Cup handoff Stone Smith

Every hockey player dreams of winning the Stanley Cup. Once NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman hands it to the captain of the winning team, the question becomes who will receive it next.

In 2001, Colorado Avalanche captain Joe Sakic didn't lift the Cup, but handed it to defenseman Ray Bourque, who never had won it in his 22 NHL seasons. In 2018, Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin gave it to longtime linemate Nicklas Backstrom. Last season, Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone gave it to Reilly Smith, an original Golden Knight.

Who could get the first handoff this season? A rookie, veteran or someone who's lifted it before?

Here's a look at who could get the first pass for each of the 16 teams in the Stanley Cup Playoffs:

Boston Bruins: Captain Brad Marchand to forward David Pastrnak

The Bruins haven't won the Cup since 2011, when now-captain Marchand was in his second season with Boston. Pastrnak, currently in his 10th season with the Bruins, has led them in scoring each of the past two seasons, by more than 40 points in each season. Pastrnak, one of two alternate captains, along with defenseman Charlie McAvoy, should get the first handoff.

Second choice: McAvoy

Carolina Hurricanes: Captain Jordan Staal to defenseman Jaccob Slavin

The Hurricanes have plenty of veterans who have been with Carolina for a long time, which means Staal will have his choice of worthy candidates. However, expect it to go to assistant captain Slavin, who has been with the Hurricanes for nine seasons, before it gets passed to the other core players, including forwards Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov and Teuvo Teravainen, and defenseman Brett Pesce.

Second choice: Aho

Colorado Avalanche: Captain Gabriel Landeskog to forward Zach Parise

Although he hasn't played since he helped the Avalanche win the Cup in 2022, Landeskog likely would be on the ice to get the Cup from Commissioner Bettman. In 2022, Landeskog gave it to defenseman Erik Johnson, the Avalanche's longest-tenured player. This time it should go to Parise, who signed with Colorado on Jan. 27. The 39-year-old has played more than 1,300 regular-season and postseason games combined in his 19 seasons and has yet to win the Cup.

Second choice: Mikko Rantanen

Dallas Stars: Captain Jamie Benn to forward Joe Pavelski

Benn has been the heart and soul of the Stars for 15 seasons, and although Pavelski has only been with them for five seasons, he's made his presence felt. Pavelski, the all-time leader in playoff goals (73) among United States-born players, was second on the Stars with 67 points (27 goals, 40 assists) in 82 games this season, and helped them advance to the Cup Final in 2020, when they lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games. The other choice would be 19-season veteran Ryan Suter, who has the most regular-season games among active players without winning the Cup (1,444).

Second choice: Suter

Edmonton Oilers: Captain Connor McDavid to forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

Nugent-Hopkins, the No. 1 pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, is the longest-tenured player on the Oilers at 13 seasons. Sure, he's taken a back seat to McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Zach Hyman, but Nugent-Hopkins has been an alternate captain since 2015-16 and is one of Edmonton's most important players. It would only be right for McDavid to hand the Cup to him.

Second choice: Draisaitl

Florida Panthers: Captain Aleksander Barkov to defenseman Aaron Ekblad

Ekblad, the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, has been a huge part of the Panthers' resurgence during the past handful of seasons. And if Florida wins the Cup for the first time, there's a good chance Ekblad will have played a big part in it, both offensively and defensively. Other options include forward Matthew Tkachuk, goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, who spent his first seven seasons in Florida (2009-16), before rejoining them this season.

Second choice: Tkachuk

Los Angeles Kings: Captain Anze Kopitar to defenseman Drew Doughty

It's been 10 years since the Kings won the second of their two Stanley Cup championships in a three-season span (2012, 2014). Kopitar, Doughty and forward Trevor Lewis, who returned to Los Angeles this season after playing elsewhere the previous three seasons, are the three remaining holdovers from those teams. Forward Mario Kempe, who has played his entire eight-season NHL career with the Kings, also could be in line.

Second choice: Lewis

Nashville Predators: Captain Roman Josi to forward Filip Forsberg

The Predators began the season 5-10-0, but turned it on, fueled by a 16-0-2 run late in the season, to finish with 47 wins. Although they are the first wild card from the West, they could make a run to the Cup Final like they did in 2017 when they were the second wild card. If so, Josi would give the Cup to Forsberg, who set a Predators single-season record this season with 48 goals. After that, it could be goalie Juuse Saros or another veteran, including former Cup winners Ryan O'Reilly, Luke Schenn or Ryan McDonagh.

Second choice: Saros

New York Islanders: Captain Anders Lee to forward Casey Cizikas

Lee has been with the Islanders for 12 seasons, but there's four veterans who have decade-long runs with the team: forwards Cizikas (13 seasons), Matt Martin (13), Brock Nelson (11) and Cal Clutterbuck (11). Cizikas is the heart and soul of the team, winning face-offs, playing on the penalty kill, blocking shots, you name it. He likely would hand it off to Martin, his frequent linemate.

Second choice: Martin

New York Rangers: Captain Jacob Trouba to forward Chris Kreider

If the Rangers win the Cup for the first time since 1994, Trouba has a handful of candidates to hand the Cup to first, including Mika Zibanejad, Adam Fox and Igor Shesterkin. But it should go to Kreider, the longest-tenured player on the team (12 seasons), who has been a consistent scorer and plays in all situations. Kreider likely then would hand it off to his good friend, Zibanejad.

Second choice: Zibanejad

Tampa Bay Lightning: Captain Steven Stamkos to defenseman Victor Hedman

If Stamkos gets the Cup for the third time in five seasons, look for it to go first to Hedman, who he handed the Cup to each of the past two times Tampa Bay won it, in 2020 and 2021. If not Hedman, it would have to be Nikita Kucherov, who won the Art Ross Trophy as the leading scorer in the NHL with 144 points, including becoming the fifth player with at least 100 assists in a season. No player has more points in the postseason than Kucherov since he debuted in the NHL in 2013-14; his 160 points (53 goals, 107 assists) in 142 games are 56 more than Hedman, who ranks second.

Second choice: Kucherov

Toronto Maple Leafs: Captain John Tavares to forward Auston Matthews

Tavares may be the captain, but Matthews is the face of the Maple Leafs. Matthews, one of the most dynamic players in the NHL who scored a League-high 69 goals this season, is the obvious choice. However, 40-year-old defenseman Mark Giordano, in his 19th NHL season and who was born in Toronto, is the sentimental one. Mitch Marner and Morgan Rielly also are in the mix.

Second choice: Giordano

Vancouver Canucks: Captain Quinn Hughes to forward J.T. Miller

Sure, it could go to forwards Elias Pettersson or Brock Boeser, or goalie Thatcher Demko, but there's a strong case for Miller. Often overshadowed by his teammates, he led the Canucks this season with 103 points (37 goals, 66 assists) and was one of nine NHL players with at least 100. Miller was a big part in the Canucks' previous postseason appearance, with 18 points (six goals, 12 assists) in 17 games in 2020 to help Vancouver advance to the second round of the postseason for the first time since 2011.

Second choice: Pettersson

Vegas Golden Knights: Captain Mark Stone to forward Jonathan Marchessault

Last season, Stone gave the Cup to Smith, one of the original "golden misfits" from Vegas' debut season in 2017-18, and the forward handed it to the other five longest-tenured Vegas players, with Marchessault getting it second. This year Marchessault, the 2023 Conn Smythe Trophy winner as most valuable player of the playoffs, would get it directly from Stone. After the remainder of the original Golden Knights skate with it, it could go to one of a handful of players on the team who didn't win the Cup last season, like forwards Tomas Hertl and Anthony Mantha, or defenseman Noah Hanifin.

Second choice: William Karlsson

Washington Capitals: Captain Alex Ovechkin to defenseman John Carlson

When the Capitals won the Cup in 2018, Ovechkin handed it to Backstrom, who has assisted on more of his goals than any other player. With Backstrom out because of injury, it would go to Carlson, now in his 15th NHL season since joining the Capitals in 2009. A dark-horse candidate could be forward Max Pacioretty, a 35-year-old forward who has dealt with two Achilles tendon injuries in the past year and told Washington he wanted to finish the season with them rather than being moved prior to the 2024 NHL Trade Deadline.

Second choice: T.J. Oshie 

Winnipeg Jets: Captain Adam Lowry to forward Mark Scheifele

If the Jets win the Cup, Lowry could have a tough choice, with numerous long-tenured members of the Jets in the mix, including Scheifele, defenseman Josh Morrissey and goalie Connor Hellebuyck. One would think those would have to be the first three to get the Cup in some order. It could be Scheifele, who has a chip on his shoulder after missing the final game of Winnipeg's playoff run last season because of an upper-body injury.

Second choice: Morrissey