There is no real Dave Andreychuk or Ray Bourque in this year’s Stanley Cup finals, an obvious sentimental player nearing the end of his career still searching for his first NHL championship. But if you ask me, here are five players it would be impossible not to be happy for if they win Lord Stanley’s prize:
1. Willie Mitchell, Kings. The 35-year-old blueliner, for my money, comes closest in this year’s finals to the Andreychuk/Bourque sentimental choice. Mitchell, a cerebral sort, has never won a Cup, and his career nearly ended two years ago because of postconcussion syndrome. Now, he’s playing some of the best hockey of his career, ranking second on the Kings in ice time (25:27) and serving an incredibly important role as a shutdown guy, penalty killer and leader on and off the ice. The Cup would look good in his hands.
2. Martin Brodeur, Devils. OK, so he’s already won three Cups. Still, at age 40, how is this not an incredible story? I covered the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver when he lost his starting job to Roberto Luongo midtournament. It was gut-wrenching for him. Like the classy vet he is, he never publicly complained. I bring up Vancouver 2010 because, at the time, it felt like that was the last time we’d see Brodeur in a high-stakes moment. A fourth Stanley Cup ring certainly would quiet the critics who say he was done winning these types of big games.
3. Jarret Stoll, Kings. Almost a year ago, the Kings acquired Mike Richards, and Stoll immediately knew what that meant. He was no longer the team’s No. 2 center. But like the team-first guy that he is, Stoll accepted his new role as No. 3 center and never complained, even though the timing couldn’t be worse with his contract up and his offensive numbers going down because of the demotion. Instead, Stoll embraced his role, playing a solid 200-foot game, especially raising his game in the playoffs. He’s back in the Cup finals for the first time since his Oilers lost a heartbreaking seven-gamer to Carolina in 2006. Hard not to pull for him to finally get his ring.
4. Zach Parise, Devils. To me, the 27-year-old Devils captain is something of a throwback. His work ethic, team-first attitude and the way he plays the game so responsibly at both ends of the ice -- New Jersey was so right to put the "C" on him. He’s a young star who would have an even bigger profile if he played across the Hudson for the Rangers or for another more prominent team, but in many ways he’s been the perfect Devil: Just go about your thing and don’t seek the spotlight. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent July 1. Should he sign elsewhere, it sure would be nice to see Parise raising the Cup in a Devils uniform.
5. Dustin Penner, Kings. Talk about a comeback story, right? Penner, almost an afterthought three months ago for the Kings, is now a key contributor. His 10 playoff points (3-7) in 14 games are just seven shy of his regular-season output, which came in 65 games. You’d feel good for Penner to hoist another Cup (he won with Anaheim in 2007) if for no other reason than the amount of ridicule he’s taken for his weight issues over the years, not to mention the pancake-back-injury thingy earlier this season. He’s a good man with a great sense of humor, and this could be his way to get the last laugh.