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Stanley Cup handoff offers many options for playoff captains

Candidates for first pass of trophy at conclusion of postseason

by David Satriano @davidsatriano / Staff Writer

Every hockey player dreams of winning the Stanley Cup. Once NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman hands it to the captain of the winning team, the question becomes who gets it next.

In 2001, Colorado Avalanche captain Joe Sakic didn't lift the Cup, but handed it to 22-year veteran defenseman Ray Bourque, who was winning it for the first time. In 2015, Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews gave it to defenseman Kimmo Timonen, who was 40-years-old, a 16-year NHL veteran, and didn't know if he'd play hockey again because of blood clots a few months earlier and had announced he would retire once the season ended. Last year, Alex Ovechkin gave it to long time linemate Nicklas Backstrom.

Who could get the first handoff this spring? A rookie, veteran or someone who's lifted it before?

Here's a look at who could get the first pass for each of the 16 teams in the Stanley Cup Playoffs:

Boston Bruins: Captain Zdeno Chara to goalie Tuukka Rask

Chara, 42, is the longest-tenured captain in the League, serving since the 2006-07 season. He lifted the Cup in 2011 and handed it to veteran Mark Recchi, who already had won twice before. This time, it'll be Rask, who won the Cup with the Bruins then, but didn't appear in the playoffs with Conn Smythe winner Tim Thomas playing every minute in goal for Boston.

Second choice: Patrice Bergeron

Calgary Flames: Captain Mark Giordano to forward Johnny Gaudreau

If the Flames are to win their first Cup since 1989, there's a good chance "Johnny Hockey" will have played a big part. He had NHL career highs in goals (33) and points (99) this season and has been their most consistent player. 

Second choice: Mike Smith

Carolina Hurricanes: Captain Justin Williams to forward Jordan Staal

Assuming there's no Storm Surge celebration prior to Commissioner Bettman handing the Cup to Williams, who would become the second active player to win the Cup four times (Chris Kunitz), he likely will give it to Staal. The veteran forward, who won the Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009, has been with the Hurricanes for seven seasons and means as much to the team off the ice as he does on it. 

Second choice: Justin Faulk

Colorado Avalanche: Captain Gabriel Landeskog to defenseman Erik Johnson

It won't be as touching as when Sakic didn't even lift the Cup but handed it to the veteran Bourque in 2001, but Landeskog will give it to Johnson, who's been with the team since 2010-11 and is their longest-tenured player. The other option would have Landeskog give it to Nathan MacKinnon, who gives it to Mikko Rantanen, since that trio carried the team all season.

Second choice: Nathan MacKinnon

Columbus Blue Jackets: Captain Nick Foligno to goalie Sergei Bobrovsky

Although his playoff shortcomings are well documented, the potential unrestricted free agent has something to prove. Bobrovsky rounded into form at just the right time, getting the Blue Jackets into the playoffs. If Columbus wins, it will be the first time Bobrovsky has gotten past the first round in four tries with Columbus.

Second choice: Brandon Dubinsky

Dallas Stars: Captain Jamie Benn to forward Jason Spezza

Not the most obvious of choices, but Benn opts not to hand it to goalie Ben Bishop or forward Tyler Seguin. Rather, he rewards the 16-year veteran who reached 1,000 NHL games this season. Spezza has been the ultimate professional in the twilight of his career, and it would be a touching moment to see him raise the Cup before Spezza, a potential unrestricted free agent, perhaps retires following the season.

Second choice: Ben Bishop

Nashville Predators: Captain Roman Josi to goalie Pekka Rinne

The Predators came close two seasons ago, losing in six games to the Penguins in the Final, but if they get it done this spring, one of the best players in their history will get the first pass. Rinne, the 36-year-old who won the 2018 Vezina Trophy, has the most wins by a Finland-born goalie in NHL history (341) and has waited for this moment for a long time.

Second choice: Brian Boyle

New York Islanders: Captain Anders Lee to forward Josh Bailey

The Islanders have won one playoff series since 1993 and this would be their first Cup since winning their fourth-straight title in 1984. No
one on the Islanders has endured more than Bailey, an alternate captain who's been with New York since 2008-09 and seen more losing than winning in his time.

Second choice: Matt Martin

Pittsburgh Penguins: Captain Sidney Crosby to forward Evgeni Malkin

Crosby has lifted the Cup three times and each time he's handed off to a veteran. In 2009, it was forward Bill Guerin, who won the Cup with the New Jersey Devils 14 years prior; in 2016, it was defenseman Trevor Daley, a 12-year veteran; and in 2017 it was defenseman Ron Hainsey a 14-year veteran who had never been in the playoffs prior. If the Penguins win their fourth Cup in 11 years, the safe choice would be Malkin this time around.

Second choice: Matt Cullen

St. Louis Blues: Captain Alex Pietrangelo to forward Alexander Steen

The Blues were last in the Western Conference standings on Jan. 2 but had a remarkable turnaround to qualify for the playoffs. Steen, the 35-year old veteran who has spent 11 seasons in St. Louis, will be rewarded before handing it to 16-year NHL veteran Jay Bouwmeester.

Second choice: Jay Bouwmeester

San Jose Sharks: Captain Joe Pavelski to forward Joe Thornton

Two words: Joe Thornton. The center, who ranks in the top 15 all-time in games played (1,566), points (1,478) and assists (1,065) has played 21 NHL seasons, including the past 14 in San Jose, without winning the Cup. Pavelski likely wouldn't even touch the Cup, opting to let Thornton and his beard savor the moment with the first touch.

Second choice: Brent Burns

Tampa Bay Lightning: Captain Steven Stamkos to forward Nikita Kucherov

After running through the regular season with 62 wins and 128 points, the Lightning are hoping for 16 more victories. If Steven Stamkos is presented the Cup, there's no question he will give it to Kucherov, who had a blistering regular season with 128 points (41 goals, 87 assists), the most by a Russian-born forward in NHL history

Second choice: Victor Hedman

Toronto Maple Leafs: Alternate captain Patrick Marleau to John Tavares

Toronto does not have a captain. If Marleau, the 21-year NHL veteran isn't the first one to touch the Cup, whoever is will no doubt hand it to him. If Marleau, who has played 1,657 regular-season games (the most in NHL history without winning a Cup) does get it first, he could hand it to Tavares, who signed a seven-year, $77 million contract last offseason and had 47 goals in his first season for his hometown team.

Second choice: Nazem Kadri

Vegas Golden Knights: Alternate captain Deryk Engelland to goalie Marc-
Andre Fleury

Vegas is one of few playoff teams without a captain. No matter who gets it first, Fleury, the face of the team when he was selected in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft, will get the Cup first from that player and for the fourth time in his NHL career.

Second choice: William Karlsson

Washington Capitals: Captain Alex Ovechkin to forward Niklas Backstrom

If the Capitals defend their title, history could repeat itself with Ovechkin handing the Cup to his longtime running mate like he did after the defeat of the Golden Knights in five games to win the title last season.

Second choice: Braden Holtby

Winnipeg Jets: Captain Blake Wheeler to forward Bryan Little

Patrik Laine? Mark Scheifele? Dustin Byfuglien? All good options but Wheeler should reward the longest-tenured member of the organization. Drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers in 2006 (No. 12), Little played four seasons there before the franchise relocated to Winnipeg and begin its methodical climb to a championship. Getting the handoff would be fitting.

Second choice: Dustin Byfuglien

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