There isn't a sport where the player who wears the "C" is more important than in hockey. The captain is not always the best player, but the player who embodies the culture of the sport. The captain is relevant "in the room," on the ice, and to the fans. For many players, the "C" has been a burden and weight, and yet others have carried the badge of honor and become legends.
"In the room," captains like Chris Pronger have kicked over trashcans, broken sticks, and called out teammates. They can be vocal, controversial, and demand respect by setting the tone before a game. Other captains, like Steve Yzerman, were stoic and used a glance or carried themselves in a way where their bodies send the message. Either way can work, but they must be able to prepare their teammates, gain and hold their respect, and lead on the ice too.
When the puck drops, captains have to relay messages to their team, their opponent, the coach, and the officials. They are counted on by fans to take charge of the team, the game, and represent the fans and the city. It's often said that "as the captain goes, the team goes," and a captain's effort must be fearless, unrelenting, and clutch. They must have that mystical will to win.
After the game, the captain's job continues. He or she must be steady, focused, and deal with the media and fans. Everyone looks to them for answers, asks them the questions, and they're often judged on how they do their job. It is their team, and they're responsible for extending winning streaks and breaking losing streaks. They are always scrutinized and criticized, but when their team wins they are immortalized.
16 Current Captain - Brian Gionta
It's time the Sabres slice off the "C" and transfer it. Aside by being born in Rochester, Gionta has no significant time, stats, or relationship with the Sabres. His best years were over seven years ago with the Devils and Canadiens. With the Devils, he did win a cup in 2002 and had a career year with 48 goals in 2005-6. Though he buzzed around the ice in every situation and was a complete player, his career stats are underwhelming and he was never "that guy." Furthermore, he has never been a clutch playoff performer when the captain is needed most.
Though he can eat up minutes, there is very little he can do to impact the game. The Sabres are young, maybe the thought is Gionta's work effort can rub off on them, but at this point he should offer up the C to...
15 New Captain - Jack Eichel
It's true that offering the "C" to young, high draft picks with massive expectations can backfire, but this kid gets it. He's always held a "boulder on his shoulder" when the media dissed him for Connor McDavid, and he's turned that into motivation. I'd bet he'd do anything to win a Cup before #97, and he plays like it. A guy who laces up the skates with something to prove every night is a born leader. Furthermore, his statistical production has increased each year, and that includes game winning goals and OT goals. His point per game numbers are improving, and most important, he shoots. He's got a laser and will use it anywhere. When he's on the ice, your eyes follow him, he's involved everywhere on the ice, and he elevates everyone's game.
14 Current Captain - Zdeno Chara
It's a difficult decision to strip a Bruin legend and a great player of the "C," but it has to happen eventually. Chara has aged quickly, and despite offensive spurts, he can no longer bring it every night. After playing 17 years in every situation, playing with a nasty and physical style and over 25 minutes a game, his body is just breaking down. He still commands respect from his team, the city, fans, and his teammates, but he just can't will his team to win or make "that play" he once could. For the first time in a long time, opponents don't fear him physically, defensively, and offensively. His name has surfaced in trade rumors, which tells you that even a loyal management crew has noticed his decline.
13 New Captain - Brad Marchand
Who better to take over the captaincy for the Boston Bruins than "The Little Ball of Hate." The man plays with a contagious energy where he hits everything that moves, gets under opponents' skin, and can now take over a game with his offense. He epitomizes every great characteristic of a hockey player. He plays angry, he takes no prisoners, his teammates follow his lead, and he's productive in every situation. He's a threat every time he's on the ice; shorthanded, even strength, and the power play. He's also in the 2nd year of a lucrative deal, and instead of sitting back or just playing his game, he's elevated it. He's also outspoken off the ice, he isn't afraid to take a stand on social issues, and he stands by his words.
12 Current Captain - Shane Doan
Another tough call because Doan has spent his entire 20 year career with the Yotes (and previously the Jets), and he's the longest serving captain in the league. He also proudly wore one of the worst uniforms in hockey from 1996- 2002. Though he was an all around team player who showed all the key characteristics of a captain - work ethic, leadership, and consistent production, he was never a clutch performer or willed his team to win. Furthermore, though his production was always mediocre, his game from 2011-2017, has gone downhill. He's now more of a folk hero, a name that's constantly thrown around at the trade deadline, and he seems to be just hanging around. He's stagnated; it's time to retire his number and play a video for him at the first home game next year. A Harley and oil painting would be ice too.
11 New Captain - Oliver Ekman-Larsson
The dominant Swedish defenseman is already the Alternate Captain, so it's probably just a matter of time, but it needs to happen if Arizona is ever going to take the next step. He's an offensive wizard who dominates the power play, can kill penalties, is always on the ice at critical times, and doesn't shy away when the game gets nasty. He's extremely competitive, and young enough that the Arizona youth movement will see and learn from his intensity. If given the chance to be captain, the young pups will follow him.
Perhaps even more telling, he signed a cap friendly contract extension that buys the team time to surround him with quality players. Few players who can lead and take over a game like him would have passed up at least $2 million extra per season to commit to a team with little identity, less support, and needs time, patience, and luck.
10 Current Captain - Anze Kopitar
Consider him and his contract the end of the Kings' quasi dynasty because he is a good player, not a captain, and he demanded to be paid like King. The exact opposite of Larsson, he held the Kings hostage and got a Kings ransom, now being paid $10 million a year. Sure, he was a part of two Stanley Cup teams, but he wasn't even close to being "the man" on those runs. Carter, Quick, and Doughty were far more important and dominant. Kopitar is a solid two-way forward, a great defensive forward, but he's never averaged a point per game, is an alternating plus/minus player, and can disappear for a game or a month. He's vanished at times in the postseason and never turned on his goal scoring in the playoffs. The Kings are an older team, and because of this contract some key players have left and/or will leave as Kopitar's salary will handcuff them for years.
9 New Captain - Drew Doughty
This is the type of player you want as captain. He's not as glamorous as Anze or as overpaid, but he kicks butt and takes no prisoners. His effort and competitiveness led the defensive minded, hard working Kings to those two cups. He's a dynamic two way defenseman who can score, shut down opposing teams' stars, and plays over 25 minutes per game. He's tough as nails, not as a fighter, but every time the puck goes into a corner he out competes the other player. Unlike Kopitar, he never takes a shift off, never drifts, will use his elbows, hips, and stick to eliminate players in open ice and especially along the boards. He exudes confidence, watches his teammates and not replays on the scoreboard, and his teammates know he is spent after every shift. He defines the phrase, "leading by example."
8 Current Captain - Andy Greene
The 34-year-old undrafted and undersized defenseman has many of the qualities of an... assistant captain. The defensive defenseman plays in all situations, and he is a quiet leader and team player who is respected and admired in the room. But he's no Scott Stevens, and his lack of game changing skills is apparent. He's never scored more than 6 goals in a season and in 24 playoff games during the 2011-12 season, he scored just 1, count 'em, 1, assist.
Greene commands respect because he's proof of how a hockey player can make it through sheer desire, passion, and dependability. But to be a captain, a player needs more of a presence. The Devils also need to add a little more excitement to their organization.
7 New Captain - Adam Henrique
He's not the "best" player on the team and he's not the #1 center, but Henrique should wear the "C" for the Devils. Whether their home games have more Ranger or Flyer fans than Devils' fans, he takes it personally and goes after "it." He plays in every situation, his teammates and fans notice, and opponents know when he's on the ice. He goes to the dirty areas on the ice and battles anyone for the puck. He gets in scrums, stands up for his teammates, and and fights for space and the puck like a wolf. He is all heart, is in every play and is never muscled out. Though he'll never be a point per game player or one that dazzles with the puck, his compete level and passion for the game are elite.
6 Current Captain - Henrik Sedin
Ever since Henrik and Daniel (his brother) joined the Canucks in 2000, the twins have celebrated a nice statistical career and that's it. He's another example of a top player being assigned the "C" solely based on his stats and skills. Henrik has great vision and is an assist machine, but he's got no guts and thus no glory. He is unable to raise his game during those regular season must win games or the playoffs, which shows in the team's dreadful postseason history. He can be bullied off the puck, along the boards, and when the games go into the deep water, he drowns. In 17 seasons, he has 38 game winning goals and 6 overtime winners. In 105 playoff games, he has 78 points. Small.
5 New Captain - Brandon Sutter
It's tough to hand the captaincy to a player in his first year on a new team, but this guy won't "break." His effort is contagious and palpable on every shift. He'll take slashes, elbows, and high sticks to win a battle and play in every situation. A team of Brandon Sutters (with half the skill of Henrik), would sweep them in a playoff series. Sutter is a perennial 2o goal scorer and 40-50 point man, but his faceoff skills are top level, he'll never quit, and the other team will pay a price playing against him. This is the guy teammates will follow, that more skilled players will admire, and fans will love. If the Canucks give him the "C," young, talented players like Bo Horvat will learn about sacrifice and success.
4 Current Captain - Ryan McDonagh
McDonagh is a very good defenseman, but he's not a captain. He plays a solid, dependable game but he's plateaued. He's captained the Rangers the past four years where their stars have aged out of their prime, and like him, the window is closing fast. He doesn't deserve blame because he is what he is, a solid, effective player that is loved by fans and teammates. He's also had to deal with injuries and concussions which have visibly changed his game. He can't take the punishment so he passes too early and he plays safe. McDonagh is an example of giving a young player the captaincy before they've shown they deserve it. The Rangers should strip him of the "C" and give him the "A." It just fits his identity.
3 New Captain - Mats Zuccarello
If you watch any Rangers' game, one diminutive forward stands out now as he would have with "The Smurfs." Zuccarello plays game 1, 27, 55, and 82 with the same thirst, passion, and desire to win. He's not close to being the highest paid player or an all-star, but he could be soon. His scoring and energy has improved each year, and he should be the guy they rebuild around. When bigger defenseman knock him on his butt, he pops right up and starts jabbing back. When he receives a beautiful pass for a goal he points to that player and doesn't look up at the replay. When his team scores his arms bring the players together in celebration. Every time he's on the ice the fans, teammates, and opposition take notice. The team should too, because his albeit small shoulders can carry the "C" in the Big Apple.
2 Current Captain - Steven Stamkos
Stamkos is the perfect example of awarding the star player with the"C," but really should wear the "A." Sure, his goal scoring ability and shot are among the best in the league, but that doesn't define a captain. Just because he was a consistent 40 goal scorer and could pick any corner from the faceoff dot, doesn't mean he can lead. He also dragged the team through a season long contract year when he was hurt, manipulated an extension, and is now injured again. His contract will hurt the Lightning and he's just not a player who makes others around him better. He does rehab hard to get back on the ice before the playoffs, so he does want to win, but every NHL player wants to win. You just can't have a captain who's seemingly on the shelf for long stretches of time every other year.
1 New Captain - Victor Hedman
Sometimes a team's best player should be their captain, sometimes a player gets drafted and turns out to be more complete than imagined, and that's the case in Tampa. Hedman, the 2nd overall pick in 2009, may already be the 3rd best offensive defenseman (behind Karlsson and Burns) and the 3rd best defensive defenseman (behind Keith and Doughty). Not only that, but he has a bit of a mean streak and may one day be compared to Nicklas Lidström. He's just a beast on the ice, plays on the power play, shorthanded, and extended minutes in overtime. He certainly didn't give Tampa a hometown discount in his new contract, but in his case, it seems more like he knows what he will bring, wants to earn his way, and won't be satisfied unless Tampa wins the cup.