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Somewhere along the line, someone decided that someone's career couldn't be validated without a championship. This is digestible when one is talking about golf, tennis, bowling, the hammer throw or some other individual sport. It's ludicrous when talking about team sports. So, if Ray Bourque and the Avalanche lose Game 7 to the Devils in 2001, Bourque's career is diminished? That seems silly. He was one of a large group.
Not winning a championship is no more the foundation of a team sports career than not winning an Emmy dismisses a television career. (A clunky comparison, but my goal since Day 1 of my "career" was never to win any kind of Emmy. They are political, silly and often display evaluating acumen of 1990s figure skating judges.)
Whether you're an athlete or a journalist, our daily focus should be to get along with coworkers (be a good teammate), show up every day (don't call in sick), be bold and creative (invent a new way to do things), stand up for what's right, be a craftsman and contribute with your joy, passion, humor, love and knowledge. That's what we should teach and coach our kids who play sports. That's what matters.
Now, Little League, state championships, NCAA, intramural and, yes, Stanley Cup titles have benefits. They often raise perceptions, they can raise salaries and appearance fees, they validate difficult decisions and hard work and they provide really cool photographs. And, most importantly, they create a bond, for life, with teammates. You become brothers or sisters -- often closer than biological brothers and sisters.
So, outside of the bond that is forever created, the most fulfilling and meaningful byproduct of team sports championships, what can be gained by some of the Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils by winning the Stanley Cup?
Patrik Elias, Devils: If he retires with 1,000 games (already there), 1,000 points (he'll get there in two seasons) and three Cups? Hall of Fame. Class, talent and all-around acumen.
Mike Richards, Kings: I get the Flyers' trading Jeff Carter. I didn't get trading Mike Richards. He is an absolute winner. Intense, smart, innate. Numbers sometimes lie.
Ilya Kovalchuk, Devils: He's 29 years old and he has 406 career goals. Already a Hall of Famer. He's been a durable regular-season player and a point-per-game playoff performer. He wants to win a Stanley Cup as much as any kid from Ontario. He should get the Cup second, after Parise, if the Devils win.
Anze Kopitar, Kings: He will end up playing 19 NHL seasons. He will play 1,463 games. He will score 427 goals and get 794 assists. He will be a Hall of Famer. It would be the Cup's first trip to Slovenia.
Zach Parise, Devils: Well, this could be awkward. The free-agent-to-be on July 1 might raise the Cup on June 13 in Newark and be a Red Wing 18 days later. This "leverage" could add years to what should be already a long-term deal.
Jonathan Quick, Kings: A Cup for Quick would be an educational moment for sports fans and even a lot of NHL fans. Jonathan Quick is an elite tender. One of the best in the game. USA's Olympic goalie in 2014.
Martin Brodeur, Devils: A closeout win over the Rangers was one of his finest. This would be four Cups in three different decades, tying Patrick Roy. He would never admit it, but that matters to him.
Drew Doughty, Kings: The Kings have the better goalie, best all-around player (Kopitar) and the best defenseman in this series in Doughty. Doughty is an enormous talent and has a lot of fire inside. He's only 22. You hope it makes him want more and to mature into a Norris Trophy machine.
Darryl Sutter, Kings: Do you think Darryl Sutter has seen "The Notebook"? Yeah, me neither. It would be great for the family. I'm sure Sutter's first quote if he wins the Cup will be something like, "Still gotta milk the cows."