Great NHL teams often have great captains. If you look back through history, it’s pretty rare to find a championship team that wasn’t helmed by a strong leader wearing the ‘C’. That just goes to show how important leadership can be in pro team sports.
Since the year 2000, all NHL teams have had at least a few captains represent them, and most of those players have been very worthy of the honor. However, every once in a while a team selects a captain and it all goes to hell from there. Sometimes it’s a fresh face in the room that just doesn’t work out culturally, and other times it’s a respected veteran whose performance level dips drastically as soon as he dons the ‘C’.
Whatever the reason, there have been a handful of NHL captains since the year 2000 who simply weren’t worthy of the honor, or were somewhat of a disappointment once the honor was bestowed upon them. Today’s list pays homage to those folks: the 15 Worst NHL Captains Since 2000.
Some of the guys on this list simply never deserved to be captain, and others were given the duty too late and were too far past their primes to be an effective on-ice leader. Without further ado, here they are: The 15 worst NHL captains since the turn of the millennium. Enjoy:
14 Adrian Aucoin
Defenseman Adrian Aucoin served parts of two seasons as captain of the Chicago Blackhawks, and unfortunately for him they were a few of the worst seasons in the history of the Original Six club. It’s for this reason that he finds himself on this list, as it’s not like there’s evidence of him being a poor leader or anything like that.
In a way, the present-day Hawks sort of owe the Aucoin-era Hawks for all their success. Without those abysmal seasons with Aucoin at the helm, they wouldn’t have been able to draft Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, the centerpieces of their three Stanley Cup Championships since 2010. There's no doubt that when you look back on the history of the Chicago Blackhawks, you're going to be shocked to see Aucoin is among their captains.
13 Andrew Ference
Now let’s make one thing clear: if this were a list of best captains for the community, Andrew Ference would most certainly be on that one as well. But I’m a firm believer that if you’re going to wear the ‘C’ on your chest, you best be able to contribute on the ice as well as off it. Ference was never really able to do that as captain of the Oilers.
Ference was quietly stripped of the captaincy prior to last season, as he only found his way into six games and eventually had season-ending hip surgery. He’s already all but announced his retirement, as he won’t play a game in the upcoming 2016-17 season, the final one on his contract. Connor McDavid will be the next Oilers captain, you can bet on that announcement coming any day now.
12 Dallas Drake
Dallas Drake served as captain of the Blues for two seasons, and they just so happened to be two of the worst seasons the Blues ever had. In 2005-06, the Blues finished dead last with only 57 points. Those Blues teams didn’t really have the proper tool anywhere on the roster, and Dallas Drake was almost a default captain choice due to the lack of top-end leadership on the roster.
The first season Drake served as captain, scoring across the league was sky high. Seven players scored more than 100 points that year, compared with one over the past two seasons. Nonetheless, Scott Young led the Blues in points in 2005-06 with a whopping 49—that was good for 129th overall in the NHL. Drake wasn't a great leader, and his team wasn't built to compete.
11 Chris Drury
Chris Drury had a solid career. He deserved it when the Rangers named him captain to start the 2008 season, but his play quickly deteriorated after that and he was out of the league before his stint as captain had run its course. Drury played just 24 games in his final season at the helm in New York.
Drury was just a victim of circumstance here, as he did earn the captaincy on merit. It just sucks that he didn’t receive the honor a few seasons prior so he could have actually had some productive seasons as leader of the Rangers. Drury’s calling card was reliability in the playoffs, and even that dried up when the ‘C’ was stitched on, as the winger scored just two points in 11 playoff games as captain.
10 Steve Rucchin
Much like Chris Drury, Steve Rucchin had put in a lot of good years before the Ducks—er, Mighty Ducks—named him captain at the onset of the 2003-04 season after the departure of predecessor Paul Kariya. Rucchin had been a member of the Ducks since 1995, often centering a line with Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya when they were both on the team.
With both Kariya and Selanne in Colorado for the 2003-04 season, Rucchin’s effectiveness was noticeably lower. Just one season removed from Game 7 of the Cup Final, the Mighty Ducks failed to qualify for the playoffs in their sole season with Rucchin as the leader. He moved on to finish his career as a Ranger after that season, making him the worst Ducks captain since 2000.
9 Rick Nash
In fairness to Rick Nash, he fought the good fight in Columbus for the better part of eight seasons before finally requesting a trade out of town in 2012. But if you’re the captain of a team and you request a trade out of town while the ‘C’ is still on your chest, you deserve to be on this list almost by default.
Nash was named captain at the beginning of the 2008-09 season and held the distinction until he was sent to New York in the 2012 offseason. He served the Jackets well from an offensive standpoint, remaining healthy during his time as captain and scoring 271 points over the four seasons he had the role. Still though, the back-stabbing nature of his departure makes him a pretty poor leader.
8 Tim Taylor
The Tampa Bay Lightning were a pretty terrible team in the early years of its existence, and they never really started pulling it together until the early 2000s. Once they did have it together, they swiftly won their first Stanley Cup with captain Dave Andreychuk in 2004. He retired immediately after though, and his replacement—Tim Taylor—didn’t work out too well.
The Tool Man served just one season as captain of the Bolts, and that also happened to be the last season of pro hockey Taylor would ever play. He was technically still the captain for a second season, but he had undergone hip surgery that offseason and never played a single game in 2007-08. You have to wonder why the Lightning didn't give the captaincy to someone like Vinnie Lecavalier or Martin St. Louis.
7 Pavel Bure
Pavel Bure was one of the most electrifying players in the league for the duration of his career. If he’d managed just one more goal in 2000-01 and just two more in 1999-00, he would have finished his career with an incredible four 60+ goal seasons. That would match Wayne Gretzky’s total, which is absolutely remarkable, especially given the era in which Bure played.
The Panthers named Bure captain of the team at the start of the 2001-02 season, which was his fourth with the club. This was another case of the team waiting a little too long to honor the player, as Bure was dealt to the Rangers later that very season, and after just 51 more games in New York, Bure had to call it a career due to his ailing knees.
6 Jason Allison
Jason Allison was a true talent on the ice, but he had a bit of a reputation of being lazy and perhaps not caring quite as much as he should have. That’s why it was rather bizarre when the Bruins named Jason Allison captain at the start of the 2000-01 season; sure he was a strong offensive weapon, but was he a committed leader?
Well, the Bruins failed to qualify for the playoffs the year Allison led the team, and after that year he moved onto L.A. The Bruins, meanwhile, played 2001-02 sans-captain and ending up finishing first in the Eastern Conference standings. Perhaps the Bruins should have given the captaincy to a young Joe Thornton.
Allison chose not to sign an NHL contract beyond 2005-06, which is his last season on record.
5 Thomas Vanek
Thomas Vanek was a productive winger for the Buffalo Sabres for many seasons, and he was finally rewarded for his efforts in 2013 when the team named Vanek captain to start off the season. Unfortunately, Vanek didn’t prove to be much of a captain, serving just 13 games in the role before being dealt to NYI in the season’s first blockbuster.
The biggest reason Vanek lands on this list is because of the brevity of his stint in the role. If Vanek was killing it as the Sabres captain back in 2013, surely they wouldn’t have felt it necessary—or even possible—to trade him away midseason. Nonetheless, that’s what happened and Vanek is now on this list. Vanek made it pretty clear that year that he intended on testing free agency, hence the Sabres traded him to the Islanders.
4 Mark Messier
Let’s be clear: Mark Messier is arguably THE best captain of all time. The only reason he finds himself on this list is his brief stint as captain of the Vancouver Canucks (1997-2000), which did NOT go well—just ask basically any Vancouver fan who is old enough to remember the unsuccessful debacle that was Mark Messier’s time on the West Coast.
It started pretty much as soon as he arrived in Van City. Fan favorite Trevor Linden relinquished the captaincy to Messier, which did not bode well with fans. He then demanded he get to wear no.11, despite the fact that it was unofficially retired in honor of former Canuck Wayne Maki, who died unexpectedly in 1974. In addition to all this BS, Mess also began his steady regression at this point. It's actually easy to see why Canucks fans hate him so much.
3 Dion Phaneuf
You look at some players and you just know that they’re captain material. Dion Phaneuf is not one of these players, though. Early in his career he looked like he could have maybe developed into this type of player, but it never panned out for a variety of reasons. He seems like a socially awkward guy for one, and that’s a tough quality for a captain to have.
Phaneuf was named captain of the Leafs during his first offseason in Toronto in 2010. From there, he led the team nowhere fast. The Leafs did make the playoffs in 2013 for the first time since 2004, but that just ended in the infamous epic collapse in Game 7 in round one against the Bruins. Phaneuf was finally chased dealt out of town last season, ending his six-plus year reign as Leafs leader.
2 Roberto Luongo
Roberto Luongo is an absolute gem. His presence on this list in not so much a knock on him as it is the Vancouver Canucks organization, which for some reason decided to name their starting goaltender as captain in 2008. Pretty much everyone in hockey knew this was a dumb idea, but the Canucks held firm and their starting goalie was their captain for two seasons.
As a goalie, of course, Luongo couldn’t leave his crease to discuss issues with referees over at the time box, nor would you want your goalie focusing on such things during a game. Also, goalies play max 70 games a season anyway, so you’re already committing to playing almost 15% of your season without a captain in the lineup. Just an all-around dumb idea.
1 Alexei Yashin
Alexei Yashin had such a terrible contract with the New York Islanders that I was frankly surprised when they named the enigmatic Russian captain at the start of the 2005-06 season. I guess the thought process was, “well, he’s here for the next decade anyway. Might as well throw a letter on him and hope he can develop into a great leader at the age of 33.”
Yashin disappointed in his first season as captain, and things didn’t markedly improve in his second season either. At that point the Russian “leader” gave up on the Islanders and the NHL and defected for his homeland, where he rounded out his professional career. Not exactly what you want from the captain of your hockey club.
In all fairness though, what else would you expect from that era's Islanders?
1. Minnesota Wild System 2000-2008
A surprise entry at number one on our list. I’m sorry, but there was no other team that had as many terrible captains as the Minnesota Wild did from the franchise’s inception up until 2008. Rather than naming a captain for each season, the Wild rotated captains on a monthly basis. The result: The Minnesota Wild, a franchise that’s just 17 years old, has had 21 different captains.
It’s no wonder the franchise achieved next to nothing in its first decade of existence. They finally settled on Mikko Koivu as full-time captain in 2008, and they’ve stuck with him ever since. It’s worked out well, but one has to wonder why it took the club eight years to figure out that their captaincy system was broken.