There isn't anything in sports quite like the captaincy in hockey. One player, wearing one letter, the C, represents everything that his team and organization stand for. Only thirty players in the NHL get to don the C every season, and it's held in high honor among those who play the game.
The captain is looked to as the leader of the team. They are the face of the team and usually a fan favorite. Some captains have flourished while wearing the C. They view it as a privilege, not a right. Some captains like Wayne Gretzky, led by their play on the ice. Others, like Mark Messier, called their shot in the playoffs. The best captains do both. They are vocal in the locker room and with the media and they back it up with their play on the ice.
However, sometimes they don't fulfill their expectations. Whether it be because of poor leadership or simply poor play, some captains have floundered while wearing the C. Some of them never stood a chance, due to the lack of skill on their roster, but others just could not live up to the bright lights shone on them as a captain.
During the past five years there have been many captains that fell into the categories above, as well as average captains. Let's take a look at the eight best and seven worst captains of the last five years.
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15 Best - Mikko Koivu
There has only been one captain of the Minnesota Wild since they ended their rotating captaincy in the 2008-09 season. Mikko Koivu has become the face of the Wild.
Koivu was one of the very first top-round selections of the Wild, being drafted sixth overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. After playing three seasons with HC TPS in Finland, Koivu came over to North America and spent just one year in the AHL before joining the Wild. He quickly made a name for himself.
Koivu was first named a rotating captain for the month of February in 2008, and then was the captain for the majority of the 2008-09 season as he held the rotating captaincy for six of the eight months of the season. Since then, when you think of the Wild you think of Mikko.
The Finnish forward is the Wild's franchise leader in games played, points, and power play points. He has been the only permanent captain in Minnesota Wild history, and he deserves a spot in our countdown.
14 Worst - Andrew Ference
When you only score 32 points in 141 games during your two-year span as captain, you're not going to be held in high regard. That's exactly what Andrew Ference did when he was the captain of the Edmonton Oilers from 2013-2015.
While Ference was a great ambassador of the game for his hometown team, his play on the ice left much to be desired. Ference took over the captaincy from Shawn Horcoff, who you might be seeing later in this countdown, during one of the many years of Edmonton's tank.
He may have been a great person off the ice, but he wasn't able to succeed on the ice. He relinquished the role of captaincy after just two seasons, and was named an alternate along with three younger players.
Ference wasn't put in a great position to succeed, but he didn't help himself with his play on the ice either and that's why he has a spot in this countdown.
13 Best - Shane Doan
The Phoenix Coyotes, now the Arizona Coyotes, have known just one captain for the past nineteen years. Since moving to Phoenix, the Coyotes have had three captains: Keith Tkachuk, Teppo Numminen, and Shane Doan.
Much like Mikko Koivu at number eight in our countdown, Doan has been a model of consistency for the Coyotes. Doan has been with the Coyotes franchise for his entire career. He was drafted by the Winnipeg Jets with the seventh pick in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft and has stayed with the team through it's move to Phoenix and through countless relocation rumors.
Doan holds several franchise records for the Arizona Coyotes/Winnipeg Jets. He is the all-time franchise leader in games played, points, goals, game-winning goals, power play goals, and shots on goal.
His play on the ice has declined, but Doan has been a model player both on and off the ice. He has stuck with his franchise through thick and thin, and will continue to do so until his retirement.
12 Worst - Willie Mitchell
From one captain on a tanking team to another. Willie Mitchell was the Florida Panthers captain for just two seasons, 2014-15 and 2015-16. The veteran defenseman recorded just 15 points in 112 games for the Panthers. While he was a well established NHL veteran on an up and coming Panthers team, Florida probably should have just named one of their young players to be the captain.
Mitchell was a model player off the ice, but was probably one of the least skilled players on the ice. His leadership gave him a great presence in the locker room, before eventually retiring due to a concussion.
The Panthers made the playoffs in his final season with him on the sidelines, but it's hard to get over the paltry 15 points he scored during his career in Florida.
11 Best - Henrik Zetterberg
Steve Yzerman. Nicklas Lidstrom. Henrik Zetterberg. These three men have been the only captains of the Detroit Red Wings since 1986. Yzerman wore the C from 1986-2006 before passing it on to Lidstrom for 2006-2012 and finally Zetterberg took over the prestigious role in 2013.
The Swedish bearded beauty has held the Detroit Red Wings' captaincy with honor while leading a mostly rebuilding team to the playoffs in the past two seasons. He is not posting point totals in the 70s or 80s, but the 36-year old center played at over a point-per-game pace in 2013 and 2013-14 and reached the 50-point plateau last season.
While the Red Wings' playoff streak is in jeopardy this season, Zetterberg has been one hell of a captain over the past few seasons. He is once again giving it his all this season as he attempts to lead Detroit to the playoffs yet again.
10 Worst - Shawn Horcoff
Shawn Horcoff's tenure as the captain of the Edmonton Oilers seems so long ago with Connor McDavid now running the show, but the veteran center's captaincy ended less than four years ago. Horcoff was the captain of the Oilers from 2010 to 2013, when he was traded to the Stars following the lockout-shortened season.
Horcoff's prime was spent with the Oilers in the late 200s, but in his three years as captain he didn't live up to his potential. He had just 94 points in 159 games during his three years as captain, including just 34 points in 81 games during the 2011-12 season.
Horcoff was basically the captain by default, because he was the only veteran player with any skill. He didn't live up to his billing, and that's why he made this list.
9 Best - David Backes
Much like the names before him on this list, David Backes epitomized what it meant to be a St. Louis Blue. He was a big-bodied, two-way center that could score a goal just as easily as he would drop the mitts. He led both on and off the ice during his five years as captain in St. Louis.
While the Blues had trouble getting past the first round during his captaincy, he led the team to a Central Divison title twice, while finishing second in the division the other three years.
Backes was a big part of those teams too. He was a Frank J. Selke Trophy Finalist as one of the best two-way forwards in the game in 2012, and consistently put up at least 45 or more points in each full season.
He eventually left via free agency, but Backes was a Blue through and through.
8 Worst - Bryce Salvador
Bryce Salvador had a good career, but was named captain of the New Jersey Devils simply due to his tenure and veteran status. The Devils were also desperate, seeing as how their former captain, Zach Parise had signed with the Minnesota Wild the summer before in free agency. Salvador's best days were behind him when he was named captain in 2013.
Salvador scored just one goal and five assists for a total of six points in 55 games as captain from 2013 to 2015. The Devils failed to make the playoffs during Salvador's time as captain, as he was a shell of his former self.
Salvador may have made a good captain earlier in his career, but he couldn't handle the pressure of the C as an aging defenseman nearing retirement.
7 Best - Alexander Ovechkin
Moving from tenured captains to skilled stars, Alexander Ovechkin is one of the greatest scorers to ever play the game and definitely deserves a spot in our countdown for that reason alone.
Ovechkin has been the captain of the Washington Capitals since the 2009-10 season, and has held it since then to become the longest tenured captain in team history. He hasn't been able to lead his team past the second round, which knocks him down a few pegs, but his individual effort and skill is unquestioned.
Ovechkin holds many records from NHL scoring, to rookie scoring, to Russian records, and everything in between. He has the most career points, goals, hat tricks, overtime goals, and power play goals in Capitals history.
Simply put, when you think of the Washington Capitals, you think of Alexander Ovechkin
6 Worst - Andy Greene
From one failed New Jersey Devils captain to another; and they're both defensemen! Andy Greene is the current captain of the Devils and has held that role since taking over for Bryce Salvador in 2015.
The Devils are still quite bad under Greene, as is the defenseman himself. The Devils finished with 84 points, good for seventh in the Metropolitan Division as they failed to make the playoffs for the fourth straight season last year. It looks like they are on their way to a fifth straight season without a playoff berth as well.
Greene's stats are better than Salvador's, but he's also played a lot more. He had 13 points in 82 games last season and has 11 in 48 this season. The Devils are a mess right now, and the average hockey fan probably couldn't even name their captain.
5 Best - Dustin Brown
It's not often that a player can get stripped of the C and still be mentioned among the best, but winning multiple Stanley Cups will do that. Dustin Brown was the captain of not one, but two Los Angeles Kings teams that won the Stanley Cup; first in 2012 then in 2014.
While Ovechkin is a great individual talent, but lacks the winning, Brown is the complete opposite of that. He is of those players that you love to hate, but he got the job done for his Kings team.
Brown was recently relieved as his duties of captain, turning it over to Anze Kopitar, but everyone will remember Dustin Brown as the captain of the two Stanley Cup winning teams in the early 2010s.
4 Worst - Derek MacKenzie
From one current captain being among the worst to another. Derek MacKenzie may be one of the least skilled captains in recent memory, not just active in the league today. MacKenzie has 109 career points in 511 games, with just 14 points in 58 games this season for the Florida Panthers.
The Panthers are mostly a rebuilding bunch, in the last few years of a transition, and MacKenzie was named the captain this offseason as one of the few veteran presences on the team.
MacKenzie has never scored more than nine goals in a season, never had more than 14 assists in a season and never had more than 23 points in a season. What he does in the locker room might be a different story, but his on-ice performance makes him one of the worst captains out there. Heck, Jaromir Jagr would have been a better choice of captain.
3 Best - Jonathan Toews
Okay, now we're getting to the good stuff. Jonathan Toews isn't the flashiest player, but he's one of the best captains in hockey today. Toews has been a model of consistency for the Chicago Blackhawks since being named captain in 2008.
Toews has it all: the tenure, the skill, and the championships. He has led the Chicago Blackhawks to the playoffs in every season as captain, including three Stanley Cup wins.
Toews was in just his second professional season when he was named captain, but "captain serious" meant business. He has consistently put up at least 60 points in each full season, while leading off the ice and helping the Blackhawks to playoff success.
Jonathan Toews will be remembered as one of the best captains in Chicago Blackhawks history, if not the best.
2 Worst - Steve Ott
There are players that you hate, but you'd love to have on your team. Steve Ott is not one of them. Steve Ott is a player that you hate when you play against him, but some of his team's own fans hate him for 82 games a season.
Ott was an odd choice to be given the C in 2013, as a co-captain with Thomas Vanek (who was traded later that month). He was the captain for just one season in Buffalo, before moving on to the St. Louis Blues.
The Sabres had 48 points in 48 games in the lockout-shortened season before Ott was named captain, and in the following season they had an abysmal 52 points in 82 games as they started the tank process.
Not only were the Sabres terrible when Ott was captain, but Ott is a dirty player as well. His teammates may love him sometimes, but most of the time his play on the ice leaves many shaking their heads.
Ott is not only a bad hockey player, but a horrible captain.
1 Best - Sidney Crosby
Finally, here he is. If you combine the skill of Ovechkin, the leadership of Toews, you have Sidney Crosby. The best player in the game is also the best captain in the game.
In 2007, Sidney Crosby took over as captain from Mario Lemieux and he never looked back. He is the youngest NHL captain to win a Stanley Cup at 21 years, 10 months and 5 days, and that was just the first one. He then came back seven years later in 2016 to win another.
Crosby is the best player in the game right now, and one of the best in history. He does it both on and off the ice and if he stays healthy we could see a few more rings on Sid the Kid's fingers.
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