Having a great team captain in the NHL can be undervalued. If you don’t believe me, just look at the names of the captains who have led their teams to the Stanley Cup over the past decade: Jonathan Toews, Dustin Brown, Zdeno Chara, Sidney Crosby, Henrik Zetterberg, Scott Niedermayer, and Rod Brind’Amour. Not a bad lot of leaders.
Conversely, sometimes teams make questionable choices when it comes to selecting their captains. Many teams have been pretty adept throughout history at naming captains, so it was pretty difficult to select a “worst captain” for those clubs. But for the most part, there was at least one name that jumped out as a particularly questionable choice.
Good captains are a rare breed. They need to bleed passion for the game, and they need to be there for their teammates through thick and thin. They need to keep a level head, but also play with emotion. It’s a fine balance, and not everyone is cut out for it.
I’ve gone ahead and listed the worst captain, in my view, for each NHL franchise, ever. Some of these guys truly don’t deserve to be on this list (not all teams have had a bad captain), but I had to pick one from each team and who are we kidding, we’re only having fun here anyway. They're really only the worst by default. This list will take into account the player's personal performance with the team while captain and the team's success with the 'C' on their jersey.
Here they are, listed in alphabetical order by team:
29 Anaheim Ducks: Steve Rucchin
Steve Rucchin had played 534 games for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks before being named captain prior to the 2003-04 season. Paul Kariya had left the team via free agency following their incredible run to the 2003 Stanley Cup Final. Making Rucchin captain made sense, as he was the longest serving Mighty Duck at the time.
28 Arizona Coyotes: Dean Kennedy
The Arizona Coyotes/Winnipeg Jets franchise really hasn’t made too many poor choices when it comes to selecting their captains, so I’m going to pile on Dean Kennedy here, perhaps unfairly.
27 Boston Bruins: Jason Allison
Jason Allison was a solid forward for many years in Boston, but he simply lacked the desire and passion for the game that is required in every NHL team captain.
26 Buffalo Sabres: Thomas Vanek
Prior to the 2013-14 season the Buffalo Sabres announced that the captaincy would be shared by two players: Steve Ott and Thomas Vanek. Vanek would serve as the home captain, while Ott would take care of the duties on the road.
25 Calgary Flames: Theoren Fleury
I hate the Calgary Flames, but I do love me some Theo Fleury. That, however, does not mean that Fleury made for a great NHL captain.
24 Carolina Hurricanes: Russ Anderson
The Carolina Hurricanes are another team that really hasn’t made any glaring errors in its past when it comes to selecting a leader, so Russ Anderson is Carolina’s representative almost by default.
23 Chicago Blackhawks: Alexei Zhamnov
Sometimes, teams decide to make their best player the team captain. Often times this works out well, as leaders on the ice are often also leaders in the room. Sometimes, it proves to be ineffective. That brings us to the Chicago Blackhawks and Alex Zhamnov.
22 Colorado Avalanche: Steven Finn
Back when the franchise was still in Quebec, the Nordiques had a rough stretch of seasons starting in the late ‘80s and bleeding into the early ‘90s. Steven Finn served as team captain for one of those seasons, and it was one of the worst of the bunch.
21 Columbus Blue Jackets: Rick Nash
Whenever a captain more or less requests a trade out of the city he plays in, it’s a pretty clear sign that he’s probably not the best captain. That was the case with Rick Nash in Columbus back in 2012 when he requested a trade out of Ohio.
20 Dallas Stars: Bill Goldsworthy
Bill Goldsworthy served as team captain of the Minnesota North Stars for two seasons in the mid-1970s. These weren’t great days for the franchise, but Goldsworthy probably wasn’t the best guy to lead an NHL team.
19 Detroit Red Wings: Danny Gare
It was difficult to find a bad captain in Detroit’s rich history, so I’m going to pick on Danny Gare. Gare served as captain for four seasons in the mid-1980s, and those were truly the dog days of the Red Wings franchise.
18 Edmonton Oilers: Shayne Corson
Shayne Corson remains the only Oilers captain to have been stripped of his “C” mid-season. It was during the 1995 lockout shortened season and it was done by George Burnett—possibly the worst coach in the team’s history as well, and that’s saying something because the Oil recently rid themselves of Dallas Eakins.
17 Florida Panthers: Bryan McCabe
When the Florida Panthers got Bryan McCabe from the Toronto Maple Leafs, they got one of the league’s best offensive defensemen. McCabe’s leadership skills were often brought into question in Toronto, so the Panthers did what any one would have: made McCabe team captain.
16 Los Angeles Kings: Larry Cahan
The L.A. Kings were another team where it was tough to find the right candidate, so I’m going to unfairly pile on Larry Cahan today.
15 Minnesota Wild: The system used from 2000 to 2008
The Minnesota Wild had a strange method when it came to assigning a captain over the first 10 years of their existence. Rather than assigning a single captain, they chose four or five players who would rotate with the “C” on a monthly basis.
14 Montreal Canadiens: Chris Chelios
The internet wasn’t really a thing when Chris Chelios was traded from Montreal to Chicago, which was probably a good thing for Chelios because there were rumors he was traded out of town for having an affair with team president Ronald Corey’s wife.
Nashville of course is another very young franchise, not yet two decades old. Ergo, there weren’t too many options when it came to selecting their worst captain of all time. Completely undeservedly, I’m selecting Tom Fitzgerald as the Predators worst captain ever (sorry dude).
13 New Jersey Devils: Zach Parise
Zach Parise served as captain of the New Jersey Devils for just one season, and he led them to the Stanley Cup Final. So, why is Parise the worst captain in Jersey’s history? Betrayal.
12 New York Islanders: Alexei Yashin
Alexei Yashin served two years as captain of the New York Islanders, right after the 2005 lockout until his departure to Russia after the 2006-07 season. The reason Yashin left? Well, he was bought out because he was, quite frankly, awful at hockey by the time he hit the Island.
11 New York Rangers: Chris Drury
Chris Drury was a solid leader during his time as captain, so this selection is based purely on the steady declination of his on-ice performance. By the time he left New York (and eventually the NHL), he was playing on the Rangers’ fourth line, if at all.
10 Ottawa Senators: Alexei Yashin
Alexei Yashin served as captain of the Ottawa Senators for one season; let me tell you how that ended. It was the 1998-99 season, and when it came to an end Yashin refused to honor the final year of his deal, instead demanding a raise.
9 Philadelphia Flyers: Mike Richards
Mike Richards was team captain of the Flyers when he was dealt to L.A. in 2011. After the trades (alternate captain Jeff Carter was also traded away that offseason), rumors started to swirl about the party culture that had grown in the Philly dressing room.
8 Pittsburgh Penguins: Earl Ingarfield
Since the late 1980s, the Penguins captains have all been world-class players: Lemieux, Francis, Jagr and Crosby. That left me with only a handful of players to choose from, so I’m going to go with Earl Ingarfield.
7 San Jose: Doug Wilson’s handling of the letter
I considered giving this distinction to either Joe Thornton or Patrick Marleau, as they were both stripped of the “C” by the Sharks at one point. Instead, I decided to break the rules a bit and give it to Doug Wilson, the unofficial captain of the franchise’s upper-management.
6 St. Louis Blues: Wayne Gretzky
St. Louis had a weird thing going on in 1995-96. Blues star Brett Hull was first stripped of his captaincy at the start of the season in favor of new-comer Shayne Corson; then, when Wayne Gretzky arrived at the trade deadline, he was given the captaincy.
5 Tampa Bay Lightning: Paul Ysebaert
Tampa Bay is yet another relatively young franchise, so the options here were few and far between. In the end, I elected to go with Paul Ysebaert. Ysebaert is probably a fine captain and a good enough guy, but he was the first captain in franchise history (they went captain-less for their first three seasons) so he was never able to lead the team to anything remotely meaningful.
4 Toronto Maple Leafs: Dion Phaneuf
I hate to do it, but Dion Phaneuf is the representative for the Maple Leafs. Yes, he’s the only member on this list who is still currently serving his team in the role of captain.
3 Vancouver Canucks: Roberto Luongo
This one comes with an asterisk, because it is NOT Roberto Luongo’s fault he’s Vancouver’s representative on this list; it’s the organization’s fault for thinking it was a good idea to make their star goalie a captain.
2 Washington Capitals: Alex Ovechkin
Washington has made surprisingly adept choices when it comes to assigning its captain. I picked Alex Ovechkin with a lot of hesitation, as he is the best player to ever wear a Capitals sweater (maybe excluding Jaromir Jagr).
1 Winnipeg Jets: Ilya Kovalchuk
This is another example of how your best player doesn’t always make for the best captain. Kovy served two years as leader of the Thrashers, at which point he essentially abandoned a sinking ship.
Kovalchuk actually took the captaincy mid-way through the 2008-09 season, as the Thrashers were without a permanent one prior to that. His contract was set to expire at the end of the following season, so he was dealt at the 2009-10 trade deadline. Kovalchuk reportedly turned down a 12-year $101 million contract offer from the team that drafted him and had recently made him their leader.
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