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:
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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.
Rucchin’s time as a leader was short-lived, however, as his offensive production suffered without Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne on his wings. It was the last season Rucchin played in Anaheim.
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.
Kennedy served parts of two seasons as captain of the NHL's original Winnipeg Jets. Over the two years, the defenseman failed to lead by example, posting a combined plus/minus rating of minus-25 and barely contributing offensively, registering just 18 points in 154 games.
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.
Allison had a great season as captain from an offensive standpoint, but when he didn’t sign a contract a few years later it was obvious he never really loved the game all that much. He was coming off a 60-point season, and he reportedly turned down several NHL offers in favor of running his farm located north of Toronto. He attempted a comeback a few years later, but still lacked the requisite passion to stick anywhere.
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.
Vanek would only serve a few games in the role before being shipped off to the Islanders in a blockbuster trade. The Sabres were headed down the long road of a rebuild, and Vanek wanted nothing to do with that—not exactly a great attitude for your captain to have.
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.
Fleury was electric on the ice, no doubt about it; but as the years wore on, reports surfaced of Fleury’s poor off-ice conduct, and it’s hard to believe that a person engaging in such activities makes for a good leader on a hockey team. If you want an idea of what I’m talking about, read his memoirs. Alcohol abuse, cocaine, and much, much more. Fleury thankfully turned his life around after retirement, but the captaincy role just wasn't right for him.
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.
Anderson served as captain of the 1982-83 edition of the Hartford Whalers, and all it takes is a quick glance at his stats to see that his on-ice leadership abilities were lacking. In 57 games of action, Anderson put up just six assists and an abysmal minus-33 rating.
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.
Zhamnov wasn’t particularly terrible from an individual offensive standpoint, but he did lead the original-six franchise to its lowest point total in modern-day history (59 points—lockout-shortened seasons excluded).
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.
The year was 1990-91, and the Nordiques had just selected their 2nd consecutive first overall pick. The Nordiques weren’t able to improve much on the previous season, finishing with a 16-50-14 record, good for last place league-wide.
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.
The Nash trade ended up working out well for both New York and Columbus, in a way; that doesn’t change the fact that Nash abandoned ship as the captain. Not cool.
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.
Over his two years at the helm, he had a staggering minus-56 rating in 139 games. Those are modern-day Nail Yakupov numbers—not ideal.
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.
Under Gare’s guidance, the Wings missed the playoffs twice (remember, this is an era in which only five teams missed the postseason), and they only won a single, solitary playoff game in the two seasons they did make it.
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.
As the story goes, Corson lost his captaincy because he was grappling with youngster Jason Arnott over an assist he felt should have been awarded to him instead of Arnott. True leadership, right there.
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.
The Panthers’ years of futility only continued under McCabe, and he wasn’t able to lead Florida back to the playoffs. Their years of missed playoffs ended the season after McCabe departed.
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.
Cahan was just the second captain in franchise history, so he ended up playing for a pretty awful Kings team. In his two seasons at the helm he was a putrid minus-54 and the team failed to qualify for the playoffs under his guidance.
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.
Not only is this a stupid system at its core, but it made it really difficult to pick a bad captain from the Wild, because Mikko Koivu is the only player who’s served in the role for at least one full season. So, my pick for the Wild is their stupid old rotating system.
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.
On top of this, he was involved in a police incident shortly before being dealt, which also reportedly contributed to his departure. All in all, it sounds like Chelios was a pretty terrible person during in time in Montreal.
Nashville Predators: Tom Fitzgerald
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).
Fitzgerald was actually the franchise’s first captain, and was probably very fit for the role. However, he remains the only Predators captain to have never led them to the postseason, and only Shea Weber has served more time than him at the helm. Again, sorry Tom.
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.
Shortly after losing the Cup to the L.A. Kings in June of 2012, Parise left New Jersey for Minnesota, and that move truly started what turned into a rapid decline for the franchise as a whole. Parise went that offseason, and Ilya Kovalchuk abandoned ship the next year, and now their best forward is Adam Henrique or someone of a similar ilk.
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.
The buyout meant that Yashin would be on the Islanders’ payroll until the end of the 2014-15 season, and he was. This one was an easy decision.
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.
Drury did end up having a degenerative condition in his knee that prohibited his career from moving beyond New York, but his play had already deteriorated so much by that point that dressing their captain every game was no longer a given, and that's a problem.
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.
The Senators, of course, refused to comply, and the standoff led to the Sens stripping Yashin of the “C” and eventually suspending him for the entire 1999-00 season. Coupled with his stint in NYI, I would argue that Yashin is the worst captain ever.
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.
As the story goes, head coach Peter Laviolette challenged his players to lay off booze for a month, and that was apparently too much for Richards (and Carter) to handle. They did not pledge to participate, and as team leaders many others followed, and thus the locker room and team were divided. All this over booze.
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.
Ingarfield was a fine captain, to be honest, so this is a tad unfair, but it’s what it’s come to. He served just one season as the team’s leader, in 1968-69, and he only played 40 games. The Penguins played without a captain for the following five seasons after his departure. There's no reason he's on this list other than the fact that he captained a crappy edition of the Penguins.
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.
Wilson stripped Marleau of the captaincy after the 2008-09 season, and many think it was undeserved. Thornton got the “C” for the start of the 2010-11 season, only to have it stripped from him after the 2013-14 season. Both actions caused palpable tension between the players and the management, understandably.
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.
This made sense on the surface, but in the end Gretzky didn’t turn out to be the best of leaders for the Blues. They only got through one round of playoffs, and Gretzky departed at season’s end, having played a grand total of 18 regular season games with the franchise.
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.
During the time the Lightning were under his guidance (three seasons), the Lightning regressed every year. It was the franchise's fourth season, so they had reason to at least hope for a little bit of progression. Ysebaert contributed his fair share to this futility, registering a minus-61 rating during his tenure.
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.
Phaneuf is a fine defenseman who probably gets a bad rap in Toronto because he’s been the leader of some awful versions of the team. Beyond that, though, Phaneuf has very few attributes that lead one to believe he’s a good leader. He’s quiet. He isn’t very forthcoming with the media. He’s an all around awkward guy. Does that sound like a good leader to you? (It actually sounds like former Canadian P.M. Stephen Harper, now that I mention it).
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.
Goalies already have enough to be concerned about without having to worry about talking to the refs between whistles, or debating the merits of a call with an official and the opposing team’s captain. He never did this as captain—the alternates would do it— so I don't really know what difference the letter made for Bobby Lu anyway. It was a dumb idea, and the experiment didn’t last. Luongo was stripped of the captaincy long before he was chased out of town by fans and management alike.
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).
Ovechkin, however, has illustrated time and time again that he may not be the best leader in the sport. Already this season he’s been benched for a game because he missed the morning skate thanks to an alarm snafu. His commitment to the defensive side of the game has come under question more than a few times over the years, as well.
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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