Monday, May 24, 2021

The 2021 OGWAC rankings

The playoffs are here, and longtime readers know what that means: It’s OGWAC ranking time.

The OGWAC is the Old Guy Without a Cup, and he’s one of the postseason’s greatest traditions. Almost every champion will have at least one OGWAC who’s been toiling away in the league forever without ever getting to lift the Cup. Sometimes he’s a grizzled depth guy, sometimes he’s a superstar and often he’s somewhere in between, and all those scenarios can work. Be warned: When an especially great OGWAC story plays out, you will cry a little.

The greatest OGWAC of all time was Ray Bourque in 2001, taking the crown away from Lanny McDonald in 1989. Teemu Selanne in 2007 was a great one, as was Kimmo Timonen in 2015, and more recently we had Jay Bouwmeester in 2019.

I love a good OGWAC, which is why I’ve been coming up with an annual ranking since the Grantland days. Needless to say, we have to do it again this year. We’ll use the same criteria as last season – to qualify for OGWAC status, a player needs to be at least 33 when the Cup is handed out, have at least ten seasons in the NHL, and be playing a regular role for his team (or in the case of injured players, expected to return during the playoffs). Anyone who meets those standards qualifies for consideration, but the higher spots on the lists will go to players who’ve waited the longest and/or been the biggest stars. Bonus points if a player has had to overcome significant adversity, or has come agonizingly close to winning in the past before missing out.

Can anyone give Bourque a run for his money? One guy might be able to, but we’ll get to that. Let’s set the cut-off at 20, which still rules out some solid honorable mentions like Cal Clutterbuck and Nick Holden. Keep getting older and not winning guys, and maybe you’ll crack the list next year.

20. Nate Thompson, Jets
A classic hard-nosed veteran, Thompson is 36 and has bounced around the league, playing for nine teams in his 14-season career. He’s a not a star, or even all that close, but but that’s fine and sometimes can even be part of the appeal. The question is how much love he can get on a Jets roster that’s crowded with OGWACs.

19. Jeff Petry, Canadiens
Petry barely clears the age bar, having turned 33 in December and played 11 seasons, but some of those were in Edmonton so they count double. He’s a decent candidate, but not the best OGWAC defenseman on his own team. Yes, I am going to be using some of these early entries to set up future ones, thanks for noticing.

18. Kris Russell, Oilers
I think we’ve safely reached the point where you can mention Russell’s name without immediately starting an analytics vs. old school bar brawl, so let’s all agree that he’s spent 14 seasons doing a lot thankless work for five different teams, and doesn’t have much playoff success to show for it. We’ll need him to get healthy in time for any kind of Oilers run before he can move up the list, and the way the Jets are playing that isn’t looking likely, so for now we’ll slot him in here.

17. Nick Foligno, Maple Leafs
There’s this narrative that the Leafs are swimming with OGWACs, which isn’t quite true – Wayne Simmonds is the fourth-oldest player on the team but he’s only 32. There are two other names we’ll get to a little further down, but for now let’s focus on Foligno, a 33-year-old who’s already 14 seasons into his career. He’s never had a near-miss, debuting in Ottawa the year after their run to the final, and has never played more than 10 playoff games in a postseason. Still, he’s an easy guy to root for, especially in Columbus, and the fact that his dad had a long career without a Cup adds some drama. The Maple Leafs’ OGWAC energy is focused elsewhere, though.

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