of these men would really be considered old in most regards. 

Marco Scandella, Defense, St. Louis Blues

Age: 32
Years in NHL: 12th season
Prior Playoff Appearances: 7
Prior Stanley Cup Finals Appearances: 0
Why We Want to See Him Win: If Marco Scandella looks familiar to you, it’s because he’s been on this list three years in a row — all with the same team, the Blues. He joined St. Louis in 2020 — one year after the team won the Stanley Cup — and continues to be the oldest guy on the team who has not yet won the Cup. That’s got to be so frustrating, to join a team after they win the Cup and then the team does not repeat its success. Scandella has two more years left with the Blues, so he still has time and opportunity on his side. 

Mark Borowiecki, Defense, Nashville Predators

Age: 32
Years in NHL: 11th season
Prior Playoff Appearances: 2
Prior Stanley Cup Finals Appearances: 0
Why We Want to See Him Win: Mark Borowiecki spent the first nine years of his career with the Ottawa Senators, so you can imagine how well that went for him, playoff-wise. Last year was his first with the Predators, who missed the postseason. Borowiecki is a third-pair defenseman who is ultimately expendable, so this might be his best shot at a Cup. Also, if he does win the Stanley Cup, then we’d all get treated to his great, toothless smile. Seriously, this guy should win the award for “Hockey Player That Looks Most Like a Hockey Player.” 

Mikael Backlund, Center, Calgary Flames

Age: 33
Years in NHL: 14th season
Prior Playoff Appearances: 4
Prior Stanley Cup Finals Appearances: 0
Why We Want to See Him Win: OK, Backlund’s first “season” with the Flames was just one game, but his Stanley Cup drought is still longer than any other player on the team. (The three-oldest Flames — Brad Richardson, Trevor Lewis, and Milan Lucic – all won Stanley Cup Championships with other teams.) The Flames don’t have a team captain this year, but do have four alternate captains, including Backlund. Thus, if the Flames do win it all this year, it should be Backlund who gets to hoist the Stanley Cup first, due to his longevity with the team. 

Brendan Smith, Defense, Carolina Hurricanes

Age: 33
Years in NHL: 11th season
Prior Playoff Appearances: 6
Prior Stanley Cup Finals Appearances: 0
Why We Want to See Him Win: Brendan Smith toiled for five-plus seasons for an underachieving Red Wings team that made the playoffs but didn’t stick around too long, and then for an underwhelming Rangers squad that missed the playoffs three out of the five seasons he was there. Carolina has a great team that could go far in the postseason, but the team’s goaltending woes — starter Fredrik Anderson is injured — severely hurts the Canes’ chances. As a UFA, Smith will sign a contract somewhere, be it with Carolina or another team. 

Ages 34 to 36

Right around this time is when careers start to wind down. Sometimes, players in this age group will accept a longer contract with a lesser team for the job security in lieu of signing with a contending team. Other job hazards include demotion, contract buyouts, and injuries, which take longer to heal now than when a player was in his 20s. There are not a lot of opportunities left for this group. 

Matt Irwin, Defense, Washington Capitals

Age: 34
Years in NHL: 10th season
Prior Playoff Appearances: 4
Prior Stanley Cup Finals Appearances: 1 (2017, Nashville Predators)
Why We Want to See Him Win: Matt Irwin has been on four teams in three seasons. He spent 2019-20 with the Predators and Ducks, 2020-21 with the Sabres, and 2021-22 with the Capitals. That’s quite the journey, man. (Sorry, not sorry.) We always feel happy for guys like Irwin, who bounce around the league and then happen to bounce their way onto a winning team. 

Cam Talbot, Goaltender, Minnesota Wild

Age: 34
Years in NHL: 9th season
Prior Playoff Appearances: 4
Prior Stanley Cup Finals Appearances: 1 (2014, New York Rangers)
Why We Want to See Him Win: Look at those wisps of gray hairs creeping into Cam Talbot’s temples and beard. It seems like only yesterday he was Henrik Lundqvist’s understudy with the Rangers. Now, ol’ Cam could give Reed Richards from the Fantastic Four a run for his money.  Graying hair aside, Talbot is still relatively young for a goalie at 34 years of age. (Hell, Mike Smith — who is also on this list — is a starting goalie and he’s 40!) Perhaps the biggest question about Talbot and if he wins the Cup is if it will be as a starter or as a backup to Marc-Andre Fleury, who was acquired by the Wild to bolster its chances in the playoffs. 

Nick Foligno, Left Wing, Boston Bruins

Age: 34
Years in NHL: 15th season
Prior Playoff Appearances: 9
Prior Stanley Cup Finals Appearances: 0
Why We Want to See Him Win: Nick Foligno has played over 1,000 games in the NHL. That’s a loooong time. Unfortunately, most of it was spent with the Senators and Blue Jackets. Foligno, the Blue Jackets team captain for six seasons, is the brother of Wild player Macus Foligno and the son of longtime NHLer Mike Foligno. If Nick Foligno wins the Cup this year, he’d be the first Foligno to do so

Jack Johnson, Defense, Colorado Avalanche

Age: 35 
Years in NHL: 16th season
Prior Playoff Appearances: 6
Prior Stanley Cup Finals Appearances: 0
Why We Want to See Him Win: Poor Jack Johnson is usually on the right team — but at the wrong time. He was the first-round pick of the Hurricanes, but was still playing college hockey when the ‘Canes won the Cup without him in 2006. He ended up playing for the Kings, but was shipped to the Blue Jackets right before the Kings went on to win the Stanley Cup in 2012. Later, he joined the Penguins two years after their two consecutive Cup Championships. And we can’t forget that his parents spent all his money and bankrupted him. It would be a nice change of pace for something good to happen in Johnson’s career. And considering that the Avalanche finished first in the Western Conference this season, he might finally be on the right team at the right time. 

Ryan Reaves, Right Wing, New York Rangers

Age: 35
Years in NHL: 12th season
Prior Playoff Appearances: 10
Prior Stanley Cup Finals Appearances: 1 (2018, Vegas Golden Knights)
Why We Want to See Him Win: Ryan Reaves is an important, but underrated, player on every team he’s on. Whenever Reaves is in the lineup, his teammates play like they are six inches taller and 50 pounds heavier, while opponents usually cut out nonsense like running the goalie or taking cheap shots at the superstar. For example, how many players have tried pulling Artemi Panarin’s hair since Reaves joined the Rangers? Zero, that’s how many. Reaves is a tough guy who can skate a regular shift and put in the odd goal, and yet is surprisingly expendable; he’s been traded three times in a five year span. Most hockey fans get the feels for the fourth-line tough guy when he is on the winning team. 

Players Age 36 to 39

Players in this category can count on one hand how many seasons they have left in their careers — and thus, how many shots they have left at winning the Stanley Cup. We probably wish for these guys to win a little more than the guys in their early 30s, just because this year could be their last. 

Alexander Edler, Los Angeles Kings

Age: 36
Years in NHL: 16th season
Prior Playoff Appearances: 7
Prior Stanley Cup Finals Appearances: 1 (2011, Vancouver Canucks)
Why We Want to See Him Win: Way back when the Canucks and Blackhawks had a heated rivalry, I misread Alexander Edler’s last name as “Elder.” To be fair, I had a student at the time whose first name was “Elder,” so it didn’t seem that unusual. But that was over a decade ago, and since then I’ve learned the right way to spell and pronounce Edler’s last name. But now, Edler is the eldest player on the Kings to not win the Stanley Cup. We would only feel happy for him if this Edler, er, elder skatesman got to win the Cup

Brian Boyle, Center, Pittsburgh Penguins

Age: 37
Years in NHL: 14th season
Prior Playoff Appearances: 10
Prior Stanley Cup Finals Appearances: 2 (2014, New York Rangers & 2015 Tampa Bay Lightning)
Why We Want to See Him Win: How many obstacles can they keep throwing at Brian Boyle? The guy overcame cancer (leukemia) in 2018. He also missed the entire 2020-21 season because no team would sign him, then captained the United States to a Bronze Medal in the 2021 IIHF World Championships, which earned him a tryout with the Penguins — who signed him on the last day of training camp to a one-year deal. If overcoming adversity isn’t enough, keep in mind that Boyle was also on the losing team in the 2014 and 2015 Stanley Cup Finals. Seeing Boyle lose in the Cup Finals twice, beat cancer, make an unlikely comeback after a year off, and then finally win the Stanley Cup has “storybook ending” written all over it, and would inspire others in similar situations to not give up. 

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Left Wing, Tampa Bay Lightning

Age: 37
Years in NHL: 8th season
Prior Playoff Appearances: 5
Prior Stanley Cup Finals Appearances: 1 (2018, Vegas Golden Knights)
Why We Want to See Him Win: Pierre-Edouard Bellemare is that “rags-to-riches” story that we love. He played three seasons in France followed by eight years in Sweden before making it to the NHL at age 29. We would all feel good for Bellemare if he won the Cup, considering that 12 years ago he was as about as far away from the NHL as possible. And considering that he is now on the Lightning, who won the last two Stanley Cup Championships, this may be the closest shot he’s got. 

Joe Pavelski, Center, Dallas Stars

Age: 37
Years in NHL: 16th season
Prior Playoff Finals Appearances: 13
Prior Stanley Cup Appearances: 2 (2016, San Jose Sharks & 2020 Dallas Stars)
Why We Want to See Him Win:  You almost feel bad for Joe Pavelski. He was on the Sharks – who for many years were a serious Cup-contending team – but only made it to the Finals once in 2016, losing to the P0enguins in six games. Look, we all wanted to see “The Big Pavelski,” Patrick Marleau and “Jumbo” Joe Thornton win the Cup as teammates in San Jose, but it wasn’t meant to be. Then, Pavelski made it to the Finals in his first year with the Stars, who lost to the Lightning in 2020. Pavelski signed a one-year extension, with no-movement clause, in March, so he might have one last chance at a Cup if this year doesn’t pan out for Pavs. 

Jason Spezza, Center, Toronto Maple Leafs

Age: 38
Year in NHL: 19th season
Prior Playoff Appearances: 12
Prior Stanley Cup Finals Appearances: 1 (2007, Ottawa Senators)
Why We Want to See Him Win: Spezza is a talented player who has scored 995 regular season points over his 19-year NHL career. He’s not the first-line guy that he used to be, but it is always a shame when a player of his caliber doesn’t win a Cup. He came close in 2007, but the Ducks were just a little too “mighty” that year. 

Mark Giordano, Defense, Toronto Maple Leafs

Age: 38
Years in NHL: 16th season
Prior Playoff Appearances: 4
Prior Stanley Cup Finals Appearances: 0
Why We Want to See Him Win: I’m including TWO Maple Leafs on this list because they are both 38 years old and both have had stellar NHL careers. Mark Giordano’s story of making in the NHL is inspiring. He was an undrafted free agent who played two years with the Flames, then a year in Russia, before returning to the Flames. He was Calgary’s team captain for eight years, and the first-ever captain in Seattle Kraken history. Giordano has played in three NHL All-Star Games, won the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenseman, and won something called the “Mark Messier Leadership Award.” The only thing missing for Giordano is a Stanley Cup. 

Players 40 and Up

These are the players that we really want to see have a “Ray Bourque Ending” to their career. You know, play a ridiculously-long time in the NHL,  win the Cup in his final season, then retire on a high note. We would feel good if either of these two longtime NHLers capped their career with a Cup championship. 

Mike Smith, Goaltender, Edmonton Oilers

Age: 40
Years in NHL: 16th season
Prior Playoff Appearances: 5
Prior Stanley Cup Finals Appearances: 0
Why We Want to See Him Win: Mike Smith has been a really good goalie for some really bad teams, and as a result has made it to the playoffs only five times in his prior 15 seasons. Smith is in the first year of a two-year contract extension, but there’s no guarantee what team he’ll end up on next season.

Joe Thornton, Center, Florida Panthers

Age: 42
Years in NHL: 24th season
Prior Playoff Appearances: 18
Prior Stanley Cup Finals Appearances: 1 (2016, San Jose Sharks) 
Why We Want to See Him Win: There are two types of hockey fans in this world: those who want to see Joe Thornton win the Stanley Cup — and monsters who don’t! Kidding aside, Thornton has more than paid his dues. He started his NHL career in 1997-98 and is the second-oldest player in the league after Zdeno Chara. Thornton has won the Hart and Art Ross Trophies, and has scored more than 400 goals and 1,100(!) assists in the regular season. But the one accolade that has eluded Jumbo Joe all these years is a Stanley Cup Championship. You have good players, great players, and legends. Thornton is a legend and deserves to win the Cup this year so he can go out on top as a a champion. 

Which of these “Old Men Without a Cup” would you like to see become the latest “Old Man WITH a Cup?” Is it a player from your favorite team, or someone else? 

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Author: Sal Barry

Sal Barry is the editor and webmaster of Puck Junk. He is a freelance hockey writer, college professor and terrible hockey player. Follow him on Twitter @puckjunk

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