Monday, May 7, 2012

Who is the Greatest Player to never Win the Stanley Cup?

Who is the greatest player to never win the Stanley Cup? Names in the hat would include Marcel Dionne, Gilbert Perreault, Pat Lafontaine, Mike Gartner and Phil Housley.

My vote goes to former NHL defenceman Brad Park.

Brad Park's finest NHL campaign came in 1973-74. In 78 contests with the New York Rangers, he posted 25 goals to go along with 57 assists. His 82 points placed Park in tenth-spot amongst league scoring leaders.

Over an eight-year period, Park was runner-up in balloting for the James Norris Trophy (Top Defenceman) on six occasions. His main competitors were Bobby Orr, Denis Potvin and Larry Robinson. In this case, Park is the greatest defenceman never to win the Norris Trophy.

In order to secure Lord Stanley's gift to hockey,  a player must first make it to the big dance. This is where Brad Park skates circles around the likes of Dionne, Gartner and Peter Stastny.  Park's playoff activity is the main reason he gets my nod as the greatest player never to win the Cup. Sure, defenceman Phil Housley and company may have produced better regular season numbers, but their stats are no match for Park's productivity come spring-time.

Park's participation in post-season action is documented in the NHL Record Book. His 17 consecutive trips to the playoffs gives Park a share of the fourth longest streak in league history (tied with Ray Bourque and Kris Draper). Also, he played in three Stanley Cup Finals - 1972 (New York), 1977 and 1978 (Boston).

He was no slouch once hockey's second-season got underway. He shares third-spot with Bobby Orr for "most goals by a defenceman, one playoff year." In 1978, Park scored nine goals for Boston. In 161 playoff matches, Park amassed 125 points (35 goals & 90 assists).

Noted for his skills on both offence and defence, Park was no stranger to the rough stuff. In an era dominated by the "Big Bad Burns," Park marched his hesitant teammates into battle. His competitive nature led to fisticuffs with Ted Green and Johnny "Pie" McKenzie. Two of the toughest warriors in the Bruins line-up.

Park was recognized for his leadership qualities by coach and general manager Emile Francis. After the 1973-74 season, Park added the captains "C" to his jersey.

In September 1972, Brad Park was a member of Team Canada. He suited-up for all eight games against the Soviet Union. He was one of only seven players to accomplish this feat. Following game eight, Park was named co-player of the game, along with Paul Henderson. This provides some insight into his contributions, taking into account Henderson scored the series winning tally.

His NHL totals tell the tale - 1,113 (games played), 213 (goals), 683 (assists), 896 (points), 1.429 (penalty-minutes), 5 (First All-Star Teams), 2 (Second All-Star Teams), 1 (Bill Masterton Trophy) - of a Hockey Hall of Fame career (1988).

A collector's issue of The Hockey News selected the Top 50 Players of All-Time. The list included several modern day players who never won a Cup - Marcel Dionne, Gilbert Perreault and Brad Park.

Another individual not listed as a Cup winner is Newsy Lalonde. The Hockey News selections and corresponding data deal strictly with NHL statistics and results. He did, however, win a Stanley Cup in 1915-16, when the Montreal Canadiens were members the National Hockey Association.

In a confrontation versus the Portland Rosebuds, Newsy Lalonde and his teammates went the distance against the Western Champs. In a best-of-five Stanley Cup challenge, Montreal won the fifth and deciding contest by a score of 2 to 1.

There is an interesting historical aspect relating to the 1918-19 Cup Final. And Newsy Lalonde is part of the story. By this time, Lalonde and the Montreal Canadiens were part of the National Hockey League.

Montreal and the Seattle Metropolitans (PCHA Champs) faced-off in the Final. It was the first year of a new Cup format, where the series would be a best-of-seven affair.

After five matches, both teams collected a pair of victories. Game four ended in a scoreless draw, with officials halting play following one-hour and forty-minutes of overtime.

Due to an influenza epidemic, the Final came to a close with no Stanley Cup winner being declared. Cup trustees had no other option, but to move in this direction. In game five, players were falling ill, and subsequently required bed rest.

That was a best case scenario. Joe Hall, who starred for Montreal, didn't survive. He died of influenza on April 5, 1919, in a Seattle hospital.

Game two featured Newsy Lalonde taking centre stage. He netted all four goals in Montreal's 4 to 2 victory.

His opportunity of winning a Cup in the newly formed league came to a sad end after game five. Players from both rosters were stripped of a chance to have their names engraved on hockey's biggest prize. The impact of a medical emergency taking its toll, so powerful it took away lives, dreams and aspirations.

As a means of addressing the question at hand, Lalonde will be classified a Cup winner for his result in 1915-16. After all, a Stanley Cup Champion is a Stanley Cup Champion, no matter which league is handing out the silver bowl.

With this in mind, we are left with Dionne, Perreault and Park from The Hockey News list.

In this group-of-three, who is the player with a commanding edge in playoff experience? Brad Park.

The greatest player never to win a Cup.

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