When it comes to being an NHL captain, you have to embody a handful of elements to be successful. You don't get to don the "C," or A," for nothing. You need to have some form of skills, you need to be classy, you have to be a real leader, you have to motivate your team and you have to find a way to help your team win.
We look at some of the greatest captains in NHL history: Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier, who won four Cups together in Edmonton. Messier helped the Oilers win another without Gretzky in 1990. He helped the New York Rangers end a 54-year Stanley Cup drought. Steve Yzerman helped Detroit end a 42-year Cup drought and won three championships with them. Joe Sakic put Colorado on the hockey map for nearly a decade-and-a-half with his leadership.
Some modern day captains/alternate captains have followed the steps of those leaders, but some get a letter on their jersey for no reason. Here's a look at our five best, worst, and useless captains in the NHL.
15 Best: Joe Pavelski
The San Jose Sharks were a perennial powerhouse in the Western Conference for years, but with Joe Thornton as captain, they were never able to get past the third round. They always found ways to underachieve in the playoffs. Then in 2014-15, they missed the playoffs altogether. It was clear Thornton wasn't cutting it as captain, and he and GM Doug Wilson called each other out after missing the playoffs.
With Thornton stripped as captain, Joe Pavelski earned the C and gave the Sharks their first-ever Western Conference title, as they marched to the Stanley Cup Final in 2016. They would lose to the Penguins in that series, but Pavelski finally got them over the hump. Sometimes, it's just about a change of voice. Pavelski provided that.
14 Worst: Mikko Koivu
Back in the day when Jacques Lemaire was head coach of the Wild, they would actually change up the captaincy multiple times throughout the season. Mikko Koivu has kept the C on the Wild jersey since 2009-10, but it's clear by now he's not doing his job to lead by example anymore.
The Wild have been a mediocre team at best with Koivu. They missed the playoffs in his first three years as captain and they have won just two playoff series' since he was given the letter. Koivu has also played with four different coaches since 2010. If he were a true captain, he'd be playing with no more than two.
It's just blatantly obvious he doesn't have what it takes to help a very talented team turn it up a notch.
13 Useless: Justin Abdelkader
The Detroit Red Wings are in a transition period and no longer have old leaders like Pavel Datsyuk, Nicklas Lidstrom or Chris Osgood like they did for many years. With Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall as the final veterans on the 2008 Stanley Cup-winning squad, the leadership from veterans isn't there as much.
But Justin Abdelkader being an alternate captain is somewhat surprising. This is a guy who, up until the last couple of years, was a bottom-six forward who didn't do much more than kill off penalties. Abdelkader is 29-years-old and hasn't really shown much of an ability to take his Wings anywhere.
This team has one playoff series win since 2012. You figure with the right leaders in place, they'd find a way to have a bit more playoff success. This is a team that blew a 3-1 series lead to Chicago in 2013 and a 3-2 lead to Tampa Bay in 2015.
12 Best: Alexander Ovechkin
The Washington Capitals icon has done almost everything to show he's a true leader of the NHL. A team that was awful for many years suddenly became a powerhouse in the Eastern Conference. Ovechkin took over a struggling squad in 2005-06, and with little talent surrounding him, took them to the playoffs in his third season.
Ovie has taken Washington to the postseason all but three years since breaking into the NHL 11 years ago. Though he hasn't won a Stanley Cup yet, he turned a perennial loser into a consistent winner. The players around him just get better. Just because he hasn't won a Cup, it doesn't mean he's a failed leader. His team staged hot rallies to close out 2007-08 and in 2012-13 to make the playoffs. The guy just knows how to take his team to the next level.
11 Worst: Max Pacioretty
The Canadiens named Max Pacioretty their captain last season, but it's clear that he failed in year one. We'll give him the chance to prove us wrong by not putting him number one. So far, however, we can't say we're impressed with what we've seen.
After November of last season, Pacioretty's Habs were running away with the Atlantic Division. Even though it was only two months into the season. Then Carey Price suffered a sprained MCL and didn't return that season. The Canadiens slumped to the bottom of the NHL standings and missed the playoffs by a mile.
A true leader would not have his team go from first to one of the worst in the absence of one player. Everyone played significantly worse, and P.K. Subban basically ran himself out of town. The Habs showed a lack of leadership in 2015-16, and it all started with Pacioretty.
10 Useless: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins hasn't lived up to the expectations of being the first-overall pick from the 2011 Draft. He's struggled to stay healthy and his Oilers squad have picked first three times since he joined the team. The Oilers' alternate captain hasn't found the experience or skills to be a leader. But for some unknown reason, the Oilers are convinced that he is their guy.
With all due respect to Nugent-Hopkins, the Oilers have been the NHL's worst team since he came over. A first-overall pick is supposed to have a serious impact (hello Crosby, Ovechkin), and not have their team always at the bottom of the standings.
Nugent-Hopkins is only 23-years-old, so perhaps he will prove us wrong down the road. But so far, he hasn't been able to do that. He gets the dishonours of being on our list.
9 Best: John Tavares
John Tavares has done more than enough to secure his legacy with the New York Islanders. Did we mention he's only 26-years-old and his team hasn't even reached its peak yet? A rather scary thought for the NHL.
Tavares came to the NHL's worst team in 2009-10, but has taken the Isles to the playoffs in three of the last four seasons. His memorable Game 6 goal in the opening round against the heavy favorite (Florida Panthers) gave the Islanders their first playoff series win in 23 years. Now that's true leadership. He's made so many players around him better: Anders Lee, Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson, Nick Leddy, Johnny Boychuk, and others. He's one of the youngest captains in the NHL but has fulfilled all of the necessary qualities to be a great one.
8 Worst: Gabriel Landeskog
Gabriel Landeskog made history before the lockout-shortened 2013 season, as the Colorado Avalanche made him the youngest captain ever. Landeskog strapped on the C when he was just 19 years and 286 days old. But the Avalanche surely have to regret that decision, because Landeskog hasn't done his job. And changing the captaincy is easier said than done at this point.
You see, the Avalanche have been mired in mediocrity since Landeskog took over. They were one of the NHL's worst teams in 2013, 2015, and were average at best in 2016. In 2014, it appeared as though everything was coming together when the Avalanche won the Central Division in 2014. Only to be eliminated in Round 1.
This is an Avalanche team that has Nate MacKinnon, Matt Duchene, and Tyson Barrie. There is no excuse to be consistently bad. It's clear Landeskog isn't doing his job enough as captain.
7 Useless: Matt Hunwick
The Maple Leafs don't have a captain, so they made up for it (or so it seems) by having four questionable alternate captains. Out of the most questionable alternate captains, Matt Hunwick is the most questionable. Are you sick of the word "questionable" yet?
Hunwick hasn't been more than an average second pairing defenceman in his NHL career, but was given the honour of wearing the A for the 2015-16 season. The Maple Leafs finished last in the NHL that year, amidst a year of full-scale rebuilding without a whole lot of leadership. If Hunwick's job as alternate captain was to make sure his team tanked, then he did his job. But something tells us the ownership that always wants to win wouldn't let that slide.
6 Best: Sidney Crosby
Sidney Crosby was just 20-years-old when he became captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the decision to ask the young phenom to lead became one of the best in franchise history. Ever since he wore the C, Crosby has become the NHL's most decorated player. His Penguins have two Stanley Cups and they've made the playoffs every year with their star.
Crosby also was captain of Team Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympic team that won the gold medal. Ever since he became captain, Crosby has won a scoring title, a Hart trophy, a Conn Smythe, and of course two Stanley Cups. Sid The Kid is a pure winner and he saved a Penguins franchise that was so close to moving to Las Vegas. Without his incredible efforts, the Penguins would have gone nowhere but to, well, Vegas.
5 Worst: Derek MacKenzie
That's exactly what I thought when I recently looked at the list of every NHL captain. Was I on vacation or something when he became captain? Or was it such under-the-radar news that I never saw the updates on my phone? Derek MacKenzie and not Aaron Ekblad or Jaromir Jagr is the captain of the Florida Panthers. Who'd thought?
Here, we have a 35-year-old who has 42 goals and 95 points in 453 career NHL games. MacKenzie's career year? Nine goals and 23 points with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2010-11. MacKenzie is a career bottom-six forward in the NHL. How in the world is he captain of the Panthers?
We've spent years trying to find out the existence of UFOs, Nessi, and Bigfoot. Perhaps science will never study what made MacKenzie captain.
4 Useless: Jussi Jokinen
No, I do not hate the Panthers. My feelings towards them are no different than that of the folks who live in Florida. That is, no one really seems to care about them. If they're in the playoffs, then they'll be fun to watch. That's about it, though.
Jussi Jokinen isn't much of a leader in the NHL. He bounced around teams for years, going from Dallas to Tampa Bay to Carolina to Pittsburgh to (this is getting exhausting to type) Florida. Though he has scored 50-plus points four times in his career, Jokinen hasn't shown much to be a true leader in the NHL.
Jokinen is generally a second-line or third-line forward. Given all the bouncing around he's done in the NHL, it's clear teams aren't valuing him that much for his leadership.
3 Best: Jonathan Toews
Captain Serious is without a doubt, well, the NHL's best captain. Sounds like a bold statement considering how much I just raved about Crosby, but this was a real easy call.
You see, Jonathan Toews became the captain of the 'Hawks for the 2008-09 season, when he was 20. His first year of Captaincy? Chicago made it to the Western Conference Final. The next year? They won the Stanley Cup. Next two years? Playoff seasons. 2013? Stanley Cup. 2014? Western Conference Final. 2015? Stanley Cup. 2016? Playoffs.
Toews has done a remarkable job guiding his Blackhawks throughout his career. In that 2013 Cup year, he guided his team from trailing Detroit 3-1 in the second round to the Cup. He also has a pair of Olympic gold medals to show his leadership. Toews has a reputation for being serious and all about winning. And that's why Chicago is so successful.
2 Worst: Nick Foligno
Nick Foligno has been the NHL's worst captain since he took over the job in 2015-16. A former All-Star, he was expected to lead his Columbus Blue Jackets into a deep playoff run. But that didn't exactly work out.
His Blue Jackets finished the season so poorly and were so desperate that they ended up bringing on John Tortorella as head coach to finish the season. You know Torts? The guy who almost ruined the careers of Rick Nash and the Sedin twins? The guy who coached Team USA to a winless outing at the World Cup of Hockey?
A lot of the Jackets' struggles had to fall on Foligno. Torts also ran Ryan Johansen out of town, only surrendering the team their franchise player. If Foligno was a good captain, he'd make sure Tortorella didn't return for 2016-17. But he did. So Foligno fails.
1 1.Useless: Boone Jenner
The Blue Jackets' alternate captain donned the A the same year that Foligno became captain. And again, I do not hate the Blue Jackets. But being this bad for a long time falls on everybody, including the players to have to be leaders.
Boone Jenner did breakout last year with 30 goals and 49 points. Sure, he has the scoring ability. But that doesn't make him a leader on the Blue Jackets. Like Foligno, he failed to get them out of misery despite a strong season. He also didn't do his job in helping the Jackets play under Tortorella's system.
And not playing under Torts' rocket science system means you probably shouldn't be playing for him. So why didn't Jenner and Foligno go out and demand a coaching change? Probably because he's a useless alternate captain. Hence why number one on my list.