Winning the Stanley Cup takes talent, hard work, luck and a whole host of other factors. As teams are eliminated, star players take the heat for not performing to expectations or failing to carry their team to a championship. The Stanley Cup is what players work for every year and a season that doesn’t result in a championship is considered a failure. The number of Stanley Cups won by an individual often defines a player’s legacy, whether it’s deserved or not.
The Stanley Cup and a Player’s Legacy
When it comes to Hockey Hall of Fame induction conversation, one of the first things to come up is the number of Stanley Cups a player has won. Former Toronto Maple Leaf Mats Sundin got in during his first year of eligibility and some criticized his lack of Stanley Cups, especially when Brendan Shanahan, who won three Cups in his playing career, was snubbed that year. However, Sundin did not have the privilege of playing on some dominant Detroit Red Wings teams like Shanahan, and while both deserve to be in the Hall of Fame, using the number of Stanley Cups doesn’t always work.
There are NHL superstars who have carved out excellent careers to date but don’t have one of hockey’s biggest prizes in their trophy case. San Jose’s Joe Thornton and Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin are two prime examples of players who have multiple individuals awards and success on the international stage but have been criticized heavily for not leading their teams to a Stanley Cup.
Thornton has played on consistently good Sharks teams over the years but they have yet to reach the final during his tenure. There have been times where Thornton needed to raise his game but didn’t. But it doesn’t account for his teammates not stepping up or the goaltending not being up to par. It’s easy to scapegoat one guy for a team not living up to expectations, but when a team consistently fails to reach the lofty heights expected of them, it usually doesn’t have to do with a lone player.
Ovechkin has been a superstar since his debut back in 2005 and is on his way to a Hall of Fame career. Ovechkin has been compared to Sidney Crosby for the past decade but he doesn’t have a Cup like Crosby does and for some people, that makes a difference. For Ovechkin, goaltending in Washington was an issue until the emergence of Braden Holtby and the team didn’t have the depth it does now or a coach like Barry Trotz. But there have been times where Crosby was less than stellar for Pittsburgh in the playoffs in recent years and the players around him, such as Evgeni Malkin or Marc-Andre Fleury, didn’t elevate their games.
Even young superstars are already being judged by Cup wins. After seeing the likes of Crosby and Jonathan Toews captain their teams to championships at young ages, the precedent has been reset. John Tavares for example has had far less to work with in his career so far with the Islanders and things are finally starting to turn around there. Same thing in Edmonton, where it was thought getting a bunch of first overall picks would be their ticket to the playoffs. But it is so much more than that. Bad goaltending, a porous defence and a lack of veteran leadership are only some of the reasons why the Oilers have floundered and the players they drafted won’t be able to put their talents to good use until they fix those problems.
Some have even said that goaltender Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens needs to win a Stanley Cup for him to take his place among the Habs legends. Expecting Price to pull a Patrick Roy isn’t fair and Price doesn’t have legends in the making playing in front of him like Jacques Plante and Ken Dryden did. Price has already broken Habs records and carries his team like no other. Putting him up against past legends is inviting disappointment and unrealistic expectations. Price should be judged on his play and his capabilities and not the ones set by past legends from decades prior.
The Stanley Cup will continue to be used to define a player’s career but to do so is unfair. It takes a lot for a team to win a championship and comparing players just doesn’t make sense. Dustin Brown has captained Los Angeles to two Stanley Cups but no one would say he is better than Ovechkin. Shawn Thornton has two Cup rings but would any team take him over Joe Thornton? Stanley Cups are a nice addition to any player’s resume but not having one should not take away from otherwise great careers.