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Breaking the mould: NHL captains come from all across the spectrum

Vancouver Canucks' goalie Roberto Luongo, sporting the captain's C on his helmet, makes a save during second period preseason NHL action against the Anaheim Ducks in Vancouver, B.C., on Sunday October 5, 2008. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

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Vancouver Canucks' goalie Roberto Luongo, sporting the captain's C on his helmet, makes a save during second period preseason NHL action against the Anaheim Ducks in Vancouver, B.C., on Sunday October 5, 2008. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

There's more than one way to be a captain in the NHL.

You have captains that fight, others that score and now even one that stops pucks. There are grizzled veterans wearing the "C" and a growing number of fresh-faced youngsters. Some captains are willing to call out teammates and deliver passionate speeches while others prefer to let their play do the talking.

The only essential quality that veteran coach Ken Hitchcock believes is necessary is that a captain convinces his teammates that he'll always put the team first.

The player that does that best for Hitchcock's Columbus Blue Jackets is Rick Nash, who was given the "C" by the organization in March.

"The problem you can have as a captain in our league is when the players don't feel like you're sincere or that you have the team's best interest at heart," said Hitchcock. "I think that's why the players like Rick so much is that they see a level of sincerity that's very, very high and I think they really like what he brings to the table."

Nash turned 24 in June and would have been considered an extremely young captain in years gone by. Times have certainly changed.

The Chicago Blackhawks made 20-year-old Jonathan Toews their captain during the off-season while the Philadelphia Flyers did the same thing with 23-year-old Mike Richards. The Los Angeles Kings made 23-year-old Dustin Brown their captain Wednesday. Of course, there's also 21-year-old Sidney Crosby who enters his second season wearing the "C" for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The most surprising decision about a captain came when the Vancouver Canucks recently announced that goalie Roberto Luongo was going to succeed Markus Naslund. NHL rules prevent Luongo from leaving his crease to talk with the referees or actually having the "C" stitched on his jersey, although he did have the letter painted on his mask.

The Canucks' decision was questioned in some circles and applauded in others. New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, long a leader on his team, loved it.

"It's about time they're recognizing the goalies," he told reporters. "It's kind of nice, you know? They went out and picked the guy that they thought was the best leader to lead their team."

The Buffalo Sabres named Craig Rivet captain on Wednesday. He becomes the team's first full-time captain since Stu Barnes from 2001-'03. Buffalo used a rotating captaincy last season.

Atlanta, Florida and Toronto were the only NHL teams that hadn't identified a leader by Wednesday.

The Maple Leafs are expected to go with a rotating captaincy in their first season without longtime leader Mats Sundin in 14 years. Sundin had worn the "C" since 1997 and was the NHL's second-longest tenured captain.

Joe Sakic is the longest-serving leader. The 39-year-old centre was named captain of the Quebec Nordiques in 1992, and has continued to lead the team since it moved to Denver and became the Colorado Avalanche in 1995.

Montreal's Saku Koivu and Ottawa's Daniel Alfredsson have been captains since 1999 while Calgary's Jarome Iginla has had the honour since 2003. Ethan Moreau enters his second season as the captain in Edmonton.

A couple NHL teams have given the letter back to players who've already worn it before.

Scott Niedermayer is again the Anaheim Ducks captain. He was the player who first hoisted the Stanley Cup after that team's championship win in 2007 but was replaced by Chris Pronger last fall while he was considering retirement.

Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Lightning are again Vincent Lecavalier's team. The Lightning made him the youngest captain in league history in 1999 (a record later eclipsed by Crosby) before taking it away from him a couple years later.

He was more than happy to get the "C" back.

"It's a great honour to be captain of the Tampa Bay Lightning," said Lecavalier. "I have been here many years and there are a lot of great leaders on this team. I don't think you need a letter on your sweater to be a leader, but it's definitely a great honour to be captain."

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