We may be days away from seeing the presentation of the Stanley Cup. It’s a scene that hockey fans know well: Gary Bettman wanders out, talks for way too long, forces the winning captain to pose awkwardly for photographs, and then finally relinquishes the trophy as the boos rain down around him.
And then, seconds later, all of that is washed away by one of the hockey world’s favourite traditions: the captain picking out a teammate to receive the first Cup handoff.
It’s a great sight. And it’s evolved into one of the highest honours that a player can receive. It typically goes to a respected veteran, often an Old Guy Without a Cup, or in many cases someone who’s had to overcome adversity to get to the moment. Depending on the circumstances, there may even be tears involved.
Hockey fans eat this stuff up. So today, we’ll relive those moments with a ranking of each and every Stanley Cup handoff dating back to 1994.
Why 1994? Because while it may seem like a longstanding tradition, the sight of a captain handing the Cup off to a teammate is relatively new one.
Before Bettman came along, it was far more common for the Cup to be accepted by the captain and his alternates together, at which point they'd quickly be mobbed by teammates, coaches and front office staff. (The Calgary Flames' 1989 win was a typical example of what things used to look like.)
That started to change with Bettman's first presentation in 1993; the Montreal Canadiens still surrounded the Cup, but captain Guy Carbonneau made a point of making sure that Denis Savard got the first touch. It wasn't until the New York Rangers’ win in 1994 that the winning captain handled the duties on his own, which quickly became the standard.
So that gives us 21 handoffs to work with, each one meaningful, and each one no doubt memorable for fans of the winning team. But some have stood the test of time more than others. So let's count them down, all the way to a shocking pick for No. 1. (Spoiler: You will not be remotely shocked.)
#21 – 1997: Detroit Red Wings
Who: After the Red Wings wrapped up their first Cup win in 43 years, Steve Yzerman takes an extended skate before handing the Cup to… owner Mike Ilitch?
Why: Because Yzerman knew who signs the checks, I guess.
Bonus points: Two members of the Russian Five, Igor Larianov and Slava Fetisov get the Cup next and skate with it together.
Overall score: 1.0/10. Ilitch had been the owner for 15 years, some of them tough, and I guess we can give some points for creativity here. But an owner? Thankfully, the trend did not catch on.
#20 – 2006: Carolina Hurricanes
Why: Wesley was 37 years old and had been with the franchise for 12 years, not counting a brief stopover in Toronto that absolutely nobody remembers.
Bonus points: Wesley was once traded for three first-round draft picks, which then-Whalers GM Jim Rutherford justified by pointing out the team was terrible at drafting.
Overall score: 2.5/10. Not all that memorable. But in fairness, nothing could have lived up to the sight of Brind'Amour stealing the Cup from Bettman.
#19 – 2004: Tampa Bay Lightning
Who: Nobody had ever played longer without reaching the final than Lightning winger Dave Andreychuk, so he was the obvious choice for first handoff honors. But there was a problem: He was already the Lightning captain. So he went with the next oldest guy, Tim Taylor.
Why: Taylor was the other veteran on what was a young Lightning team.
Bonus points: We need more hockey players named after sitcom characters.
Overall score: 3.9/10. This is your semi-regular reminder that it's really weird that nobody ever talks about Andreychuk making the Hall of Fame.
#18 – 2009: Pittsburgh Penguins
Why: Guerin wasn't exactly a classic pick; he already had a Cup ring from his days in New Jersey, and he'd only been with the Penguins for a few weeks. But on a very young team, Crosby didn't have all that many options.
Bonus points: The 17-year age gap between Crosby and Guerin is a Cup handoff record that may never be broken.
Overall score: 4.2/10. Would Sergei Gonchar have been a better pick? I think he might have.
#17 – 1996: Colorado Avalanche
Who: The 1996 final was among the worst ever, one most fans would rather forget, so it makes sense that it's one of the few years where a video of the full Cup presentation is hard to find. This clip picks up after Bettman has made his appearance, but does capture Joe Sakic turning around to hand off to Curtis Leschyshyn.
Why: This one seems weird; Leschyshyn wasn't a veteran, or a star, or coming off any particular adversity, and at 26 I'm pretty sure he's the youngest player to ever get handoff honors. My first thought was that he just happened to be the guy standing there when Sakic turned around. But according to this forum post, Sakic was actually fulfilling a promise he'd made the night before, in recognition of a friendship dating back to their rookie season as Quebec Nordiques.
Bonus points: This video seems to show Adam Foote making a grab before Sakic shrugs him off.
Overall score: 4.4/10. Not a bad moment, given the explanation. But it's fair to say that Sakic's next opportunity would end up being slightly more memorable.
#16 – 2013: Chicago Blackhawks
Why: He'd only been there since the trade deadline, but the 36-year-old Handzus had undisputed OGWAC status on a Blackhawks team where most of the roster had already won in 2010.
Bonus points: "There you go big boy!" [butt slap]
Overall score: 4.5/10. Handzus had just missed a Cup in 2012, leaving the Kings a season before they won it all.
#15 – 2007: Anaheim Ducks
Who: The 2007 Ducks featured one of the greatest Old Guy Without a Cup stories of all-time: Teemu Selanne, who was days away from turning 37 and making his first ever appearance in the final. He was one of the league's most universally beloved players around the globe, and the NHL has prominently featured the image of a sobbing Selanne finally having his Cup moment in its marketing ever since.
Which is why it's kind of weird to look back and realize he didn't actually get first handoff honors. You might remember him getting it. I know I did. So did a few other people I asked. But he didn't. Instead, Scott Niedermayer handed off to his brother Rob.
OK, granted, handing the Stanley Cup to your brother is an undeniably cool moment, and it's hard to blame the Niedermayers for taking it. But Selanne would have been such a perfect choice, as evidenced by how many of us have apparently just decided to go ahead and remember it that way anyway.
Bonus points: Seriously, the number of hockey fans who remember a moment that never happened is weird, right?
Overall score: 4.8/10. Teemu Selanne getting the first handoff in 2007 is the Berenstein Bears book cover of NHL history.