Stanley Cup Playoffs preview: Veterans with 1,000 games eye first title


The 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs start Saturday and is taking a look at different types of players who can have a big impact on the postseason. Today, veteran players in the 2021 playoffs who have played the most games without winning a Stanley Cup.

Joe Thornton said he signed a one-year contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Oct. 16 because he wanted to be an NHL champion.

“I need to win a Stanley Cup and I think this is a great team that could do that,” the forward said. 

No player in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs has played more regular-season games without lifting the Stanley Cup over his head. The 41-year-old, who has played 1,680 games, hopes the drought will end with Toronto.

San Jose Sharks forward Patrick Marleau is the only player in NHL history to have played more games than Thornton and not won a Stanley Cup. Marleau, who was a teammate of Thornton for 12 seasons in San Jose, has played 1,779 regular-season games, the most in NHL history. The Sharks did not qualify for the playoffs this season.

Thornton is not the only veteran seeking that elusive first Cup win. Here’s a rundown of the eight players in the postseason who have never won a Cup after playing at least 1,000 regular-season games. Rankings are in order of most games played.

Joe Thornton, Toronto Maple Leafs (1,680 regular-season games; 179 playoff games) 

Thornton is third among all players in the playoffs in postseason points with 133 (31 goals, 102 assists), behind Sidney Crosby (189) and Evgeni Malkin (169) of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The forward’s lone visit to a Stanley Cup Final came with the Sharks in 2016, when they lost in six games to the Penguins. This is Thornton’s 18th appearance in the postseason. He made the conference final three other times with the Sharks (2010, 2011, 2018).

Video: TOR@WPG: Thornton sets franchise mark with wraparound

Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild (1,198; 81) 

Suter has played 16 seasons with the Nashville Predators (2005-12) and the Wild (2012-21) and has yet to be on a team that has won more than one postseason round in a single playoff. The defenseman will attempt to end that frustrating streak with the Wild, who have battled the Vegas Golden Knights and the Colorado Avalanche at the top of the Honda West Division all season. The 36-year-old averaged 22:11 per game this season and scored 19 points (three goals, 16 assists).

Jason Spezza, Toronto Maple Leafs (1,176; 85) 

Spezza and Thornton bring a combined 264 games of playoff experience to the Maple Leafs. The forward’s lone appearance in a Final came in 2007 with the Ottawa Senators, who lost in five games to the Anaheim Ducks. The 37-year-old has joined Thornton to form a leadership duo that teammate Auston Matthews describes as “a couple of living legends.” Coach Sheldon Keefe said of the two, “They’ve been elite, elite players for a very long time. And to have them teaming up for us in that role and being such great leaders for us, it’s outstanding.”

Video: TOR@CGY: Spezza jams puck in at doorstep for 1-0 lead

Zach Parise, Minnesota Wild (1,060; 101)

Parise’s lone appearance in a Final came in 2012 with the New Jersey Devils, who lost in six games to the Los Angeles Kings. After playing his first seven seasons with New Jersey (2005-2012), he joined the Wild as a free agent July 4, 2012, the same year Suter signed with Minnesota. The 36-year-old was a healthy scratch in three of the final four games of the season, so his role in the postseason remains to be seen.

Shea Weber, Montreal Canadiens (1,038; 75) 

Weber (upper body) has not played since April 28. The defenseman has been skating this week, an optimistic sign for the Canadiens, who are better with their captain in the lineup. The 35-year-old can be a difference-maker with his physical play and booming shot. Weber, who played his first 11 NHL seasons with the Predators (2005-16) before being traded to the Canadiens, has never played beyond the second round of the playoffs. 

Video: MTL@CGY: Weber buries a heavy one-timer for PPG

Travis Zajac, New York Islanders (1,037; 57) 

Zajac played 15 seasons with the Devils before being traded to the Islanders on April 7. His lone Final appearance was against the Kings in 2012 when he was Parise’s teammate with New Jersey. Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello was GM of the Devils when they selected Zajac in the first round (No. 20) of the 2004 NHL Draft. The Islanders have many centers, so the 36-year-old will have to play his way into a regular role. 

Keith Yandle, Florida Panthers (1,032; 55) 

Yandle was second in scoring among Panthers defensemen with 27 points (three goals, 24 assists) this season, nine points behind MacKenzie Weegar. Yandle will be a key cog on the power play in the first round against the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. The 34-year-old has never played in a Final and reached a conference final twice; with the Phoenix Coyotes (2012), and the New York Rangers (2015).

Video: DAL@FLA: Yandle beats Khudobin with a slap shot

Paul Stastny, Winnipeg Jets (1,000; 97) 

The 35-year-old has made three trips with three teams to a conference final but has never made a Cup Final. In 2016, he scored 13 points (three goals, 10 assists) in 20 games for the St. Louis Blues, who lost in six games to the Sharks. Two seasons later, he scored 15 points (six goals, nine assists) in 17 games for the Jets, who lost in five games to the Golden Knights. Last season, he scored nine points (three goals, six assists) in 18 games for the Golden Knights, who lost in five games to the Dallas Stars.

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