Meet the 'Old Guys Without a Stanley Cup' of the 2024 Final

P. K. Subban: Sergei Bobrovsky covered up the Panthers' mistakes (0:57)

P. K. Subban recaps the Panthers' 3-0 win over the Oilers and looks ahead to Game 2. (0:57)

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Kyle Okposo doesn't see himself as "the old guy without a Stanley Cup."

Even if everyone else does.

"I don't look at myself like I'm Joe Pavelski or all of these other guys that have been around for a long time. I just don't see myself like that," the 36-year-old Florida Panthers forward said, citing the recently retired 39-year-old Dallas Stars center. "I just see myself on the team. I am going to go pick up pucks after practice if there's a puck standing there. That's just kind of how I live my life."

But in every playoff series the Panthers have won this postseason, Okposo has gotten the questions. About playing 17 seasons and 1,051 games in the NHL without winning the Cup. About joining Florida at the trade deadline from the Buffalo Sabres, going from a team that never made the playoffs with Okposo on the roster to one returning to the Stanley Cup Final for the second straight season.

About being closer than he's ever been before to being an old guy with a Stanley Cup.

Okposo understands how others see him. He just doesn't vibe with it.

"When I don't have a perception of myself, but other people do of me, that's where I just ... I don't really get it," he said. "I just kind of shyly put my head down and walk away. But it's been a ton of fun for the guys to embrace that aspect of it. I'm just trying to win for them."

So is it OK if his Panthers teammates bring it up? To use it for motivation?

"Yeah, no, it's ... I mean, it is a little bit weird," Okposo said. "Like I said, I don't see myself like that, but I know that the guys do, so I appreciate it. But at the same time, if somebody says something, I'm probably just going to go skate the other way."

While he's uncomfortable with having the focus on him, he's quite candid about how exciting it is to be this close to winning a championship. Even if others aren't.

"I'm going to talk about it," Okposo said. "I'm too old for those superstitions like, 'Oh my gosh, we can't talk about winning the Cup.' It's like, 'No, it's our goal. Why wouldn't we talk about it?' It's a ton of fun to be this close. And I feel like we're here for a reason because we've done the right thing. So yeah, we can talk about it."

But once the game starts, Okposo said, that's where thoughts of the Stanley Cup are superseded by the moment at hand.

"You consume the moment," he said. "You don't let it consume you. I think that that's extremely important. The second that you start looking around and going, 'Oh my God, we're a few wins away from winning the Stanley Cup!' then you start to do things that you haven't done all year. So you have to make sure that you are staying in the moment. But you also understand where you're at and you don't let that bog you down."

Okposo is one of many individuals on the Florida Panthers and Edmonton Oilers that are seeking their first Stanley Cup wins. Some are young. Some are stars in their primes. Some have waited many years, many games and many teams to earn the chance to hoist the chalice.

Here are some of the most prominent "old guys without a Cup" in the Final, with the caveat that "old" is a matter of content and perception.

Derek Ryan
F, Edmonton Oilers

At 37 years old, Ryan is the oldest player on the Oilers' roster without a Cup. Yet he's played fewer career NHL games (570) than Connor McDavid (645).

Ryan is one of the NHL's quintessential late bloomers. After four seasons in Canadian juniors with the Spokane Chiefs, Ryan then played another four years at the University of Alberta. He embarked on a pro career in Austria in 2011 before moving on to Sweden in 2014, where he was MVP of the Swedish Hockey League.

That season caught the attention of NHL teams, who sought him out as an unrestricted free agent. Toronto, Colorado, St. Louis and Washington were all interested. Ryan signed with the Carolina Hurricanes, reuniting him with Bill Peters, who coached him in Spokane.

(Peters would later resign from the Calgary Flames in 2019, after acknowledging he used a racial slur during a previous coaching stint in the AHL.)

Ryan spent three seasons with Carolina, three with Calgary and is now in his third season with Edmonton, having tallied 12 points in 70 games this season. He's appeared in 14 games for the Oilers in the postseason, with one assist and a minus-6 rating. While he played in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals, Ryan was replaced in Game 1 against Florida by a returning Warren Foegele.

After the Oilers lost in the playoffs last season, the Spokane native told the Spokesman-Review he was confident they weren't done.

"Most importantly now at this point in my career, I want to win," Ryan said. "I feel like Edmonton is building toward something special."

Ryan said playing playoff hockey as an Oiler is a singular experience.

"It's amazing. This time of year, it's an amazing place to play," he said. "Everyone on our team knows that and everyone that plays against us knows that. You see the people outside as you're getting warmed up. You drive around the city and the flags are everywhere. I go to the grocery store and people are coming up to me and thanking me."

Edmonton coach Kris Knoblauch said Ryan is the type of supporting player a winning team needs.

"He does all those little things," he said. "He's not flashy. He's not the fastest guy out there, but a very smart hockey player and a player that coaches really appreciate."

Sergei Bobrovsky
G, Florida Panthers

One doesn't need a Stanley Cup ring to be a Hockey Hall of Famer. That's as true for goalies as it is for skaters. Just recently, Roberto Luongo and Henrik Lundqvist entered the Hall as all-time netminders who never hoisted the Cup.

Bobrovsky, 35, has built a career that will receive Hall of Fame consideration. He's second in wins among active goalies (396) behind Marc-Andre Fleury (561). He's won the Vezina Trophy twice. He's earned a reputation as a clutch postseason goalie, knocking off three different Presidents' Trophy-winning opponents with performances like the one the Oilers saw in Game 1.

For all the talk about legacies in this Stanley Cup Final, has Bobrovsky thought much about winning one?

"I don't know. You don't think much about the Cup when you are in your routines," he said. "You approach it one day at a time and see what the next moment will bring you. And where you're going to get with that moment."

Adam Henrique
F, Edmonton Oilers

Henrique was a postseason legend by his 22nd birthday.

In Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference finals, Henrique's New Jersey Devils were trying to eliminate their archrivals the New York Rangers. The game went to overtime, but for only 1 minute and 3 seconds: Henrique tucked home an Ilya Kovalchuk rebound to send the Devils to the Stanley Cup Final, where they'd eventually lose to the Los Angeles Kings.

"It's been a long time in between runs, I guess," Henrique said.

The Oilers acquired him from the Anaheim Ducks at the trade deadline. As a pending unrestricted free agent, Henrique was fairly certain he would finish out the season with a Stanley Cup contender. He just wasn't sure if the team that acquired him could go as far as the Oilers have gotten.

"To be able to come back, you don't take it for granted, obviously," he said. "You have a much better understanding of how much it takes to get here, and how much you need to go your way and how the team needs to be built to go on a run like this."

Henrique, 34, played just four playoff games between his run with the Devils and his current one with the Oilers. He's played 912 games over 14 seasons, the majority of them on rebuilding teams in New Jersey and Anaheim.

What motivated Henrique to play as well as possible for a Ducks team that wasn't a contender? Knowing that actual contenders were watching.

"You've got to find motivation somewhere to have teams like this want you," he said. "There's always somebody coming after your job and you have to continue to perform in a way that teams want you.

"Fortunately for me, coming to Edmonton has been a lot of fun. With the team wanting to win now, it's certainly been different for me. But it's been refreshing It puts that jump back in your step for the love of the game, really."

Paul Maurice
Florida Panthers coach

It's not just players. Coaches can chase the Cup for decades, too.

Maurice, 57, got his start in the NHL watching and cataloguing VHS tapes for the Hartford Whalers. He became an assistant coach in 1995-96 and then replaced Paul Holmgren as head coach that season, remaining behind the bench during the franchise's relocation to North Carolina before being fired in the 2003-04 season.

Maurice has coached 26 seasons. He's second all-time in games coached (1,849) behind the legendary Scotty Bowman (2,141), but 17th all-time in playoff games coached (130). He's also the all-time leader in career losses (736).

At one point, it appeared Maurice might be done with coaching. He stepped away from the Winnipeg Jets after 29 games in 2021-22, citing in part a lack of passion for doing the job. He took some time to clear his mind, get some fishing in and then made a connection with Florida GM Bill Zito, who was interested in hiring him.

"I had given all that I thought I had to give and had certainly been fortunate. I received far more than I gave [the game]," he said. "But there's just these strange little things that meant Florida was right. That this is where I was supposed to be next."

He's been in the Stanley Cup Final twice before: losing 4-1 to the Detroit Red Wings in 2002 with Carolina, and then losing 4-1 to Vegas last season with Florida.

The three coaches ahead of Maurice on the all-time wins list -- Bowman, Joel Quenneville and Barry Trotz -- have Stanley Cup wins. Does he feel he needs one to validate his legacy?

"I need to win one," he said. "That's just the truth. That's how I feel. I'm thirty years into this thing. I wouldn't mind winning one."

That said, Maurice reached a point of understanding with his career when he thought it might be over after Winnipeg, and that it could end without a Cup. He wouldn't describe it as being "at peace" with not winning; more like a realization of the impact that he's had since the Hartford days.

"I'm going to know, when this thing's all over, either how good I got or how good I was," he said. "I won't need somebody else to tell me that or how to value my career. I'm not saying I'm going to value it really high. But I have a pretty good idea of the job I've done."

"But yeah," Maurice said, stretching his arms. "I'd like to win one."

Evander Kane
F, Edmonton Oilers

Like a few other Oilers, Kane entered the NHL quite young. He was drafted No. 4 overall by the Atlanta Thrashers in 2009, and then hit the ice for them the following season. He played 15 seasons and 930 games with the Thrashers, relocating with them to Winnipeg, followed by stints with the Sabres, San Jose Sharks and then the Oilers.

To say Kane's NHL career has been turbulent would be an understatement. His time in the NHL has been defined by scandals on and off the ice. Kane ended up signing with the Oilers in 2022 after the Sharks terminated Kane's contract, for what the team indicated was a breach of his contract and for violating COVID-19 protocols.

Game 1 was his first appearance in a Stanley Cup Final.

"Obviously you want to get there as soon as possible, but I had to wait 15 years," said Kane, 32. "You hear guys talk about getting here in their first two years and then never seeing it again. So I want to make the most of it."

Kane has been limited by a sports hernia injury this season and has only one assist in his past eight playoff games. But Knoblauch gave Kane credit for helping the team.

"Evander has been good for our team," Knoblauch said. "He's maybe not showing up on the score sheet as much as has in the past, but still contributing to our team and I don't think we'd be where we are today if Evander hadn't been playing throughout the playoffs."

Said Kane: "The Stanley Cup is a motivator. Especially when you haven't won one."

Oliver Ekman-Larsson
D, Florida Panthers

For 769 games, Ekman-Larsson was often considered the best thing about a bad franchise.

The defenseman was drafted No. 6 overall in 2009 by the Phoenix Coyotes, and spent the next 11 seasons as one of the NHL's biggest "what if" players -- as in, "what if Ekman-Larsson's puck-moving game and power-play prowess was put to use on a better contending team?"

By the time Ekman-Larsson waived his no-movement clause and left the Coyotes in 2021, his production had slipped due to injuries. He had become the last thing a veteran player wants to become: someone better known for the size of their contract than their achievements on the ice.

When Vancouver swung a blockbuster trade for him in 2021, it was obvious it was eventually going to buy out some years of his eight-year, $66 million contract. That it happened in 2023, after just two years in Vancouver, underscored how bad the fit was for both parties.

Florida started the season with defensemen Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour recovering from surgeries. They needed veteran help. Ekman-Larsson, flush with buyout money, agreed to a one-year, $2.25 million deal with the Panthers. And now they're three wins away from a Stanley Cup.

"That's why I wanted to play here," he said. "I'm super excited about this chance and obviously super happy about the way we've been playing."

The 32-year-old defenseman played in 25 postseason games with the Coyotes in two trips to the postseason. He's appeared in 18 games for the Panthers in their run to the Cup Final.

"Not a lot of playoff games, but a lot of games in the league," he said. "A lot of hard work to get to this point. A lot of ups and a lot of downs. But you have to go through that to appreciate this opportunity, where you are in life. I've been in this league for a long time. To get this opportunity means the world for myself and my family."

Sam Gagner
F, Edmonton Oilers

There are few players more beloved in Edmonton than 34-year-old Gagner.

He was drafted No. 6 overall in 2007, embarking on a 17-year career of 1,043 regular-season games. He's been a Coyote, a Flyer, a Blue Jacket, a Canuck, a Red Wing and a Jet. But he's always had a dedication to Edmonton, as evidenced by his three different stints with the franchise (2007-2014, 2018-2020, 2023-24).

"I feel like he's been a part of this organization even when he went away," said Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who used to live with Gagner. "He still always felt like an Oiler."

Few NHL players have a regular-season game that stands the test of time, that lingers in the minds of fans years after it was played. Gagner has one: Feb. 2, 2012, when he scored four goals and four assists against the Chicago Blackhawks.

His eight-point night was the first in the NHL since Mario Lemieux posted an 8-spot in 1989, and no player has done it since. Fans in Edmonton and around the NHL watched him amass five of those points in the third period, wondering if Darryl Sittler's 1976 record of 10 points in a single game was being threatened.

Off the ice, Gagner's relationship with Joey Moss crystallized the fans' admiration for him. Born with Down syndrome, Moss was the Oilers' dressing room attendant for over three decades. He passed away in 2020.

Gagner wrote a moving piece called "For Joey" in The Players' Tribune in October 2020. "When I remember Joey, I'll think about how we believed all along that we were doing all these things to enrich his life," he wrote. "But the truth is that he was enriching ours. Joey made everyone who spent time with him a better person."

Gagner joined the Oilers in this season's training camp on a professional tryout contract, after undergoing a pair of hip surgeries in March 2023. He earned a one-year deal worth $775,000, and scored 10 points in 28 games, bouncing between the NHL and AHL. He's yet to appear in a playoff game this postseason. Despite playing in over 1,000 regular-season games, Gagner has only 11 postseason games to his credit.

The Edmonton Journal notes that Gagner doesn't have the requisite number of games (41) for automatic engravement on the Stanley Cup if the Oilers win. He could earn that by playing in one Stanley Cup Final game, which is the other criteria. Of course, Edmonton could petition to have his name added as well.

Whatever happens, Gagner is on this journey with the Oilers. His wife, Rachel, added her voice to a moving video created by the team in which loved ones gave encouragement to the players.

"You've been dreaming about a Stanley Cup since you were our kids' age," she said. "And now they're here, watching you in it. Thinking about you being 18 years old. Drafted in Edmonton. Moving here all alone. Standing on the ice, looking up at all those banners, wondering when your Stanley Cup year will be.

"They city has given you so much. It's been dreaming with you."