Unlike other professional sports, professional hockey has had a tradition that even surpasses the National Hockey League’s inauguration. What is that tradition? An athlete, donning a captain’s letter “C” on either the top right or left shoulder area of a player’s sweater for all to see.
The coveted “C” is worn by an NHLer who typically displays characteristics such as courage, talent at their position, leading by example on and off the ice and one who possesses experience in wearing the captain’s letter once before; whether it was at the Junior or Minor League levels.
While the NHL has a proud list of current captains and legendary alumni, there have been plenty of skaters that probably should have passed on the honor of joining the league’s fraternity of captains.
There are some former NHL skaters that fans may be able to recall playing, or having success with their respective teams, but there are also a list of players that fans alike could agree on the fact that those players didn’t make for an ideal leader. Perhaps it was a case of bas timing, or a player was given the ‘C’ as a transition captain. Whatever the reason, they’re not exactly remembered as exceptional captains.
Below, The Sportster lists every NHL team’s worst captain since 2000.
30. Anaheim Ducks – Steve Rucchin
The timing wasn’t right for the (then) Mighty Ducks of Anaheim forward Steve Rucchin to don the captain’s “C” and in Orange County. Rucchin, a fan favorite in Anaheim, was named team captain for the 2003-04 campaign and after the departure of the great former Ducks captain, Paul Kariya.
Not only did the longtime Mighty Duck have big shoes to fill, but Anaheim was only months removed from a heartbreaking Game 7 loss to the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup Final (2003). In 2003-04, the Ducks were depleted and no longer entailed a championship caliber squad. And, as for Rucchin, it was a down year. He finished his only season as the Ducks’ captain with a minus-14 rating, and had 15 fewer points than the season before. The Ducks missed the playoffs that year, too.
29. Arizona Coyotes – Teppo Numminen
If you aren’t an Arizona Coyotes fan, then you probably forgot that defenseman Teppo Numminen captained the (then) Phoenix Coyotes from 2001 until 2003. Numminen gets lost in the Coyotes’ captain conversation because his stint was in between the great Keith Tkachuk and legendary Shane Doan — who has been the Yotes’ captain since 2003-04.
While the Finnish native’s first season as team captain was good on paper, the club lost to the San Jose Sharks in five games during the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs; and the club failed to make the postseason the following year. It seemed that Numminen was just a filler in order to give Doan more experience and to finally take over the reigns in the Desert going forward.
28. Boston Bruins – Jason Allison
Yes, the Original Six Franchise in the Boston Bruins has only had four team captains since the late 1980s, but out of those four skaters, forward Jason Allison was the only player that didn’t last more than one season donning the Bruins’ “C.” And, while Allison had a 95 point season as Boston’s main leader during the 2000-01 regular season, he left the B’s during the offseason, only to leave the club without an actual team captain for the entire 2001-02 season.
The former Bruins captain was a restricted free-agent during the 2001 offseason and held out, which forced Boston to trade the NHL’s ranked no.5 goal-scorer (2001) to the Los Angeles Kings. Keep in mind, Ray Bourque was the team’s captain prior to Allison, and Joe Thornton later followed…
27. Buffalo Sabres – Steve Ott
The Buffalo Sabres have had big named players such as Michael Peca, Chris Drury and Daniel Briere don the team’s captaincy, but then there was a dark time for the Sabres when tough guy Steve Ott was Buffalo’s leader. Ott played parts of two seasons with the Sabres (2012-14), before being traded to the St. Louis Blues at the 2014 NHL Trade Deadline.
Ott was the Sabres captain for a total of 59 games during the 2013-14 campaign, and while there weren’t too many better options at the time — he still goes down as the club’s worst captain since 2000. Sure, Ott has displayed his heart for the game of hockey, but usually through his antics of being an agitator to opponents. At the time, that probably wasn’t the best role model for a rebuilding Sabres club.
26. Calgary Flames – Steve Smith
Another NHL bruiser, who spent more time in the penalty box per game than actually trying to help his team win on the ice when it really mattered. Forward Steve Smith was technically the captain of the Calgary Flames for two seasons (1999-2001), but only managed to play in a total of 33 games during his tenure as captain.
It was also ironic that Smith wore the “C” for the Flames, as the forward was infamous for scoring on his own net as a rookie with the Edmonton Oilers during the 1986 Smythe Division Finals (Game 7) vs. the Calgary Flames; which led the Flames to eventually win the game 3-2. There weren’t too many choices for Calgary, but chances are they should have just named d’man Tommy Albelin captain instead.
25. Carolina Hurricanes – Keith Primeau
In 1998, the Carolina Hurricanes named their first team captain since relocating from Hartford (Whalers) and that skater was Keith Primeau. A year later, the Hurricanes’ team captain held out due to contract reasons and missed more than half of the 1999-00 regular season. He was later traded to the Philadelphia Flyers, where he played in 23 games before the Flyers entered the 2000 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Primeau is in company with Hurricane fan favorites such as Ron Francis, Rod Brind’Amour and Eric Staal. The fact that Primeau was the team captain for a full season and refused to play, and almost sat out an entire season, without a doubt makes him the worst captain the Hurricanes have had since 2000. Plus, the player the Canes received in return from Philly, Brind’Amour, captained Carolina to its first and only Stanley Cup championship in 2005-06.
24. Chicago Blackhawks – Martin Lapointe
During the 2005-06 regular season, the Chicago Blackhawks made the decision to have two captains, where each skater would wear the “C” for certain games at a time. And, one of those players happened to be forward Martin Lapointe, while the other was defenseman Adrian Aucoin. Since 2000, Marty Lapointe was the Blackhawks’ worst team captain.
Sure, the former Stanley Cup champion with the Detroit Red Wings brought the necessary experience, but that doesn’t mean he was the right guy at the time for a rebuilding Chicago club. Lapointe had some forgettable years in the Windy City, and even finished as a minus-30 in his first season as team captain with the Hawks. The club should have just stuck with Aucoin being the lone captain.
23. Colorado Avalanche – Gabriel Landeskog
From 2000 until 2009, Hockey Hall Of Famer Joe Sakic captained the Colorado Avalanche, while winning a second Stanley Cup championship (2001) along the way, too. Since Sakic retired after the 2009 season, three other skaters have worn the captain’s “C” for the Avs; Adam Foote, Milan Hejduk and Gabriel Landeskog.
By process of elimination, and due to the star power between the other three captains who are retired, forward Gabriel Landeskog is Colorado’s worst captain since 2000. The former second overall draft pick (2011) hasn’t quite lived up to expectations, and the Avalanche are no longer the notorious and successful franchise that they once were while Foote, Sakic and Hejduk held down the fort. At this rate, one can wonder if the Avs will part ways with Landeskog in order to rebuild…
22. Columbus Blue Jackets – Luke Richardson
By the time Luke Richardson landed in Columbus and with the Blue Jackets in 2002, the veteran defenseman had already played in the NHL for 15 seasons. Richardson probably should have just retired before he played parts of three seasons with the Blue Jackets and also wear the captain’s “C” for the club.
Richardson was named team captain during the 2003-04 regular season, which was a year that the Jackets were a dismal 25-45-8-4. The former Edmonton Oilers d-man was still captain the following season, but the NHL lockout took place – so realistically Richardson was the leader for one forgettable year in Columbus. Post lockout, Adam Foote was named team captain and eventually the great Rick Nash would take over the reigns for Foote in 2007.
21. Dallas Stars – Brenden Morrow
Any time a player is named team captain after a professional sports legend and fellow teammate is stripped of their captaincy duties – it usually never pans out for the better. That’s the story with former Dallas Stars captain, Brenden Morrow. Stars great, Mike Modano, finally received the opportunity to captain the Stars organization from 2003 until 2006, but Dallas stripped the legend of his “C” following the 2006 campaign.
One could argue that is was then that the Stars organization took a wrong turn, and the franchise no longer seemed to have that prestige swagger it once possessed. The long time and respectable Dallas Stars forward in Morrow wasn’t a horrible captain by any means; but timing is everything in pro sports and the time probably wasn’t right for Morrow to wear the “C” in Dallas.
20. Detroit Red Wings – Henrik Zetterberg
Since the 2000 regular season, the Detroit Red Wings have had three captains to represent one the most prestige organizations in all of professional sports. Those three skaters are Hockey Hall Of Famers Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom and future Hockey Hall Of Famer Henrik Zetterberg.
The Red Wings won Stanley Cups with Yzerman and Lidstrom wearing the captain’s “C,” and there’s no way they would be considered for this list. So, by default, sorry Mr. Zetterberg, but the Swedish native takes this spot. It’s no surprise either that the Wings have struggled since the departure of a leader like Lidstrom; and whether that’s out of their new captain’s control or not, as of now Detroit is on the verge of missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 1990 and it will be during the “Zetterberg era.”
19. Edmonton Oilers – Shawn Horcoff
The Edmonton Oilers and their fan-base can now rejoice that the club’s dark days have finally passed, and the Connor McDavid era is now in full-swing. Still, Edmonton not only went through a string of losing seasons, but questionable decisions were also made at captain, too.
Defenseman Shawn Horcoff captained the Oilers from 2010 until the end of the 2013 regular season. And, while Horcoff has always been a productive player on the offensive side of the score sheet, chances are the Oilers could have selected a different skater to lead their (then) dismal club on the ice. Or, maybe Edmonton should have just waited another year or two to name a leader. Either way McDavid now serves as the Oilers’ captain, and chances are fans will forgive and forget in Western Canada in due time.
18. Florida Panthers – Ed Jovanovski
Ironically, defenseman Ed Jovanovski’s career began and ended in South Florida with the Florida Panthers. Jovanovski had a stellar NHL career from 1995 until 2010, which was split between the Panthers, Vancouver Canucks and (then) Phoenix Coyotes. And, the former first overall pick (1994) returned to Florida to finish out his NHL career with the Cats, where he served as team captain from 2012-2014.
Still, since the 2000 season, Jovanovski would go down as the club’s worst captain. Then, it was evident Jovanovski should have just hung up the ol’ skates and retired, as the d-man only managed to play in over 40 games in two seasons as captain. After making the postseason in 2012 and for the first time since 2000, the Panthers failed to get back into the Stanley Cup Playoffs mix while Jovanovski donned the “C.”
17. Los Angeles Kings – Mattias Norstrom
Swedish native Mattias Norstrom served as the captain of the Los Angeles Kings from 2001 until 2007 after the Rob Blake era had come to a close in the City of Angels. The Kings failed to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs during the Norstrom era in four out of the five seasons he served as the club’s team captain.
Sure, Norstrom had almost impossible shoes to fill behind the great Rob Blake, but the d-man never seemed to seize the moment as the Kings’ new leader. Since Norstrom was captain, Blake returned to take back his rightful “C” in Los Angeles. Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar have since donned the honor. Keep in mind, it was a string of tough years for the Kings when Norstrom was captain but perhaps there was a better choice at the time; players such as Ziggy Palffy or Adam Deadmarsch could have been given the opportunity to lead.
16. Minnesota Wild – Brad Brown
Since 2000, the Minnesota Wild have had more players wear the captain’s “C” than a majority of the other NHL teams. That should come as a surprise, especially since the Wild’s inaugural season was in 2000-01. And, while players such as Brian Rolston and Brad Bombardir donned the “C” for the State of Hockey, a player such as Brad Brown did too.
Brown played a total of seven years in the NHL, and it would be hard to believe that he was worthy of being captain for the Wild during the 2001-02 campaign. The former first-round draft-pick played in Minnesota for parts of three seasons, before playing his final games with the Buffalo Sabres in 2003-04. Interestingly enough, Brown was one of four players who were captain of the Wild in 2001-02.
15. Montreal Canadiens – Max Pacioretty
Yes, believe it or not, but forward Max Pacioretty goes down as the Montreal Canadiens worst captain since 2000. For starters, the great Saku Koivo captained the Habs from 1999 until the end of the 2009 season. Proceeding Koivu, was forward Brian Gionta, who helped lead the Canadiens to two Eastern Conference Finals appearances in a short span of five seasons.
While Pacioretty is only in his second season as team captain with Montreal, his first year, which was last season, was one of the worst seasons (on paper) that the club has suffered in quite some time. And, Montreal even started off last season without losing a game in the team’s first nine contests. As of now, Pacioretty makes this list for the Montreal Canadiens.
14. Nashville Predators – Greg Johnson
Since the Nashville Predators’ inaugural season in 1998-99, the club has had six different skaters don the captain’s “C.” And, one of those five players happened to be Greg Johnson. The Canadian center captained the Predators from 2002 until the end of the 2005-06 regular season.
The other five skaters to captain the Predators are all notable names – such as Mike Fisher, Shea Weber, Jason Arnott, Kimmo Timonen and Tom Fitzgerald. Johnson was not known for his skill on the ice, however he did finish the 2003-04 campaign as a minus-21. Not ideal for a captain who planned on leading by example, right? The former second-round draft-pick (1989) skated for three other teams, which were the Detroit Red Wings, Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks.
13. New Jersey Devils – Bryce Salvador
At this point in time, if a player ends up being named team captain for the New Jersey Devils than that skater still has some tough skates to fill. Hockey Hall Of Famer Scott Stevens donned the “C” for a number of years while winning three Stanley Cups. Next, there was another Hockey Hall Of Famer, Scott Niedermayer. This list continues with a few more notable names, but defenseman Bryce Salvador shouldn’t have been named captain for New Jersey in 2012-13.
While Salvador overcame a serious injury while playing with the Devils, and the d-man had a nice showing during the team’s 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs run (lost to the Kings in Cup Finals), the former undrafted skater had a lost a step once he was named captain.
12. New York Islanders – Mark Streit
During the 2008 offseason, defenseman Mark Streit was fresh off of a career-year and the Swiss native was given his well earned pay day after signing a lucrative four-year-contract with the New York Islanders. And, while Streit’s first two seasons on the Island weren’t bad by any means, his last two when he served as the Islanders’ captain could be labeled as forgettable.
Streit captained the Orange and Blue from 2011 until the end of the 2013 season, and finished with ratings of minus-14 (2011-12) and minus-27 (2013). It was obvious Streit struggled in all areas on the ice with the Isles, and the Islanders fan base quickly turned on the former Montreal Canadiens star d-man. Now, Streit dresses for the Philadelphia Flyers, but he goes down as the Islanders worst captain since 2000.
11. New York Rangers – Chris Drury
Since the 1999-2000 regular season, the New York Rangers have had six different skaters where the captain’s “C” on Broadway. The Garden Faithful have cheered on notable leaders such as Brian Leetch, Mark Messier, Jaromir Jagr, Ryan Callahan and most recently Ryan McDonagh. The other skater to don the “C” for the Broadway Blueshirts was an all-time great, but his time in New York and as the Rangers’ captain was somewhat disappointing.
Forward Chris Drury captained New York from 2007 until the end of the 2011 season, and considering the high expectations from the City That Never Sleeps – Drury ranks himself as the Rangers’ worst captain since 2000. While Drury’s numbers on paper weren’t terrible, it was obvious the former third-round draft-pick had lost a step. Also, it didn’t help that the Rangers gave Drury a five-year, $35.25 million contract (2007).
10. Ottawa Senators – Jason Spezza
The Ottawa Senators worst captain since 2000 happens to be a former first round draft pick (2nd overall) for the club, and one who’s made a name for himself as an offensively minded and talented forward. That player happens to be, Jason Spezza.
The Senators have only had three captains since the 1999-00 regular season, as future Hockey Hall Of Famer Daniel Alfredsson captained the Sens from 2000 until the end of the 2013 season. While all-star defenseman Erik Karlsson has donned the “C” for the past three seasons and counting, Spezza was named team captain for one season (2013-14), which happened to be one of his more underwhelming seasons in Ottawa. The playmaker finished the campaign with a minus-26 rating, and Spezza was later moved to the Dallas Stars in the offseason after he requested a trade.
9. Philadelphia Flyers – Jason Smith
Most NHL fans may forget, but longtime Edmonton Oilers defenseman Jason Smith captained the Philadelphia Flyers during the 2007-08 campaign. The former first-round draft-pick had established himself as leader and solid NHL d’man in Edmonton, but his play on the ice went south when he arrived in the City of Brotherly Love during the 2007 offseason.
Additionally, Smith is competing (respectively) with other captains such as Eric Lindros, Eric Desjardins, Keith Primeau, Derian Hatcher, Mike Richards and Claude Giroux. Smith’s lone season in Philly was also marked the first time in over 10 seasons that the d-man did not record more than 10 points. And, while the Flyers did reach the Eastern Conference Finals that season, Smith still goes down as Philadelphia’s worst captain since the 2000 campaign.
8. Pittsburgh Penguins – Mario Lemieux
Let’s get one thing straight before we move forward with why Mario Lemieux is on this list. Is Mario Lemieux arguably the greatest hockey players of all time? Yes. However, from 2002 until 2006 Super Mario captained bad Pittsburgh Penguins teams and one can wonder why Lemieux had to wear the “C” on his jersey during those tough years.
Also, since 2000, only Jaromir Jagr and Sidney Crosby have worn the captain’s “C” for the Penguins. When fans think of Lemieux, they think of that big smile after scoring a pretty goal, or him flying by d-man and making them look silly — not him in a Pittsburgh sweater during the mid-2000s with a club tanking on the ice, and one in which he “captained,” right?
7. San Jose Sharks – Alyn McCauley
When NHL fans hear the team name, “San Jose Sharks,” they think of players and former captains such as Patrick Marleau, Owen Nolan and Joe Thornton. Fans and pundits do not think of former Sharks’ captain and forward Alyn McCauley.
McCauley captained the Teal during the 2003-04 regular season, and oddly enough shared the duties with Marleau and fan-favorite Mike Ricci. Considering the other two skaters the former New Jersey Devils draft pick shared the duties with, why didn’t San Jose just let Marleau or Ricci have sole possession of the “C?”
McCauley played parts of three seasons with the Sharks, and later retired after the 2006-07 season with the Los Angeles Kings. While he did have a career high in points in 2003-04, McCauley is the Sharks’ worst captain since 2000.
6. St. Louis Blues – Dallas Drake
During the early and mid-2000s it would be tough for a St. Louis Blues’ captain to follow the likes of Hockey Hall Of Famers such as Chris Pronger and Al MacInnis. That’s the exact situation former Blues forward Dallas Drake found himself in during the 2005-06 campaign. Both Pronger and MacInnis were no longer with the organization and the Blues were left with the choice of naming Drake team captain.
Drake captained St. Louis for two seasons, and the club failed to the make the Stanley Cup Playoffs during both campaigns. Those seasons marked the first time the club had missed out on the playoffs since the late 1970s. Drake’s point production had also noticeably dropped after he took over the captaincy duties for the Blues.
5. Tampa Bay Lightning – Tim Taylor
The Tampa Bay Lightning have had a star studded cast wear the captain’s “C” since 2000, for the most part. Notable names such as Stanley Cup winning captain Dave Andreychuk, Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and currently Steven Stamkos have all helped lead the Bolts since that time. Then, out of the blue, veteran Tim Taylor was named team captain during the 2006-07 campaign.
Yes, Taylor was a respected journeyman and two-way forward, but why the captaincy wasn’t given back to Lecavalier (who wore it during the 2000-01 season) or Martin St. Louis is still a major question to date. While Taylor was technically labeled as captain for two seasons, he only actually played in one of those seasons (2006-07). Taylor had previously played for the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings.
4. Toronto Maple Leafs – Dion Phaneuf
Only Hockey Hall Of Famer Mats Sundin and defenseman Dion Phaneuf have captained the Toronto Maple since the 1999-00 regular season. So, advantage Sundin. Phaneuf goes down as the Leafs’ worst captain since 2000.
There were high and hopeful expectations for Phaneuf in Toronto, after the Original Six franchise had acquired the All-Star defenseman during the 2009-10 regular season. The former Olympian then captained the Leafs from 2010 until 2016, before Phaneuf was traded in a blockbuster deal to the Ottawa Senators. The Toronto fan-base never seemed to appreciate the physical d-man, and felt as though he was overpaid and couldn’t handle the pressure of playing in one of hockey’s hottest media markets. The Maple Leafs only made the Stanley Cup Playoffs once under his tenure, when the club lost to its bitter rivals, the Boston Bruins (2013) in seven games.
3. Vancouver Canucks – Mark Messier
How could one of hockey’s greatest players of all-time go down as a club’s worst captain (since 2000)? For starters, it was evident Hockey Hall Of Famer Mark Messier preferred not be in Western Canada with ex-foe the Vancouver Canucks.
Messier captained the Canucks after the New York Rangers had traded their captain during the 1997 offseason. Messier’s point production and plus/minus rating dropped drastically when “The Captain” arrived back in Western Canada. Canucks fans grew unhappy with Messier’s attitude of playing for the club, and the former Edmonton Oilers legend was later dealt back to the Big Apple. The Canucks also failed to clinch a Stanley Cup Playoff berth in each of Messier’s three seasons with Vancouver. And, keep in mind, Messier had essentially taken away the “C” from a fan-favorite in Trevor Linden.
2. Washington Capitals – Steve Konowalchuk
Forward and longtime Washington Capital Steve Konowalchuk had a respectable career in the Nation’s Capital, which went back to the early 1990s. However, the American born forward goes down as the club’s worst captain since 2000.
For parts of three seasons that Konowalchuk captained the Caps, the team only made the Stanley Cup Playoffs once, where Washington was bounced during the first round by the Tampa Bay Lightning (2003). Chances are there were better candidates to fulfill the Capitals’ captaincy duties than Konowalchuk, and perhaps a player such as Jaromir Jagr, Peter Bondra or even Michael Nylander could have filled the role. The longtime Caps forward was later traded to the Colorado Avalanche during the early part of the 2003-04 regular season. His scoring totals had also decreased while Konowalchuk donned the “C” for Washington.
1. Winnipeg Jets – Bobby Holik
For the first time in franchise history the (then) Atlanta Thrashers (now the Winnipeg Jets) made the Stanley Cup Playoffs during the 2006-07 campaign. It appeared that the struggling expansion franchise was finally getting on track to take a step in the right direction, after failing to make the playoffs since the club’s inaugural season in 1999-00.
However, the team named Bobby Holik captain a season later, and Atlanta returned back to its losing ways yet again. Holik also finished the season with as a minus-14. At the time, the club probably should have named Russian superstar Ilya Kovalchuk team captain, as Kovy was in the prime of his career. A season later, Kovalchuk totaled 90 points, while donning the “C,” after Holik left the Thrashers organization.
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