The NHL is a game rooted in history, maybe more so than any other major North American sport. When you search through the annals of hockey history and lore you hear stories of the greatest leaders. You hear about Mark Messier’s guarantee, Joe Sakic’s amazing playoff numbers or the quiet dignity of Jean Beliveau.
However, for every truly special and game transcending captain in NHL history, there are several failures to the ‘C.’ Players that had no right to call themselves the leaders of their teams and made their organizations look bad.
To know what a truly bad captain is, we first must know what makes a great one.
Surely performance on the ice is a key factor. A player does not need to be the most important player offensively or defensively, but he must accept his role and perform it to the best of his abilities. A fire must be seen when on the ice that radiates to his teammates.
Truly great captains also need to be able to give their teammates a calming presence in the locker room. He needs to command the respect of his teammates and opponents as an ambassador to the game.
And to be one of the truly memorable captains, a player must be more than just a hockey player. The best of all-time were pillars in the community. They take their rare free time and use it to give back to their city.
Taking all of those things into consideration, we found the worst captains in NHL history. These are the captains were temperamental, or who completely flopped on the ice, or those players who were just in the right place at the right time.
Without any further ado, here are the worst captains in the NHL.
15. Andrew Ference – 2013-15 Oilers
Andrew Ference managed to wrangle the ‘C’ in Edmonton thanks in large part to the team’s continued failures at drafting.
The Oilers had drafted several potential captains with their abundance of first overall picks, but all of those players have not been capable of carrying the mantle of captain for various reasons.
Ference was given the position immediately once he signed with the Oilers, despite never even being in the locker room. The Oilers faith was rewarded with six goals and 32 points over two seasons in Oil Town.
Though Ference was a calming force for the young team and he did much for the community, the choice of homegrown talent would have been superior, rather than this stop gap option.
14. Kenny Jonsson – 1999-2001 Islanders
When Kenny Jonsson was given the mantle of leading the New York Islanders, it came after his best season in the NHL. Jonsson had gotten some minor consideration for the Norris Trophy and made the All-Star team in 97-98.
However, despite being an underrated defenseman in his own right, Jonnson was not the type of player to lead the team. He was quiet and consistent and was not the voice a struggling team like the Islanders needed during this time.
Eventually Jonsson would step down and relinquish the position to Michael Peca.
13. Milan Hejduk – 2011-12 Avalanche
Milan Hejduk was nothing more than a bridge captain for the Avalanche. In 2011-12, Adam Foote had just retired and the Avs had little choice but to turn to Milan Hejduk.
Hejduk spent his entire NHL career with the Avs, so he was realistically the lone choice, but had always had injury issues.
The year Hejduk got the ‘C’ he amassed the lowest points in his career over a full season with just 37 points.
Hejduk was so bad at being the team captain that the next seasons the Avs made Gabriel Landeskog the youngest captain in NHL history.
12. Alex Ovechkin – 2010-15 Capitals
There is no doubting that Alex Ovechkin is one of the best scorers in the hockey world, but that is far from the book on the Russian.
Ovechkin has been pointed to as a one-dimensional player, something that was supposed to change with Barry Trotz at the helm of the Caps. Ovie is also fairly selfish with the puck and has only once had more assists than goals during his tenure as captain.
During his time as captain, Ovie has never led the Caps deep into the playoffs and doesn’t seem like the kind of leader who will.
11. Floyd Smith – 1970-71 Sabres
Floyd Smith was basically given the captaincy for the Sabres in 70-71 because of his experience in the NHL. Smith was 35 years old and had 12 seasons of experience when he was drafted to the Sabres in the expansion draft.
This was coming off of Smith’s worst season in the NHL, where he posted just 18 points in 61 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The lone year Smith was captain saw him post his lowest career numbers across the board before he only played six games the following year.
Smith would go on to be a fairly successful front office guy for the Sabres and Maple Leafs.
10. Lyle Odelein – 2000-02 Blue Jackets
A common concept for expansion teams is to just plug in the oldest player on their roster as their captain, which is what happened with Lyle Odelein and the Blue Jackets.
The defenseman was usually of the defensive-type, except when he was under the tutelage of Jacques Demers in Montreal. However, by the time he was the Jackets inaugural captain, Odelein was 32 and well removed from his peak playing days.
In his two seasons as the Blue Jackets captain, Odelein was an astounding -44 with 207 penalty minutes.
9. Bryce Salvador – 2012-15 Devils
Once again, a long tenure and mediocre play got another defenseman the ‘C’ on his sweater. By the time that Salvador got the captaincy in New Jersey, he had spent seven seasons in St. Louis and another four with the Devils.
Salvador was a pretty inconsistent competitor in the NHL and had almost never competed in an entire season without missing time with injury. The Devils were an organization that was at a bit of a loss and had never recovered from several poor contracts to over-the-hill players, which left Salvador the default choice.
Since becoming the Devils’ captain, Salvador has one goal, a -19 rating and 71 penalty minutes.
8. Don Lever – 77/79 Canucks
Don Lever was the third overall selection in the 1972 NHL Draft and was more or less awarded his captaincy for staying with the team for a long time.
Before getting the ‘C’ in the 1976-77 season, Lever amassed a -58 plus/minus and had as many penalty minutes as points (219). These numbers were amassed while many looked at Lever as a penalty kill and power play specialist.
During Lever’s two years as the Canucks captain, he managed to score the fewest points since his rookie season and never came close to sniffing a positive plus/minus rating.
Lever would go on to lead the Hamilton Bulldogs to a Calder trophy as a coach.
7. Gord Dineen – 1993-94 Senators
The Ottawa Senators were a young team and they needed a captain with some experience in the NHL. So the Sens gave Gord Dineen, a 10 year veteran, the responsibility of leading the team.
Dineen promptly rewarded the Sens with, arguably, the worst statistical season by any captain in NHL history. Dineen would play in 77 games with no goals and a -52 plus/minus rating.
The Senators realized what they had done and got rid of the d-man who went and played nine games with the Islanders before ending his career.
Dineen would bounce around the AHL as a coach, most notably with the Toronto Marlies.
6. Tom Fitzgerald – 1998-2002 Predators
Tom Fitzgerald was really the best choice to captain the expansion Nashville Predators to begin their franchise, as Fitzgerald was a 10-year NHL veteran.
However , at the same time, in his 10 seasons before becoming the first captain in Preds history, he was pretty ineffective and had only twice managed to have a positive plus/minus.
Fitzgerald was thrust into the captaincy and a top line spot that he was not prepared for, and continued his inefficient production with a -45 plus/minus.
5. Brad Marsh – 80/81 Flames
In hindsight, when Brad Marsh was selected as the captain for the newly moved Calgary Flames in 1980-81, it was not a poor choice. Marsh had received for the Calder trophy two seasons prior and was one of the better young defensemen in the game.
However, at only 22, Marsh was not prepared to carry a team that was moving to a new hockey mad city. Smith played the entire season for the Flames in his one season but the team was inconsistent.
Marsh would be traded in 1982 to the Philadelphia Flyers for the much more successful Mel Bridgman.
4. Dion Phaneuf – 2010-15 Leafs
When Dion Phaneuf was traded to the Maple Leafs in 2009, the team found themselves in a place they had not been in for years. That was the second season in a row the team where the team was without a full-time captain after Mats Sundin carried the mantle for 10 seasons.
So the Leafs were desperate for a new captain and Phaneuf was awarded the position, despite him not being the potential game changing defenseman he once was.
Toronto has been mired in mediocrity since Phaneuf took over the position and he has a less than stellar -24 rating in his five seasons since getting the ‘C.’
3. Larry Cahan – 1969-71 Kings
Somehow, the Kings thought they found an upgrade over their first captain Bob Wall, but managed to only find worse with Larry Cahan.
The stay-at-home defenseman could barely stay in the NHL and spent a good chunj of his career before his time with the Kings in the WHL. In fact, his three years with the Kings were only the second time in his career he stayed in the NHL for three or more seasons.
Cahan did not upgrade the lowly Kings defense as he managed to tally just 19 points and a -54 rating as team captain.
2. Dave Christian – 1981-82 Jets
Dave Christian was rushed along into the captaincy for the Jets way too young, as he was 22 when given the ‘C’ for the first time.
Before becoming the captain of the Jets, Christian only played one full season with the club and managed a ridiculous -54 plus/minus. And that is all despite scoring 71 points in the 80-81 season.
The 81-82 season was not too bad for Christian with 76 points, but he once again managed to have an abysmal plus/minus of -41. During his second and final season as captain of the Jets, Christian ended up only playing 55 games and saw his lowest point total in the first 10 years of his career.
1. Shayne Corson – 1994-95 Oilers
Shayne Corson has the shortest tenure as team captain on this list, lasting just 34 games in the lockout-shortened season in 94/95.
Corson had already had a bad reputation from his time with the Montreal Canadiens, being suspended on several occasions for his dirty play. Corson also got into a highly publicized bar fight at the Zoo Bar nightclub in Montreal as well.
Though, once Corson went to Edmonton, he managed to not have any official and massive blowouts, there was constantly stories circulating of him behind the scenes.
Corson was stripped of the captaincy after netting 36 points and a -17 rating in the short season.
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