Hockey is certainly one of Canada’s proud accomplishments. There are currently seven Canadian teams playing in the National Hockey League: The Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators, Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks. We also can’t forget the Quebec Nordiques who had a memorable run in the NHL from 1975 to 1995 before relocating to Colorado and being renamed the Avalanche.
Out of 30 NHL teams, only seven of them are Canadian, so it’s fair to say that there is a big disadvantage when it comes to earning a playoff spot and especially to making the finals. In fact, the last time a Canadian team won the Stanley Cup was in 1993, when the Montreal Canadiens defeated the Los Angeles Kings. And the last time a Canadian team made it to the Finals was in 2011 when the Vancouver Canucks lost to the Boston Bruins. What’s even more interesting is that the last time two Canadian teams faced each other in the Finals was in 1989 when Calgary defeated Montreal.
Every team has had their share of great captains, as well as those who just weren’t cut out for the job. This list will detail the best and worst captain for each Canadian team in NHL history.
16 Calgary Flames Best: Jarome Iginla
Jarome Iginla spent the first sixteen years of his NHL career with the Calgary Flames from 1996 to 2013. During that time, he produced 1,095 points (with 365 of them recorded on the power play), along with a +46 plus/minus rating in 1,219 regular season games. In fact, he holds the franchise record for the most goals (525) and points (1,095). As for the playoffs, he appeared in 52 games and earned 47 points. He also wasn’t afraid to throw his body around and drop his gloves to defend his teammates.
During his time in Calgary, he was awarded many trophies – two Maurice Richard Trophies, one Art Ross Trophy, one Ted Lindsay Award, one King Clancy Memorial Trophy, one NHL Foundation Player Award, and one Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award.
He served as their team captain for nine seasons from 2003 to 2013. In those nine seasons, the Flames made the playoffs five consecutive seasons and clinched one Division title. They also made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2003-04, where they lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
15 Calgary Flames Worst: Steve Smith
Steve Smith spent the last three years of his NHL career with the Calgary Flames from 1998 to 2001. During that time, he played just 102 regular season games and tallied 21 points, along with a -12 plus/minus rating. He didn’t appear in any playoff games with them.
He also served as their team captain for the 1999-00 season, as well as the beginning of the 2000-01 season before retiring in December 2000 due to injury. In the full season that he captained, the Flames didn’t make the playoffs and were the second worst team in their conference. The second season in which he captained for three months, the Flames also missed the playoffs. It’s hard to believe that a player such as Smith who was plagued with so many injuries and who didn’t do much on the score sheet would be assigned to wear the “C.” I’m sure the Flames could have chosen a much better suitor to lead the team.
14 Edmonton Oilers Best: Wayne Gretzky
Wayne Gretzky spent the first nine seasons of his NHL career with the Edmonton Oilers from 1979 to 1988. During that time, he racked up an unbelievable 1,669 points and a +551 plus/minus rating in 696 regular season games. He also played in 120 playoff games and produced 252 points. It’s no surprise that he holds the franchise record in goals, assists and points. As a matter of fact, he holds the all-time record in goals, assists and points in the entire history of the NHL.
He served five years as Edmonton’s captain from 1983 to 1988 and during that time the Oilers won four Stanley Cups (1984, 1985, 1987 and 1988).
Just during his time with the Oilers (he also played for the Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues and New York Rangers), he was awarded eight Hart Memorial Trophies, seven Art Ross Trophies, five Ted Lindsay Awards, two Conn Smythe Trophies, and one Lady Byng Memorial Trophy. It’s no wonder they call him the “Great One”.
13 Edmonton Oilers Worst: Shayne Corson
Shayne Corson spent three seasons with the Edmonton Oilers from 1992 to 1995. During that time, he played 192 regular season games and recorded 137 points, along with a -44 plus/minus rating (second worst rating on the team). The Oilers didn’t make the playoffs in each of the three years he spent with them; therefore he has no playoff points.
The Oilers named Corson their team captain for the 1994-95 season. He was an odd choice for captain considering his past troubles and reputation in the NHL, like being suspended and getting into bar fights. According to several reports, he had a bad attitude during his time in Edmonton and even got into an altercation with a teammate over credit for an assist. He ended up getting the “C” stripped away from him and the Oilers failed to make the playoffs with the second worst record in their conference.
12 Montreal Canadiens Best: Jean Beliveau
Jean Beliveau spent his entire twenty-year NHL career with the Montreal Canadiens between the 1950-51 and 1970-71 seasons. The last ten of those seasons (1961-1971) were spent as the team’s captain. During his time with them, he helped them win an incredible ten Stanley Cups (1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969 and 1971); with the last five of them being won while he wore the “C.”
He put up fantastic numbers during his career, averaging over a point a game in both the regular season and the playoffs. He racked up 1,219 points in 1,125 regular season games, followed by 176 points in 162 playoff appearances. In fact, his 176 playoff points ranks him first overall in franchise history, while his regular season points total ranks him second overall.
Also during his career, he was awarded two Hart Memorial Trophies, one Art Ross Trophy, and one Conn Smythe Trophy. He was also given the NHL Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009.
11 Montreal Canadiens Worst: Max Pacioretty
Max Pacioretty has spent his entire nine-year NHL career thus far with the Montreal Canadiens from 2008 to the present day. He’s been serving as their team captain since 2015 to the current day.
He’s impressive on the score sheet with 411 points and a +52 plus/minus rating in 562 regular season games. In fact, he has led the team in points during the last six consecutive seasons. His playoff totals, on the other hand, are less than impressive. He has just 19 points in 38 playoff games since he joined the team. And since he’s been their captain, his playoff total is 1 assist in 6 games. In the two seasons that he’s been captain, the Habs only made the playoffs once (2016-17) and were eliminated in the first round. The first season of his captaincy (2015-16), the Canadiens didn’t even make the playoffs, which was hard to believe considering they began the season with a 9-0-1 record in their first ten games.
Pacioretty still has two years remaining on his contract, so we’ll see if he keeps the “C” until then.
10 Ottawa Senators Best: Daniel Alfredsson
Daniel Alfredsson spent the first seventeen years of his NHL career with the Ottawa Senators from 1995 to 2013. During that time, he produced a very impressive 1,108 points, along with a +153 plus/minus rating in 1,178 regular season games. He then appeared in 121 playoff games and racked up 100 points. As a matter of fact, he’s the all-time franchise leader in goals, assists and points in both the regular season and playoffs. Also during his time with the Senators, he was awarded the Calder Memorial Trophy, King Clancy Memorial Trophy, and the Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award.
He also served as their team captain for thirteen seasons from 1999 to 2013. Out of those thirteen seasons, the Senators only failed to make the playoffs twice. In fact, they clinched one Division title, one Eastern Conference title, and one President’s Trophy as the top team in the league. They even made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2007, but lost to the Anaheim Ducks.
On December 29, 2016, the Ottawa Senators honored their great captain by retiring his number 11 jersey.
9 Ottawa Senators Worst: Jason Spezza
Jason Spezza spent eleven seasons with the Ottawa Senators from 2002 to 2014 and racked up a very impressive 687 points, along with a +54 plus/minus rating in 686 regular season games. He also appeared in 56 playoff games and earned 52 points.
After Daniel Alfredsson went to play for the Detroit Red Wings, the Ottawa Senators needed a new captain so they chose Jason Spezza to fill that important role, but unfortunately he didn’t do as well as expected. In the season that Spezza captained (2013-14), he did well on the score sheet with 66 points in 75 games. However, his -26 plus/minus rating was ranked as the worst on the entire team.
Also that season, the Senators had the second lowest amount of goals scored compared to all 30 NHL teams and had the seventh highest amount of goals scored against them. They were the third worst team in the Eastern Conference and failed to make the playoffs. After that disappointing season, Spezza was traded to the Dallas Stars.
8 Quebec Nordiques Best: Joe Sakic
Joe Sakic spent his entire twenty-year NHL career with the Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche from 1988 to 2009. During that time, he racked up an incredible 1,641 points in 1,378 regular season games. He also appeared in 172 playoff games and produced 188 points.
He served as co-captain of the Nordiques with Steven Finn during the 1990-91 season and then was their sole captain for sixteen seasons (1992 to 1995 for the Nordiques, then 1995 to 2009 for the Avalanche). In all seventeen seasons that he captained, his team only missed the playoffs four times (twice with Quebec and twice with Colorado). He also won two Stanley Cups as captain of the Avalanche.
During his time with Quebec, he had three seasons were he produced over 100 points. He was definitely a great leader for the Nordiques (and also the Avalanche after the team relocated there).
7 Quebec Nordiques Worst: Mike Hough
Mike Hough spent seven seasons with the Quebec Nordiques from 1986 to 1993. During that time, he recorded 165 points, 461 penalty minutes and a -66 rating in 363 regular season games. He also appeared in 15 playoff games and tallied 4 assists.
He served as their team captain for the 1991-92 season. He was certainly an odd choice for captain that year, especially with so many better players on the team such as Sundin, Nolan, or even Sakic. Hough registered 38 points in 61 games that year and racked up even more penalty minutes than games played with 77 PIM. The Nordiques failed to make the playoffs that year. As a matter of fact, they had the second worst overall record in the entire NHL.
6 Toronto Maple Leafs Best: George Armstrong
George Armstrong spent his entire 21-year NHL career with the Toronto Maple Leafs between the 1949-50 and 1970-71 seasons. He served as their team captain from 1957 until 1969 and led the team to four Stanley Cup victories, including three consecutive ones – 1962, 1963, 1964 and 1967 which coincidentally was the last time the Leafs held the Cup.
Throughout his long career, he produced 713 points in 1,187 regular season games. He also played 110 playoff games and earned 60 points. In fact, he holds the Leafs franchise record for playing the most regular season and playoff games.
He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1975. The Maple Leafs then retired Armstrong’s number 10 jersey on October 15, 2016, as well as Syl Apps' #10 jersey.
5 Toronto Maple Leafs Worst: Dion Phaneuf
Dion Phaneuf played a total of 423 regular season games with the Toronto Maple Leafs between the 2009-10 and 2015-16 seasons, recording 196 points, along with a disappointing -31 plus/minus rating. He also racked up a hefty 598 penalty minutes which included 22 majors. He did, however, lead all Leafs players during those seven seasons in hits (1,113) and blocked shots (723).
Although he put up decent numbers as a physical defenseman, he was less than impressive as their team captain. He wore the “C” for six seasons from 2010 until he was traded in February 2016 to the Ottawa Senators. During that time, the Leafs only made the playoffs one time in 2012-13 and were eliminated in the first round.
Considering that after Mats Sundin retired and the Leafs spent two seasons without a captain, they could have chosen a more suitable player than Phaneuf to lead the team.
4 Vancouver Canucks Best: Trevor Linden
Trevor Linden had two separate stints with the Vancouver Canucks. He spent the first ten years of his NHL career with them from 1988 to 1998, and then again from 2001 to 2008. During that time, he produced 733 points (231 of those were recorded while on the power play) in 1,140 regular season games. He also appeared in 118 playoff games and earned 95 points.
He captained the team from 1990 to 1997, although the first season (1990-91), he was part of a rotating captaincy so it wasn’t full time. He was, however, their full time captain for the remaining six seasons. The Canucks made the playoffs every year that he captained except for the last season (in 1996-97) and they won two Division titles. They also made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1993-94 but ended up losing to the New York Rangers.
The Canucks retired Linden’s number 16 jersey on December 17, 2008.
3 Vancouver Canucks Worst: Mark Messier
There’s no doubt that Mark Messier is one of the greatest players to have ever put on a pair of skates. However, he was not cut out to be the captain of the Vancouver Canucks.
He spent three seasons with Vancouver from 1997 to 2000 and served as their team captain in all three of those seasons. During that time, he recorded 162 points in 207 regular season games. He also had a disappointing -37 plus/minus rating which was the second worst on the entire team.
The Canucks failed to make the playoffs in each of Messier’s three seasons as captain. In fact, in two of those three seasons, they had the worst overall record in the Western Conference, and in one of those seasons, they had the most goals scored against them in the entire league.
2 Winnipeg Jets Best: Dale Hawerchuk
Dale Hawerchuk spent nine seasons with the Winnipeg Jets from 1981 to 1990. During that time, he averaged well over a point a game with 929 points in 713 regular season games. He also appeared in 38 playoff games and racked up 49 points.
Out of his nine seasons with the Jets, he produced at least 100 points in six of those seasons including his rookie year which resulted with him being awarded the Calder Memorial Trophy. He’s also the all-time franchise leader in goals (379) and points (929).
He served as their only team captain for five seasons from 1984 to 1989 and then he tri-captained the team in 1989-90 with Thomas Steen and Randy Carlyle. In the six seasons he captained, the Jets only missed the playoffs once.
Hawerchuk was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2001.
1 Winnipeg Jets Worst: Troy Murray
Troy Murray spent less than two seasons with the Winnipeg Jets between 1991-92 and 1992-93. During that time, he tallied 54 points in 103 regular season games. He had the second worst overall plus/minus rating on the team with a -28, and he spent way too much time in the penalty box with the exact same number of penalty minutes as games played with 103 PIM. He also appeared in 7 playoff games, but failed to earn any points and had the worst rating on the team with a -10.
And although there were obviously much better choices to serve as captain of the team, the Jets gave Murray the “C” for both seasons he spent with them from 1991 to 1993. The Jets did make the playoffs both of those seasons, but were eliminated in the first round. As a matter of fact, Murray didn’t even finish his second season with them since he was traded in February 1993 to the Chicago Blackhawks.