Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Ranking the 2018 OGWACs

With eight teams left in the NHL playoffs, it’s still too early to start worrying about potential final matchups or Conn Smythe favourites. But it’s not too soon to start thinking ahead to one of the league’s best annual stories: the Old Guy Without a Cup.

Rallying behind the Old Guy Without a Cup (a.k.a. the OGWAC) is one of hockey’s great playoff traditions. Ray Bourque is probably the greatest OGWAC of all-time, finally capturing his first Stanley Cup at the age of 40 in what would turn out to be the last game of his career. Lanny McDonald’s 1989 championship was another classic OGWAC story, as was Teemu Selanne’s in 2007.

Last year it was Ron Hainsey, making his playoff debut as a 36-year-old. Like many OGWACs, Hainsey also received the honour of the first Cup handoff. There’s a good chance that this year’s playoffs end with a similar scene, since there are potential Old Guy stories lurking on almost every team left standing. But which one is the best?

Let’s define an “old guy” as someone who’s at least 35 or has been in the league for the entire salary-cap era. We’re also looking for players with a chance to actually be in the lineup for that Cup handoff, so we want guys who have either played in this year’s post-season or are likely to suit up soon.

That narrows our field a bit, but we’ve still got a decent group to choose from in this year’s OGWAC crop. Here are the 10 best remaining candidates, counting down to the best possible story.

No. 10: Paul Martin and Joel Ward, San Jose Sharks

We’ll call this one a tie so we can squeeze both Sharks into our top 10. Maybe that’s a little cheap, but both guys deserve a spot so here we are.

Ward didn’t become a full-time NHLer until he was 27, so even though he’s only been in the league for a decade he’s older than you probably think at 37. He’s had a few second-round exits over the years, and was part of the Sharks’ run to the final in 2016, so he’s had a taste. And his contract is up this year, meaning there’s no guarantee he gets another chance.

Meanwhile, Martin shows up on this list every year, and every year I have to double-check that he actually belongs here. Didn’t he win at least one Cup with the Devils or Penguins somewhere along the way?

Nope, although he just missed a few times — he debuted in New Jersey a season after their 2003 Cup win, then arrived a year after Pittsburgh’s 2009 title and left a year before they won again in 2016. To make matters worse, he had a front row seat to that last one, since it came against the Sharks.

Maybe he’s due. We also can’t rule out the possibility that he may be cursed.

No. 9: Scott Hartnell, Nashville Predators

Hartnell’s 36 years old and has been in the league since 2000, so he certainly fits the OGWAC profile. He’s also had a near-miss, coming within two wins of a Cup with the 2010 Flyers, and he’s another guy whose contract is expiring after this season, so this might well be his very last shot.

All that said, two things keep Hartnell from ranking higher on our list. First, the Predators are among this year’s deepest OGWAC teams, with two more strong candidates to consider. And Hartnell isn’t playing much so far in this year’s playoffs, appearing in just a single game so far, so there’s a good chance he wouldn’t even be in the lineup for a Predators’ Cup win.

No. 8: Braydon Coburn, Tampa Bay Lightning

Coburn barely sneaks onto our list by virtue of having played a few games during the 2005-06 season. But the Lightning are young enough that they don’t offer us much in the way of candidates – Dan Girardi and Ryan Callahan are both older than Coburn but didn’t enter the NHL until a year later, and our only other option is third-string goalie Peter Budaj.

So we’ll let Coburn represent Tampa. He’s a decent choice, with 120 career playoffs games on his resumé, including two unsuccessful trips to the Cup final. He’s a little young to rank much higher than this, but he’s worth rooting for.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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