Good leadership is incredibly important in the National Hockey League. With an 82-game schedule spread over seven months, teams play almost every other day. Keeping 20-plus grown men (many of whom have families) focused and team-oriented for such a long period of time is a difficult task for management staff and so it helps to have a designated leader in the dressing room. These players have great responsibility as they are often seen as the face of the team as well as the club’s spokesperson both to referees in-game and to the media. For an NHL club, selecting their captain is a task that must be well thought-out, as the player must possess a combination of personality, hockey skills, and leadership in order to be effective in the role. Some teams in the NHL simply don’t have a player that fits this bill and while a couple, namely the Maple Leafs and the Hurricanes, have accepted that fact and chosen to refrain from naming a captain altogether, others have shoehorned a player into the role when they really aren’t deserving of it.
Admittedly, with only 30 teams to choose from and 15 list entries to fill, some of these teams do not necessarily have terrible captains, but all could use an upgrade in some way, shape, or form. From the decidedly underwhelming Florida Panthers captain to the debatably unsuccessful leader possessed by the Washington Capitals, the list below will name the 15 NHL teams that need new captains as well as their potential replacements.
16 Tampa Bay Lighting - Steven Stamkos
Although Steven Stamkos hasn’t been in the captaincy spot for long, during the past four seasons as the Tampa Bay Lightning’s leader he has been injured for almost two whole seasons. Stamkos is recognized as an outstanding goal-scorer for the Lightning. The main issue is his injuries. In order to be a leader and carry the team to playoff opportunities you need to be present. During the two seasons 2014-15 and 2015-16 when Stamkos was healthy, he helped lead the squad to a Conference Final and a Stanley Cup Final, whereas, in the two seasons he was scarce, the Lightning lost in the first round of the playoffs, and in the 2016-2017 season did not qualify for the playoffs.
A better fit for the future Lightning would be defenceman Victor Hedman. Hedman is the Lightning’s top defender and within the top 10 defenders in the entire league. This Swedish native is exactly who the Lightning need as a captain. Other than a broken finger, he has remained healthy making him always present with the team. In the most recent season, 2016-17, Hedman scored 72 points, second within the organization, being the only defender to be within the top 10 goal scorers. Hedman has been prevalent in the media, acting as a leader for the squad. His career is just starting off, being a star player who is capable of leading a team on and off the ice. He would make an ideal candidate for a captain who would be prevalent and help lead the organization.
15 Buffalo Sabres - Brian Gionta
Sure, Gionta has had a respectable career and can always be cheered for as the “little guy with a big heart” type of player, but he is well past his prime and is certainly not deserving of the captaincy of an NHL team. The fact that the Buffalo Sabres’ brass thought it was a good idea to make Gionta their official leader shows why the team has been stuck in “rebuild” mode for the better part of a decade. Gionta has the experience to be a respected man in the locker room but his statistical numbers are dwindling and the 38-year-old is likely on his way out of the league when his current contract expires.
When Buffalo finally wakes up and realizes that Brian Gionta is not captain material, the best candidate to replace him is two-way centerman Ryan O’Reilly. The Clinton, Ontario native has emerged as the most solid defensive forward on the club and, though he hasn’t found success with the Sabres yet, he has proven that he can perform in the clutch as he has put up point-per-game statistics with Team Canada at the World Championships the past three years. O’Reilly is the type of responsible, experienced player that the young Sabres need as their leader in order to eventually find success in this elongated rebuild, and he needs to replace Gionta as team captain ASAP.
14 Washington Capitals - Alex Ovechkin
Alexander Ovechkin has been the face of the Washington Capitals for twelve seasons. As the first overall pick in 2004, Ovechkin has lived up to all the hype on a personal level, becoming one of the most prolific goal scorers to ever lace up a pair of skates. Ovechkin’s issue, however, has been on the team level, as he has proven to be a very selfish, one-way player on many occasions. While he has turned into a slightly more responsible player as he enters his 30s, the fact that he has been unable to step it up in the playoffs and lead his often-favoured Caps to a Stanley Cup title makes many question his leadership abilities both on and off the ice.
In order to change the reputation that Ovechkin helped to garner for the Capitals as a run-and-gun team that is more worried about scoring goals than preventing them, it would be smart to put the captaincy on a defenceman. Matt Niskanen should be their choice. He is exactly the type of player that the Capitals need as he is a class act off the ice and a very responsible player on the ice. Caps coaches have already proven they have confidence in “Nisky,” as he was second on the club in average time-on-ice this past regular season. He also had a +20 +/- rating and recorded the most points of any defenceman on the club. All of the tangible stats and intangible qualities that Niskanen possesses make him the obvious choice to usurp Ovechkin as the next captain of the Washington Capitals.
13 Winnipeg Jets - Blake Wheeler
Prior to the start of the 2016-17 season, this NHL right winger was announced as the Winnipeg Jets’ captain. Former “C”-wearer Andrew Ladd moved on to the New York Islanders and the torch was passed to Wheeler. While Wheeler is admittedly one of the most underrated players in the league today, he just doesn’t have the attributes required to be a team captain. He is too quiet and doesn’t have the major impact in crucial moments that his struggling Jets team needs.
The obvious choice to replace Wheeler as the proper Jets captain is Dustin Byfuglien. “Big Buff” brings everything that you could ask for in a captain to the table. He is vocal, munches big minutes, puts points on the board, and has a knack for using his 6’5”, 260-pound frame to lay a huge hit when his team needs a momentum boost. The massive Minnesota native is exactly the type of player that teammates can look to as a leader on and off the ice, and he is also one of only a few players on the young Jets roster with a Stanley Cup ring. That kind of experience is invaluable if Winnipeg looks to make a deep playoff run in the next few years. The Winnipeg Jets need to right the wrong they made in naming Wheeler as Ladd’s replacement by putting the “C” on the huge chest of Dustin Byfuglien.
12 Colorado Avalanche - Gabriel Landeskog
The Avalanche just finished a terrible season, posting the worst point totals of any team in the past 15 years with just 49. The team was involved in many trade rumours for much of the season. The two main targets of these rumours were Matt Duchene, and the Avs’ captain, Gabriel Landeskog. The fact that the still-24-year-old Swede is already expendable to the club is a bad sign to begin with. Add in the lack of success the Avalanche have had since his tenure as captain began in 2012, and you have a recipe for an impending “C” swap. The 2011 second-overall pick has not really lived up to his potential statistics-wise, only putting up 279 points in 428 games with the club, further proving that he is not necessarily someone teammates should be looking up to.
When Landeskog is eventually traded or simply has the “C” removed from his chest, the best option to take over would be one of the only players that the club deemed as “untouchable” throughout the trade rumours this season: Nathan MacKinnon. While many may think the 2013 first-overall pick is too young to be a captain, the Avalanche named Landeskog Captain at the age of just 19 so they obviously have no issues with youth. MacKinnon will likely be the face of the franchise for years to come and his high-speed, two-way game serves as great motivation for his teammates. The young centerman has also proven that he can step it up in the clutch, leading his junior team to a Memorial Cup and performing well on the international stage on numerous occasions, both with Team Canada, and, most notably, with his outstanding showcase on Team North America in the World Cup this past September. If Colorado is serious about rebuilding into a contender, their first step needs to be taking the captaincy from Landeskog and placing it on Nate MacKinnon.
11 Minnesota Wild - Mikko Koivu
Mikko Koivu has been serving as captain of the Minnesota Wild for eight seasons. Koivu was drafted 6th-overall to the Wild in the 2001 NHL Entry draft. During his time with the organization, Koivu has posted 614 points in 843 games. Since his captaincy, Koivu has led the team to the first round of the playoffs twice, the second round of the playoffs twice and the conference finals once and not qualifying for the playoffs three times. The main reason for needing a new captain is this 34-year-old is past his prime and not producing the same quality performance as he once did. Koivu is not as vocal as he should be either. A team captain needs to be able to speak up, voice opinions, and regulate the team, but Koivu does not succeed in this category.
The Wilds new captain should be Ryan Suter. Suter has been one of the most reliable players during his NHL career. He has shown to be a responsible and good leader through his play on and off the ice. Suter is top defender who plays the majority of the the game. He is agile and has the skill to perform on the ice. During his most recent season, he posted 40 points, being one of two defenders in the top-ten. Suter is a mature player who is producing approximately the same amount of points he has for the past five years with the Wild organization. The Wild organization would benefit from having a vocal player such as Suter leading their team in the future.
10 Detroit Red Wings - Henrik Zetterberg
Almost on the level with Montreal and Toronto as the most prestigious NHL franchises, the Red Wings have also been one of the most successful organizations in all of sports, only just losing their 25-year playoff streak this past season. While the two other captains who were a part of that streak, Steve Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom, have proven to both be legendary leaders and are both members of the Hockey Hall of Fame now, Zetterberg is very underwhelming in comparison. He has had a respectable 15-year career with the Wings but the veteran Swede is too quiet in demeanor and has trailed off statistically lately.
To replace the aging winger, the Red Wings should look to their young core. Dylan Larkin has jumped out as the future of the Wings in just two seasons with the club. The Michigan native has signalled a new direction for the Wings as after so many years of dominance, their core finally aged out. He brings speed and determination to every game and even as a youngster, he is a leader off the ice as well as has been evidenced by behind-the-scenes documentaries and mic’d-up moments. As the Detroit Red Wings begin their transition and many of their former stars retire, switching the captaincy from Zetterberg to Larkin is a symbolic way of bringing in their new era of youth and speed.
9 Arizona Coyotes - Shane Doan
This right winger is currently listed as the longest-serving captain currently active in the NHL. After being drafted 7th overall in the 1995 Entry Draft to the Winnipeg Jets, the team relocated to Phoenix. Doan was selected as team captain during the 2003-2004 season and has continued as captain for thirteen seasons. Although Doan has been a great captain for many seasons, his time as an NHLer is coming to an end. The 40-year-old agreed to an extended one-year contract for the 2016-17 season and will likely retire this year or next.
With that being said, the Coyotes need a new face for the squad. Oliver Ekman-Larsson should be the new captain of the Coyotes. This 25-year-old Swedish native is at the beginning of his career. Ekman-Larsson had the second highest points on the Coyotes this past season. In his seven seasons playing with the Coyotes, this hard-working defender has set or tied franchise records and has also surpassed NHL records. Being one of the Coyotes top-defenders, he shows his dedication on and off the ice. Ekman-Larsson would make a great replacement for Doan, as he has proven to be a leader and capable of leading the Coyotes to great things.
8 Boston Bruins - Zdeno Chara
Big ‘Z’ has dominated the opposition for 19 seasons but his 6’9”, 250 pound frame is finally feeling its age. After being drafted by the Islanders and being traded to the Senators and then to the Bruins, Chara found his home in Beantown. He held down the blueline there for eleven years and even helped them to a Cup in 2011, but Chara is simply unable to keep up or munch the minutes he used to.
The Boston Bruins will more than likely be without their 40-year-old defenceman after next season, and it’s time that they reward their undisputed best player, Brad Marchand, by giving him the captaincy. The diminutive winger began his career as more of a grinder-type player and, although he is still the most hated player in the game, has transformed into one of the league’s top point-producers. The fact that his hard-working, scrappy style leads to points on the scoresheet is motivation for the rest of his teammates to play the same way. Marchand is also not afraid to pipe up off the ice, holding other Bruins accountable for their actions. As Zdeno Chara moves on to his post-hockey life, the Boston Bruins have no better option to turn to as their new captain than Brad Marchand.
7 Vancouver Canucks - Henrik Sedin
Centreman Henrik Sedin currently serves as the Vancouver Canucks captain. This Sedin twin has a lot of awards and trophies under his belt during his 17 years in the NHL. Prior to the 2010-11 season, he was named captain of the Canucks. He is approaching the age of 37 this year, making him an older player in today’s young atmosphere. Since his 2010 season where he achieved a career-record high 112 points, he has been on the decline. This most recent season he only produced 51 points in 82 games. Also, everyone knows that throughout his career he has not been good in important situations. Last but not least, the Canucks need a new player to step up as Henrik Sedin has been known to be a whiner over the years, which does not make him an ideal individual that the team can look to as a physical and emotional leader.
The Canucks are better off investing in a young player such as Bo Horvat. Horvat made his major league debut in the 2014-15 season. In the most recent season, this Canadian-born centreman achieved more points than their so-called “star captain.” Horvat is the hard-working Canadian boy who is likely to lead the Canucks organization to great success. He has shown his dominance on the ice and has proven his capabilities to not only take advice but to be of help when needed. Horvat would make a great replacement for the outdated Sedin brother.
6 Montreal Canadiens - Max Pacioretty
The Habs have made a poor choice with their current captain, Maximillian Kolenda Pacioretty. Admittedly, he is their best forward and is a pretty mature person off the ice. However, he is often too mature. He seems to be too serious and sometimes even grumpy in behind-the-scenes documentaries and interviews with the media. He has even had his share of alleged dressing room disputes with coaches and, most notably, P.K. Subban. His playoff performances don’t portray him as a leader either, as he has let his team down in pretty much every playoff run of his career.
A far better choice as the team’s new captain would be Brendan Gallagher. The scrappy winger brings his heart and soul to every game he plays and is equally enthusiastic off the ice. When Pacioretty fails in the playoffs, it has often been Gallagher that picks up the slack, and the young Edmonton native is always cracking jokes and smiling in interviews and locker-room documentaries. He keeps his teammates loose off the ice but also acts as a physical leader on the ice. Gallagher is a far superior choice to Pacioretty as the Montreal Canadiens’ team captain.
4 New Jersey Devils - Andy Greene
Greene is an NHLer who was signed by the New Jersey Devils AHL affiliate straight out of University. Greene is a pretty unremarkable defender. Playing 707 games in his whole career he has a high of 197 points, which is quite low when looking at other quality defenders in the league. It was only two seasons ago that Greene was named team captain but frankly, most were dumbfounded when they found out he would be leading the team. Greene has not shown great numbers throughout his career, and his plus-minus is fairly poor. This past season he was -15. The only thing going for him is that he is a veteran for the Devils, he does not possess the good qualities needed to be a captain making him easily replaceable.
The future of the Devils organization would benefit from a new leader, specifically Adam Henrique. He is a 27-year-old centreman who has already posted more points in his short career thus far compared to Greene. He has already achieved many awards and has shown his capabilities on the ice. He has shown to be able to receive words-of-wisdom as well as give it. This Canadian-native is likely to be a great step in the right direction for the Devils. Henrique would make a great replacement for the outdated Greene.
3 Florida Panthers - Derek MacKenzie
When the Florida Panthers announced Derek Mackenzie as their captain I’m sure everyone was shocked. MacKenzie is simply a 4th-line grinder who has been sent between the NHL and the AHL basically all his career. He signed a three-year free agent contract with the Panthers, and in his third season he was named captain. He has had a very underwhelming career, having a high of 16 points in 82 games during his third season. MacKenzie is not a star player and not remarkable in anyway
A better fit for the Panthers would be youngster Aaron Ekblad. This 21-year-old Canadian native has already had a more notable career within the Panthers organization than MacKenzie. This past season, in 68 games, 14 games less than MacKenzie, Ekblad had 21 points as a defenseman. He is a young player who pours his heart into the game and has been shown to be a leader through his time in the OHL. He has already set records and won awards. He would make an ideal Captain for the future Panthers organization.
2 Carolina Hurricanes (Vacant)
The Hurricanes franchise is on the mend after years of futility since their 2006 Stanley Cup Championship. Part of this rebuilding process involved dealing away longtime franchise player and captain Eric Staal at the 2016 trade deadline. Understandably, because of the team’s youth, they have yet to name a replacement for Staal. Now, though, a year and a half removed from the deal and with serious chances of making the playoffs for the first time in eight years with their impressive young D-core, it is time for the ‘Canes to name a team leader.
The “C” should be put on the chest of current alternate captain Justin Faulk. The Minnesota native has emerged as the backbone of the strong Hurricanes defense. He was second on the team in average time on ice and is the most established player on the young ‘Canes roster. Though Faulk could do a bit better work in the defensive end, where he is second-last on the team in plus/minus, this is likely due to the fact that he was on the ice so often for such a poor team with questionable goaltending. He is undoubtedly the best option to be the Carolina Hurricanes’ next captain.
1 Toronto Maple Leafs (Vacant)
With the newer, younger squad, the Toronto Maple Leafs have not yet named a captain, but I’m sure we can all guess who should be taking this spot. From the 2005-06 season, the Leafs have only made it to the playoffs twice, the 2012-13 season and the most recent 2016-17 season. This past season, Coach Mike Babcock made drastic changes, only keeping young players and trading away the mature players for prospects or draft picks. The Leafs won the lottery draft which enabled them to obtain centerman Auston Matthews. During the 2016-17 season, all the hype was around Matthews. During his major league debut, Matthews scored four goals, making history.
It’s no secret that Matthews is one of the Leafs’ best players, if not the best, currently. During his first season, in 82 games, he posted 69 points. Some may say he’s too young to be a captain but if we look at this past season, the Edmonton Oilers made history by naming Connor McDavid captain at the young age of 19. Matthews would make an ideal player to name as the Leafs’ new captain. His gameplay on and off the ice has shone through in just one season. The future of the Leafs organization would benefit from a young, savvy player who has become a star in his rookie season and can only improve moving into the prime of his career.