More than any other sport, hockey embraces the notion that the team should look to one guy for leadership. In football or baseball, all facets of the game work as small cogs in a giant machine. Everyone plays their part and hopes the next man is doing the same. Hockey requires all of the players to be on the same page. To know when to attack, when to retreat, when to lay your right fist into the face of a goon for taking a shot at your graceful but weak superstar. One guy is looked to for guidance. One guy needs to hold his teammates to the highest standard and establish the tone needed to achieve glory.
Some are born to lead, others to follow. A captain is not always a great player, but a captain should always represent greatness. Below is a list of the best and worst of all 30 NHL franchises. To be the worst captain for any particular team is not necessarily an insult. These are supposed to be the best of the best. Some couldn't help but fall into a terrible situation. Some just didn't have that x-factor to inspire. A few were handed the "C" on a silver spoon strictly because of talent. Many greats were left off the list due to tough competition, while others were forced on due to their team's history of ineptitude. So let's get to it, here are the best and worst captains for all 30 NHL teams!
Note: in the interest of going as far back as possible, the previous incarnation of the Winnipeg Jets will count as the current Jets' entry in this article.
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30 Anaheim Ducks
Best: Ryan Getzlaf
Although Scott Niedermayer captained the Ducks first and only Stanley Cup victory in 2010, Getzlaf was a budding star and leader for the team and took the reins of captain the following season. Since then, he has consistently been one of the league's best players for the perennially Cup-contending Ducks. Getzlaf is the face of the franchise, which no longer carries the stigma of being a glorified advertisement for a Disney film franchise.
Worst: Troy Loney
Claimed from the Penguins in the 1993 expansion draft, Troy Loney was named the first captain by default of the then-named Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. Expectations were low for the Disney-owned franchise and Loney's primary job was to not make the team look like an embarrassment. They exceeded expectations but did not qualify for the playoffs. Loney left the following offseason for the Rangers before retiring into NHL obscurity.
29 Arizona Coyotes
Best: Shane Doan
With only three captains since moving to Phoenix in 1996, choices are slim for the Arizona Coyotes. One major reason is that Shane Doan has been leading the team for 12 years. He has been with the same team for 21 years and has been the one stable presence for a the often struggling franchise. While the team may not have had much success, it has more to do with poor management that Doan's leadership.
Worst: Teppo Numminen
Teppo Numminen was by no means a bad player or locker room leader, but just as Doan benefits from the lack of hockey history in Arizona, Numminen suffers. Like Doan, he stuck with the team for more than a decade over his 21-year career. Although he is one of, if not the best player in the Coyotes' history, he only captained the team for three years before finishing things off in Dallas and Buffalo.
28 Boston Bruins
Best: Zdeno Chara
At a staggering height of 6'9" this Slavak monster has stood tall over his fellow Bruins for over a decade. With the Bruins' long and storied history, Chara faced stiff competition to land the spot as best captain. Luckily for him, Boston did not have a captain during their glory years of the late 60s and early 70s. Chara led the Bruins to end a 39-year drought with a Stanley Cup win in 2011.
Worst: George Owen
There's nothing particularly bad about George Owen, there's just a lot of great captains in Bruin history. He did manage to win a Cup for Boston in 1929, but with only six teams, that wasn't necessarily the biggest accomplishment. Despite his rather bland career, Owen does have a place in NHL history as the first player to wear a helmet. He also graduated from Harvard University and worked as a scout for the MLB's Pittsburgh Pirates.
27 Buffalo Sabres
Best: Gilbert Perreault
As the center of the famed "French Connection" line of the 1970s, Gilbert Perreault quickly became the face of the Buffalo Sabres during their run as one of the best expansion teams of the era. He played in Buffalo for 17 seasons and leads the team in games played, goals, assists, and points. Perreault brought the Sabres within two games of winning the Cup versus the Flyers in 1975, just five years after the team joined the NHL.
Worst: Floyd Smith
Selected during the 1970 expansion draft, Floyd Smith served as the first Sabres captain at the tail end of a mediocre NHL career. He does carry the rare distinction of being one of the only goalies to captain a team, but otherwise served his duty unremarkably for one year on a pitiful expansion team. Smith did redeem himself in Buffalo as he went on to coach the team to their first Stanley Cup Final appearance in 1975.
26 Calgary Flames
Best: Jarome Iginla
As Flames' captain for 11 years, Jarome Iginla is the longest-serving in the team's history. In his first year wearing the "C" he led Calgary to the Stanley Cup finals as well as leading the NHL in goals. Despite his star-power and scoring finesse, he is a hard-nosed player who's not afraid to do the dirty work. After a decade of lackluster play, the Flames were almost always a contender during Iginla's reign.
Worst: Todd Simpson
Todd Simpson held the Flames' captaincy for five long years. But even so, there is not much to note about his time leading the Flames. Simpson is best remembered for giving Pavel Bure whiplash in the 1996 opener. As cool as that is, it's not enough to keep him from coming in at the bottom of Calgary's captaincy rankings. Simpson did however make a splash in the Dancing With The Stars-esque Canadian TV series, Battle of the Blades.
25 Carolina Hurricanes
Best: Rod Brind’Amour
In Philadelphia, Rod Brind'Amour was always a fan favorite regarded as one of the strongest leaders in the NHL, but was unable to don the "C" behind Flyers' superstar, Eric Lindros. When he was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes in 1999, he was immediately rewarded with the captaincy. Brind'Amour helped to significantly improve the credibility and less than rabid fan base in Carolina, even leading them to their only Stanley Cup victory in 2006.
Worst: Kevin Dineen
Kevin Dineen wasn't always the best player, but he was one of the toughest and hardest working. He is on this list only because of the impeccable leadership of other Carolina greats such as Keith Primeau, Ron Francis, and Eric Staal. As a captain of the Hurricanes, he is in great company. It's unfortunate that he ends up on a list of worst NHL captains. It shouldn't bother Dineen as he had a long and successful hockey career.
24 Chicago Blackhawks
Best: Jonathan Toews
Jonathan Toews makes the list despite the fact that he's only 28 years old. It's not at all hard to believe when you see that he already has captained three Stanley Cup runs. Toews is one of the league's marque players, and there's no sign he's slowing down. By the time he hangs up his skates, he could easily break Wayne Gretzky and Dennis Potvin's record of winning 4 Cups as captain since the league expanded from the "Original Six".
Worst: Helge "Bulge, Arbuckle" Bostrom
He might have a sweet and provocative nickname, but that’s about it. Helge "Bulge, Arbuckle" Bostrom only played 90 games in the NHL and only scored 3 goals and notched 3 assists in that time. Scoring is in no way the definitive barometer of a player's success on the ice, but 6 total points is incredibly pathetic. Bostrom played over 80 years ago, so it's tough to call out his leadership, but we can say that he wasn't very good.
23 Colorado Avalanche
Best: Joe Sakic
Joe Sakic put the Avalanche on the map immediately after moving over from Quebec, winning the Stanley Cup in their first season in Colorado. They didn't stop there, winning another title in 2001 as a force in the Western Conference for over a decade. Sakic is well regarded as one of the best leaders and all-around players in NHL history. The Avalanche organization is more than appreciative, as he now serves the role of Executive Vice President.
Worst: Gabriel Landeskog
Gabriel Landeskog has been captain of the Avalanche for five years, and he was only 19 when given the C. Everything indicates that he's a terrific leader, but like many on the list, he suffers from stiff competition. At this point in his career, he can't surpass longtime bruiser Adam Foote or the Avalanche career games leader Milan Hejduk. Landeskog is loaded with talent, so it would be no surprise to see him climb the ranks of Colorado captains in a few years.
22 Columbus Blue Jackets
Best: Adam Foote
While there was no way Adam Foote could take on his teammate Joe Sakic as best captain of the Avalanche, it wasn't very hard for him to capture the title of greatest Blue Jackets' captain. Foote took his Stanley Cup experience to upstart Columbus in 2006, but was unable to replicate the success with a less-talented roster. Even so, he was an intimidating presence on the blue line that no player wanted to cross.
Worst: Nick Foligno
Nick Foligno is pretty good, but there's nothing particularly special about him. He's coming off his most successful season, so there's reason for hope in Columbus. Despite having very little success as a franchise, the Blue Jackets have somehow managed to find some pretty formidable players to wear the "C". With the team's very brief history in the NHL, it's not at all hard to imagine him climbing to the top of this list.
21 Dallas Stars
Best: Derian Hatcher
Derian Hatcher was a bruising body-checker who added toughness to the juggernaut Dallas Stars who were more renowned for their scoring than their hitting. He led the Stars to their only Stanley Cup win in 1999 and was the first to raise the Cup, even playing alongside superstars like Mike Modano and Ed Belfour. Hatcher left his mark in Dallas by making hockey cool, and he left his mark on opponents by dropping them on the ice.
Worst: Neal Broten
Neal Broten had his fair share of success over his long career, as part of the Miricle on Ice 1980 U.S. Olympic team and winning a Cup with the Devils in 1995. As a Dallas Star however, his career was anything but illustrious. Broten only served as captain for the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season. He did accomplish one rare feat as one of the only players to ever engage in a fight with the great Wayne Gretsky.
20 Detroit Red Wings
Best: Steve Yzerman
Steve Yzerman is the consummate captain, serving longer than any other player in NHL history at 21 consecutive years. He was such a great leader, Detroit fans often refer to him as just "The Captain". Under his leadership, the Red Wings were the most dominant team of their era, winning three Stanley Cups and five first-place regular season finishes. If Detroit is "Hockeytown", then Steve Yzerman is the mayor with the keys to the city.
Worst: Doug Young
Doug "The Gleichen Cowboy" Young was Detroit's captain before they were even the Red Wings. He made his debut for the Detroit Falcons in 1931 and stayed as they changed to their now iconic name. Although he managed to help them win a Cup in 1936, keep in mind that there were only six teams at the time so take that as you will. Young does deserve props for having the nickname "The Gleichen Cowboy", coined after a town in Alberta.
19 Edmonton Oilers
Best: Wayne Gretzky
No surprises here. One could argue that his teammate Mark Messier was the superior leader, but the fact remains, if you had Wayne Gretzky captaining your team, you were winning. "The Great One" holds just about every meaningful scoring record and is well-regarded as the best player of all time. Gretzky was awarded the Hart Trophy nine times as the league's MVP. The NHL even decided to retire his number '99' league-wide, the only player with such an honor.
Worst: Andrew Ference
Andrew Ference is one of those guys who earned his captaincy by default. You don't play 16 seasons in the NHL if you're not good, but that doesn't mean you have to be great. The journeyman bounced around from team to team before winning a Cup with the Bruins in 2011 and later becoming the Oilers captain for a few short years. Ference retired to little fanfare and is now an environmental activist.
18 Florida Panthers
Best: Scott Mellanby
Scott Mellanby might be the least impressive of the "best captains". It's not an insult to him as much as it's an insult to the Florida Panthers. Mellanby was the team's leading scorer during their lone Stanley Cup appearance in 1996 and later was named captain. He had a long career after leaving Florida and ended up as captain of the Atlanta Thrashers, perhaps the only team more pathetic than the Panthers.
Worst: Derek MacKenzie
Derek MacKenzie might have the least talent of any captain in recent memory, but this guy could scrap. MacKenzie went back and forth throughout the AHL and NHL for most of his career before finally solidifying a spot on the Blue Jackets at age 29. He deserves credit for rising from those humble beginnings to the captain of an NHL franchise, even if it is the lowly Florida Panthers.
17 Los Angeles Kings
Best: Dustin Brown
Dustin Brown is everything a team looks for in a captain. He's tough as nails, leads by example, and helps his team win hockey games. The Kings have been around for 50 years, but have mostly been a laughing stock other than their brief period with Wayne Gretzky. Brown lead a star-studded roster of much more-talented players to two Stanley Cups in three years and multiple deep playoff runs.
Worst: Bob Wall
What can be said about Bob Wall? Not much. He's another one of these captains-by-default having took over the reigns for the expansion Kings in 1967. His last name is very appropriate as Bob Wall's career is otherwise a blank wall of mediocrity. He played for 14 seasons, and in most of those seasons he played in both the NHL and minor leagues. That's really all that can be said.
16 Minnesota Wild
Best: Mikko Koivu
In 2009, Mikko Koivu became the only Minnesota Wild player to serve as captain for an entire season after taking over from their system of rotating captains. Since he is the only permanent captain in their history, he basically wins by default. That's not to say he isn't a good player. Koivu did captain the Finnish national team to a gold medal in the 2011 Men's World Ice Hockey Championship.
Worst: Too Close To Call
From 2000-2009, the expansion Minnesota Wild chose to employ an unconventional method for choosing their captains: they rotated on a monthly basis. Mikko Koivu has held the captaincy an NHL record five times and was eventually named permanent captain. Thus far, he is the only true captain. It would both be incredibly unfair and incredibly difficult to select one of the 39 captains they rotated under their first nine seasons as a franchise.
15 Montreal Canadiens
Best: Jean Beliveau
Jean Beliveau has his name engraved on the Stanley Cup 17 times! Granted, seven of those came as an executive, but 10 of them didn't! He won two Hart Trophies as NHL MVP and is unanimously regarded as an all-time great. Beliveau is so beloved in Canada that their Prime Minister offered him a spot in the Senate without even being elected! Being a smarter man than the Prime Minister, Jean declined thinking elected officials should be... elected.
Worst: Billy Coutu
The infamous Billy Coutu's career started out rather unremarkably. The Canadiens must have known something was a little off with this guy, as they traded him away twice before getting him back and naming him their captain. He once body slammed his own teammate during practice, causing his ear to fall off! Not satisfied, Coutu assaulted referees during a bench-clearing brawl. Consequently, he was banned from the NHL for life, which is the longest suspension in NHL history.
14 Nashville Predators
Best: Shea Weber
For 10 seasons, Shea Weber was a powerful force at the blue line and turned the Predators into a respectable organization. After years of struggles, things finally started to turn around in Nashville once Shea arrived. They didn't have overwhelming postseason success, but it was a marked improvement over the franchise's early years. To the fans' dismay, Weber was dealt to Montreal for P.K. Subban last off-season, where he should continue to lead his team.
Worst: Greg Johnson
Greg Johnson is the prototypical journeyman and for most of his career, any team would be lucky to have him. It's just that he'd be better suited as a 3rd line center than you know, a captain. But for the desperate Nashville Predators, Johnson fit the bill. It was a thankless job for the captain of the budding franchise, but thankfully he did manage to win a Cup in 1997 with the Red Wings.
13 New Jersey Devils
Best: Scott Stevens
Scott Stevens was a truly terrifying figure, just ask Eric Lindros. Bigger than most, but by no means a giant, the Devils' longtime captain played with intensity that few could match. Stevens was one of the most feared defensemen in the league and no matter who you were, he could put you on the ice at any moment. Alongside goalie Martin Broduer, Stevens was the perfect figurehead for a Devils team that matched his style, winning three Cups in the process.
Worst: Andy Greene
Andy Greene is a great locker room guy, but he's no face of the franchise. He is clearly a stop-gap captain after Bryce Salvador's retirement to hold the job until someone more formidable joins the roster. Greene is a tough-nosed player and brings much needed stability to a New Jersey team looking for an identity. However, if the Devils really want to make deep playoff runs, they will probably need an upgrade.
12 New York Islanders
Best: Denis Potvin
Denis Potvin is the only player not named Wayne Gretzky to win the Cup as a captain four times! Potvin's Islanders were the original dynasty of the 80s before Gretzky's Oilers. Although Edmonton's reign may have been more glamorous, the guys on Long Island deserve just as much glory. Potvin was originally disliked by teammates for being overly brash and arrogant, but like many greats before him, he honed his ability and lead his team to the top, again and again, and again, and again.
Worst: Kenny Jonsson
Let's not take anything away from Kenny Jonsson. The guy was a great player and unsung hero. Jonsson is the perfect role player, who was intelligent and adequate in all facets of the game. He's not even a bad captain, it's just a testament to the Islanders that he is the worst of their captains. Even during many lean years over the past few decades, the Islanders always managed to keep around at least one talented or gritty veteran to captain the team.
11 New York Rangers
Best: Mark Messier
If we were ranking all time captains in NHL history, Mark Messier arguably belongs at the top of that list. He won six Cups and is the only player to win Cups as captain of two different teams, the Oilers and Rangers. He earned the nickname "The Messiah" after ending a 54-year Stanley Cup drought for the Rangers. Messier is a two-time Hart Trophy winner as MVP and one of the greatest players to ever play.
Worst: Jaromir Jagr
Now let's not get it twisted. Jaromir Jagr has had, and is still having at age 44, an amazing career. He's one of the greatest scorers of all time and his ability to play well long after his prime is truly remarkable. But warding off father time does not make for a great captain. Jagr wasn't necessarily a bad leader, but his time as captain of the Rangers seems like nothing more than a lifetime achievement award.
10 Ottawa Senators
Best: Daniel Alfredsson
Daniel Alfredsson captained the Senators for 14 seasons and represents a time of prosperity for Ottawa. He holds most of the team's scoring records and led them to their only Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2007. Alfredsson has drawn comparisons to Red Wings' great Steve Yzerman for both his playing style and leadership. He may have never got his name on the cup, but he did take the Swedish national team to a gold medal in the 2006 Olympics.
Worst: Gord Dineen
Gord Dineen helps the Dineens earn the sole distinction of having two siblings on the list. He was even less talented than his brother Kevin, but he was undeniably tough. Dineen was probably a fine leader, but was always on the roster bubble being periodically demoted to minor league affiliates. He was loved in the locker room, but didn't have the ability to truly inspire his teammates to achieve greatness.
9 Philadelphia Flyers
Best: Bobby Clarke
The face of the infamous Broad Street Bullies, Bobby Clarke is still hated among opposing fans, three decades removed from the ice. Growing up with type 1 diabetes, Bobby overcame this deficit to go on to lead the baddest team to ever play. The Flyers struck fear throughout the league, physically exhausted and psychologically scarred their opponents to win back-to-back Cups. Clarke individually won two Hart Trophies as league MVP and was a 1st ballot hall of famer.
Worst: Jason Smith
Jason Smith was an outstanding captain for many years with the Edmonton Oilers, but his time with the Flyers felt less than inspired. The team was in a complete rebuild mode and needed a veteran to man the ship until an up-and-coming Mike Richards was ready to take the reigns. Smith was a great leader, but there was nothing he could've done to make the Flyers a contender in the forgotten 2007-08 campaign.
8 Pittsburgh Penguins
Best: Mario Lemieux
Sorry, Sidney Crosby, but as of this moment, Mario Lemieux has to top the list of Penguins' captains. "66" is one of the only players who is often argued to be better than "99", Wayne Gretzky. Mario is the all-time leader in points-per-game and could have broken records had his career not been scarred with injury. He won back-to-back Cups and shockingly came out of a three-year retirement to play six more seasons.
Worst: Dan Frawley
Before Lemieux, there was Dan Frawley, and these times were not fruitful in Pittsburgh. Frawley was a fringe player who was selected as captain to pave the way for Mario to take over as he matured as an NHL player. He deserves credit for passing the torch, but was hardly even an NHL-level talent, playing only a few seasons as a pro with the Penguins before heading to finish things off in the IHL and AHL.
7 San Jose Sharks
Best: Owen Nolan
The only Irish-born NHL captain, Owen Nolan held things down in San Jose and gave them respectability. While they didn't have much post-season success, Nolan led the pack and kept the Sharks swimming in the right direction.He lead them farther then they had ever been with a first round upset versus the 1st seed St. Louis Blues. It might not sound like much, but for the Sharks, it was all they could hope for.
Worst: Patrick Marleau
Patrick Marleau has played a pivotal role in shaping the Sharks into being one of the better teams over the last decade. He owns many of their records and has played his entire long career in San Jose. Marleau is arguably the greatest Shark to ever play the game, but he wasn't really fit for the leadership role. He was given the "C" as a formality because of his skill, but ultimately is better off focusing on scoring goals.
6 St. Louis Blues
Best: Brian Sutter
The Sutter family produced six NHL playing brothers, and Brian was probably the best. He wasn't a hall of fame caliber winger, but he was a model of stability as captain of the Blues for nine seasons. They never won a Cup, or even appeared in the Final with Sutter, but he is still a legend in St. Louis. He went on to become a coach for 14 years and appeared in the playoffs most seasons.
Worst: Garth Butcher
The 1st place Blues made a blockbuster trade with the Canucks to acquire Garth Butcher for a postseason push in 1991. The Canucks used the assets they received to an appearance in the Final in 1994, while the Blues lost in the first round. Not giving up on their man, St. Louis named him captain the following season. The Blues once again lost in the first round and Butcher was gone after another season.
5 Tampa Bay Lightning
Best: Dave Andreychuk
Fans and analysts were more than puzzled when aging veteran Dave Andreychuk signed with the struggling Lightning. He quickly took the captaincy from rising star Vincent Lecavalier, but the team had two seasons of poor performance. Andreychuk shot down trade rumors as he did not want to leave Tampa Bay without completing his mission. He seemingly willed the Lightning to success and they went on to win their first Stanley Cup in 2004.
Worst: Bill Houlder
Among a large dark cloud of forgettable captains, Bill Houlder strikes as the worst of the bunch. The Lightning hit a rough patch in the late 90s and early 00s and put bad teams on the ice every year. Mikael Renberg, Rob Zamuner, and Chris Gratton top off a series of captains over a four-year period where Tampa Bay had no sense of direction. Houlder was just kind of there at the right time.
4 Toronto Maple Leafs
Best: Ted Kennedy
No relation to JFK, Ted Kennedy is the best regarded player for the biggest hockey fan base in the world. He led the Maple Leafs to 5 Stanley Cup victories and practically owned the city of Toronto. Kennedy did win a Hart Trophy as MVP, but was never thought of as the league's best player. He crafted his legacy with hard-work, smart play, and strong leadership led him to be known as "The Quintessential Leaf".
Worst: Rick Vaive
Despite having the NHL's longest drought without a Cup going on 50 years, the Maple Leafs have had some great captains over the past five decades. It is with that in mind that Rick Vaive has been selected as the worst in the pile of leading leaves. He was a great scorer and gave the Maple Leafs the necessary star-power to compete, but was ultimately not meant for captaincy and stripped of the honor in 1984.
3 Vancouver Canucks
Best: Stan Smyl
Perhaps the greatest Canuck of them all, Stan "Streamer" Smyl has a hard-nosed, no-nonsense leader despite his small stature. At 5'8", he had his work cut out for him, but his slick style of play allowed him to compete with guys twice his size and even lay out big hits whenever he had the chance. He was a major contributor to the Canucks run to the Final in 1982 and is forever a hero in Vancouver.
Worst: Chris Oddleifson
Chris Oddleifson provided much needed leadership to a Vancouver team on the rise in the late 70s, but wasn't really fit to fill the captain role. He had a nice run as a terrific passer and solid all-around center, but he never took it to the next level. A stellar teammate, Oddleifson continued to play with grace after being stripped of his captaincy until he saw a steep decline in skills and retired.
2 Washington Capitals
Best: Rod Langway
"The Secretary of Defense", Rod Langway went a long way into turning around a Capitals team that was scraping the basement of the league trying to stay in Washington. No, he wasn't able to take the Caps to the promised land on a low budget, but he did get them to the playoffs, a rarity in those days. Langway wasn't flashy, but he was a bruising hitter who set the tone for a defensive minded team.
Worst: Guy Charron
Guy Charron was a consistent hard-working player, but was clearly just a fill-in captain for a pitiful squad in Washington. He only carried the "C" for one season before being replaced by Ryan Walter, who was by no means Mr. Leadership. Charron did his job, and for that he deserves some praise, but only the most diehard Caps fan will remember those dark days of the late 1970s.
1 Winnipeg Jets
Best: Dale Hawerchuk
For a team mostly devoid of star-power, Dale Hawerchuk represents the golden era for Winnipeg. While they crashed and burned in the playoffs, the Jets were a consistent contender, despite playing in a small market in the pre-salary cap era. Hawerchuk was quietly one of the league's best players out-shadowed by Gretzky and Lemieux. Even after leaving the Jets, he only went past second round was a run to the final with the 1997 Flyers.
Worst: Dean Kennedy
Dean Kennedy played over 700 games as a solid defensive defensemen, but was pretty forgettable considering he played so long. The Jets were struggling mightily when he was offered the role of captain until Keith Tkachuk replaced him after one season. Whether it was a no-name like Kennedy or a star like Tkachuk, neither was good enough to keep the team in Winnipeg, as they left for Phoenix in 1996.
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