The whole New Jersey Devils team just missed out on a championship, but throughout the decades there have been a number of longtime staples of teams that were traded or retired right before their teammates reached their moment of glory. Brad Van Pelt spent a decade with the New York Giants, suffering through the dark days of the franchise, when, just a couple of seasons later, the Giants finally won a Super Bowl. Bobby Murcer and Mel Stottlemyre somehow spent many years with the New York Yankees without experiencing a ride down the Canyon of Heroes (and to add insult to injury, Murcer came back right when the Bombers stopped winning titles). That almost seems impossible, doesn't it? But those guys left a few seasons before their teams won. What about original New York Mets pitcher Al Jackson, who lived those losingest of losing years with the expansion Amazin's, briefly left, and then came back to New York only to be sold to the Cincinnati Reds four months before the Miracle Mets pulled off their miracle? Here are the Top 5 guys that just missed, and to qualify they had to have left their team either the same season or the season before the championship was won. They're ranked based on a secret formula combining popularity, sentimentality and performance (ok, it just felt right to place them in the following order -- and we're only choosing one player per team).
5. Tiki Barber: Before we get to the feel-good, sentimental choices, we'll start with Barber, whose sudden downfall in his professional life, personal life and relationship with his former team and its fans is not such a feel-good, sentimental story. But he was a great player who retired the season before the Giants won their third Super Bowl. Barber spent 10 years with Big Blue (1997-2006), setting the all-time franchise career rushing record (10,449 yards) and single-season mark as well (1,860 yards in 2005). He caught 586 passes, for 5,183 yards, ran for over a thousand yards six times, made three Pro Bowls and was a First-Team All-Pro once. Did his leaving the team help the Giants win the Super Bowl or did they win despite his retirement? At any rate, by burning his bridges, most aren't displeased that he missed out on a ring.
4. James Patrick/John Vanbiesbrouck: Ok, I panicked and couldn't choose between these two teammates, who were long-standing members of the New York Rangers just before the team won the '94 Stanley Cup. Patrick was the ninth overall pick in the 1981 draft, and spent 10-plus seasons with the Blueshirts (1983-'93). A rock-solid defenseman, he had his highest point total in the Presidents' Trophy season of 1991-'92, with 71, and was also a career-best plus-34 that year. Patrick's Ranger teams made the playoffs eight times (he recorded 11 points in 10 games in 1990), and he ranks eighth on the all-time franchise assists list (363). On Nov. 2, 1993, he was shipped off to the Hartford Whalers with Darren Turcotte for Steve Larmer, Nick Kypreos, Barry Richter and a draft pick, ending his time in New York only months before they hoisted the Cup. Vanbiesbrouck played his first game with the Rangers in the 1981-'82 season and his last in the spring of '93. In between, he won the Vezina Trophy and was a First-Team All-Star in 1986 and made the playoffs eight times. He ranks fifth on the all-time Ranger games-played list for goalies (449), fifth in wins (200), fifth in save percentage (.889), third in saves (11,706) and ninth in shutouts (16). In his last few years in New York, he shared the nets with Mike Richter before he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks on June 20, 1993 (for Doug Lidster), in expansion draft maneuverings, as he ended up on the brand-new Florida Panthers a few days later.
3. Billy Harris: Taken first overall in the 1972 amateur draft, Harris was THE original New York Islander. He led the team in goals (28) and points (50) in the team's inaugural season, and he was second the next two seasons, behind newcomer/superstar Denis Potvin. No. 15 was an iron man, playing in every game for four straight seasons ('74-'77), scored over 20 goals his first six years and made the All-Star team in 1976, when he went on to score a career-high 32 goals and accumulate a personal best 70 points. His teams made the playoffs his last five seasons on Long Island, and he totaled 14 points in 12 games in the 1977 postseason. But on March 10, 1980, Harris was sent to the Los Angeles Kings (with Dave Lewis) for final-piece-of-the-puzzle Butch Goring, just missing out on four years of dynastic glory.
2. Rusty Staub: In his first stint with the Mets (1972-'75), Le Grand Orange was the team's best offensive player, and he was the first Met to ever drive in 100 runs (105 in '75). He did get to appear in a World Series with the Mets in '73, and if they could have pulled out a Game 7 victory over the Oakland A's, he most likely would have been named MVP, due to his 11 hits, .423 average, six RBIs and one home run, and he did it all with a shoulder injury suffered in the NLCS making a circus catch of a Dan Driessen fly ball (he also hit three home runs in that series). In one of the worst trades in franchise history, Staub was dealt to the Detroit Tigers for a washed-up Mickey Lolich after the '75 season. He came back for five more seasons in Queens in 1981, when he was one of the best pinch-hitters in the game, tying an NL record with eight consecutive pinch-hits and also tying a major league record with 25 pinch-hit RBIs in one season. Staub served as a veteran mentor to the up-and-coming 1980s Mets, but retired before the '86 championship season when rosters were shrunk from 25 to 24. In his nine seasons with the Mets, he put up a .276/.358/.419 line, with 75 home runs, 399 RBIS, 709 hits and a 119 OPS+. Staub's's the answer to two famous trivia questions, as he's the only player to record 500 hits with four different teams and he's one of three players to hit a home run while in their teens and forties (Ty Cobb and Gary Sheffield being the other two).
1. Don Mattingly: Sure, George Steinbrenner once demanded he get a haircut and Montgomery Burns implored him to shave off his sideburns, but Mattingly was the greatest homegrown Yankee to never win a World Series. He had the unfortunate bad luck to spend his whole career during the "Steinbrenner's ruining the Yankees" era of the 1980s and early '90s. During his career, he hit .307, with a .358 OPB and a .471 slugging percentage, belted 222 home runs and drove in 1,099 runs, with a 39.8 WAR and 127 OPS+. Mattingly won the 1985 MVP, and he was a six-time All-Star and recipient of nine Gold Gloves. He did finally play in the postseason in his last year, 1995, in the ALDS vs. the Seattle Mariners, and he made the most of it, putting up a .417/.440/.708 line, with one home run, six RBIs, four doubles and 10 hits in five games. He retired with a bad back, and, of course, the Yankees won the World Series the following season. D'oh.