Ray Bourque spent 19 seasons forging a legendary career with the Boston Bruins, but as he neared the twilight of his career, the defenseman had become hockey's version of Dan Marino or Karl Malone -- a transcendent player who couldn't win a championship.
In year No. 20, Bourque finally decided he would have to pursue the Stanley Cup elsewhere, and his move to the Colorado Avalanche is one of the most famous transactions in the history of the sport.
"This was a selfish move in terms of my career," Bourque told Sports Illustrated shortly after the deal. "I know it's a shocker that I made a move like this, because everything I've ever done in my life has been safe, safe, safe."
Bourque went to a Colorado team that already had a few fellow future members of the Hockey Hall of Fame, including Patrick Roy, Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg. The Avalanche had won the Cup in 1996, the team's first in Denver after relocating from Quebec City, but in the previous three seasons they watched as Detroit and Dallas passed them in the Western Conference superpower rankings.
Adding Bourque and Andreychuk helped the Avalanche to a Northwest Division title, but they still finished with fewer points than St. Louis, Dallas and Detroit in the regular season. The Avalanche were able to dispatch archrival Detroit in the conference semifinals but couldn't topple the defending Cup champs, losing to Dallas in seven games.
Bourque would return for the 2000-01 season (Andreychuk did not), and that campaign had one dominant storyline -- could the Avalanche help Bourque win the Stanley Cup at age 40?
"Yeah, that was definitely part of it," said Rob Blake, who joined the team in a deadline deal that season. "I think it wasn't spoken as much as it played out in the media, but I think everyone in the room understood that it would be his last chance at it. He was playing like it might his last chance at it, too. He was leading all of us. That whole feeling of the accomplishment and what it would do for him and for everyone else's careers was always on everybody's mind."
Bourque did his part. He had 7 goals and 59 points as the Avalanche steamrolled through the regular season and captured the Presidents' Trophy with 118 points.
His 59 points are the most in NHL history by a defenseman in the 40-and-over age bracket (a standard Nicklas Lidstrom is threatening this season), and Bourque added 4 goals and 10 points in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Avalanche didn't have to beat Detroit or Dallas, but they did dispatch the teams that knocked out their top rivals (Los Angeles and St. Louis), and then rallied from a 3-2 series deficit to beat the New Jersey Devils and capture the Cup.
When NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman presented the Cup to Colorado captain Joe Sakic, it was an easy choice for him to turn and hand it to Bourque.
"That's the thing -- you knew how poised he was for the opportunity to win the Stanley Cup," Blake said. "He'd played for so long in Boston and he'd finally made that move to chase the Stanley Cup. Just to see his work ethic -- I think he was 39 or 40 when I got traded there. To see the effort and work he put in and knowing it was coming down to the winning the Cup that year and it would define his glorious career. He was fun to be around."
I have been blessed to play for 16 years in the NHL; it has been an amazing ride. I would like to thank the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers organizations and owners for providing me the opportunity to play the sport I love for so many years. I could have never played for so long or accomplished all that I have without the unwavering love and support from my wife, Heather, our three sons, Ryan, Lucas, and Mason, and my parents.
— Martin St. Louis after announcing his retirement from the NHL on Thursday