Top 20 Captains in NHL History

When a team doesn't succeed, sports journalists and analysts sit and discuss why. They look at endless statistics, they analyze player by player, they blame the coaching staff. But among the many reasons some teams don't succeed, a lack of leadership is a resounding one. Teams are diverse. It's a group of men ranging from the ages of 18-40 working together to try and achieve greatness and at finish top of the pack. It is a 82-game season long battle, notwithstanding playoffs.

To be successful and make it to the end, teams need leaders; role models the young people can look up to and the older ones can respect. People who can lead by example and show up, every day, with the sole purpose of being successful as a team. They encompass their teams identity within themselves and through their game. Sometimes, a great captain makes all the difference in the world.

Being a captain isn't about being the most talented player on the team. Although many captains may happen to be their team's best player, what's more important is setting the example every day at the rink and picking up your team when they're down. Who can forget such examples as Mark Messier guaranteeing a Game 6 win when the Rangers were facing elimination

Here are the top 20 players in the history of the NHL that know how to put the team on their back.

20 Dustin Brown, L.A. Kings

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Dustin Brown, in recent years, has shown why he has all characteristics to be considered one of the top leaders the NHL has ever seen. Sure, he isn’t the best with his stick, and he doesn’t put up as many points as you would think, but Brown excels as a power forward and a bruiser, and he’ll do anything to see his team win. The 30-year old American has led the Kings to two Stanley Cup Championships in the past four years, doing everything from fighting, slashing, and is deservedly the one to hoist the cup after all is said and done.

19 Trevor Linden, Vancouver Canucks


Linden was as impressive a leader on the ice as well as off the ice. He was just 21 years old when he was named captain of the Vancouver Canucks in the 1991-92 season, and would go on to captain the team for seven seasons before being traded. He would come back to Vancouver in 2001 and finish off his career with the Canucks.

18 Joe Sakic, Colorado Avalanche


17 Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Commonly referred to as “Captain Serious” by the media and his teammates, Toews has arguably been the best leader on and off the ice since his entry in the NHL in 2007-08. He made such an impression that he was immediately named captain the following season at the age of 20, and won his first Stanley Cup in 2010 with the Blackhawks, earning the Conn Smythe trophy as well as playoff MVP. He would go on and win the cup again in 2013. A pretty impressive resume thus far if you ask me.

16 Scott Stevens, New Jersey Devils


Many do not know that Stevens actually played quite a few years with the Washington Capitals, and also played one season with the St. Louis Blues. But Stevens's sharp turn to legend status began when he joined the Devils in 1991. How he joined the Devils is a little peculiar, arbitrator Edward Houston awarding Stevens to the Devils from the Blues, a team he said he wanted to end his career with. Stevens represented the beginning of the Devils infamous defensive style of play that has been the Devils motto until this day. He hoisted Lord Stanley's cup three times with the Devils in 1995, 2000, and 2003, and his thundering checks quickly became his defining trademark. He finished his career with an incredible 2,785 penalty minutes.

15 Pierre Pilote, Chicago Blackhawks


Pierre Pilote is one of those defencemen that completely changed the game in a Bobby Orr style. He was an offensive catalyst for the Hawks, and was widely believed to have started the move that Bobby Orr perfected. "Pierre changed the game quite a bit. He was even pre-Bobby Orr. With the defence moving in to be part of the offence, he was certainly influential," said Hawks goaltending great Glenn Hall. The Blackhawks won the Cup only once with Pilote on the team, in 1961. He would be named captain the following year.

14 Ted Lindsay, Detroit Red Wings


Terrible Ted is an interesting case. Although he was a great leader in himself, he also was at the forefront of a lot of controversy, ultimately leading to his trade from the Red Wings to the Chicago Blackhawks. He earned the nickname Terrible Ted for his extremely competitive nature and raw toughness, attributes of a great leader, which is what Lindsay was. His constant elbows and knees when hitting were an enormous reason the NHL adopted penalties for kneeing and elbowing. He would win the Cup with the Red Wings three consecutive times, being the first ever player to lift the Cup and skate around the rink with it, starting what has become an endless tradition.

13 Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings


Often referred to as Mr. Perfect or The Perfect Human, Lidstrom played his entire 20-year career with the Detroit Red Wings, leading the team as captain for his last six years with the organization. He won four Stanley Cups with the team, a resounding seven Norris Trophies as the league’s top defenceman, and one Conn Smythe; not a bad resume to retire with.

12 Maurice Richard, Montreal Canadiens


11 George Armstrong, Toronto Maple Leafs


10 Henri Richard, Montreal Canadiens


Brother of the late Maurice Richard, also on this list, I should start this by telling you that Henri Richard won the Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadiens a record 11 times during his career. Almost no one in competitive sports can boast that feat. He overcame a lot of adversity in his younger years that made him into the leader he became. Always playing in his brother's shadow and being dismissed for being too small for hockey, the Pocket Rocket’s statistics are actually slightly more impressive than his brother’s, tallying more points, assists, and game played than Maurice. While the Rocket was known for striking fear into the opposition, Henri was considered a more complete and diverse player, but also a very intelligent player and a relentless forechecker.

9 Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton Oilers


I don’t think I need to speak about what Wayne Gretzky meant to the teams he played for; all of that is already marked in NHL history until the end of time. The Great One was called this for a reason, because he is, without a doubt, the greatest player to ever play the game of hockey. With him as captain, the Oilers won four Stanley Cups in five years. Number 99 holds a resounding 61 NHL records, that he amassed over a great career with the Oilers, the Kings, the Blues, and the Rangers. He was captain or alternate captain for all of these teams, expect for the Rangers.

8 Steve Yzerman, Detroit Red Wings


To better understand the impact Yzerman had in Detroit, you need to understand Detroit when Yzerman was drafted in 1983. This wasn’t the 24 straight Stanley Cup appearances Detroit the NHL has come to know and love. Detroit had only made the playoffs twice in 17 years at that point, and selling tickets was difficult. But when Yzerman was drafted 4th overall in 1983, things started to change for the Red Wings. Yzerman would be named captain just three years later at 21 years old, then youngest captain in franchise history, an honor he would only pass on at the end of his career.

7 Denis Potvin, New York Islanders


Potvin entered the league in 1973-74 and made an immediate impact, winning the Calder Trophy for best rookie in an NHL season. Until he earned captaincy of the Islanders in 1979, Potvin had already won the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenceman three times. He was the one that was to take the Isles into the glory of a Stanley Cup Championship. After losing to the Rangers in six games in 1979, Potvin returned next season as captain for the first time in his career. The rest, as we commonly say, is history. Upon being named captain, Potvin led the Islanders to four straight Stanley Cup Championships. In his eight years as captain, New York never failed to make the playoffs.

6 Ted Kennedy, Toronto Maple Leafs


5 Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh Penguins


4 Bobby Clarke, Philadelphia Flyers


Robert Earle Clarke, commonly known as the infamous Bobby Clarke, played his entire 15-year career with the Philadelphia Flyers, leading the team as captain from 1973-1979, and then again from 1982-1984 before ultimately hanging up his skates. He was named captain at the age of 23, the youngest ever player to lead a team at that point in history. Under his captaincy, the Flyers won two cups back to back in 1974 and 1975. Now you may be asking yourselves, if Clarke was such a good leader, why did he lose his captaincy for three years. Well truth is after their loss to the Rangers in the 1989 playoffs, Clarke was actually named assistant coach while still a player, and under NHL rules he had to give up his captaincy in order to do so.

3 Ray Bourque, Boston Bruins


Bourque may arguably be the best defenceman the NHL has ever seen. Of course, there are so many that can be considered for the honour, but Bourque has the numbers and the career to be at the top of that list. He holds the record for most career goals, assists, and points by a defenceman in the NHL. In his time with the Bruins, he got sole possession of the captain’s honour in 1988 after having shared for three years, and became the longest standing captain in Bruins franchise history. Bourque was a great offensive defenceman and also had an incredibly accurate shot. Bourque was a great leader for the Bruins, helping them maintain a record 26 consecutive appearances in the postseason.

2 Jean Beliveau, Montreal Canadiens

AP Photo

1 Mark Messier, Edmonton Oilers – New York Rangers


What made Messier such a threat on the ice is that he played the game a la Gordie Howe, meaning he could pretty much do anything; skate, hit, pass, score in big moments, fight, and play such a competitive game that it was too difficult to handle for opposing teams. Messier was simply explosive, and had the hockey intelligence to make plays that perhaps only Gretzky and Lemieux could have pulled off. There’s no denying that Messier was a special player, and playing on an unstoppable Oilers team for so many years helped cement him as one of the best leaders in NHL history. He won an astounding five Cups with the Oilers, and one with the Rangers in 1994. He’s the only man to ever captain two NHL teams to Stanley Cup Championships, and is widely considered one of the best leaders the NHL has ever seen.

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Top 20 Captains in NHL History