Zdeno Chara and the Boston Bruins' 10 Best All-Time Captains
And assuming he retains the “C” through the balance of this campaign and into 2012-13, Chara will soon have officially served the third-longest captaincy in franchise history. At the moment, only Ray Bourque, Wayne Cashman and Dit Clapper have filled the role for more seasons.
Already being one of the longest-tenured and most accomplished of the 18 captains in Boston franchise history, Chara has already cemented his spot among the top 10. But can he stay long enough and append enough to his resume to ascend to the summit?
Read the following rankings and the rationale behind them and decide for yourself.
10. Leo Boivin (1963-66)
His three-year captaincy occurred in the middle of the single leanest era in team history, namely the string of eight consecutive playoff no-shows from 1960 to 1967. That, along with the subsequent arrival of Bobby Orr, makes Boivin the Boston blueliner that time forgot.
Nonetheless, in his 11-plus seasons with the Bruins, Boivin inspired his teammates by defying his modest 5'7" posture and garnering a reputation as one of the league’s toughest defensemen. That type of reluctance to make convenient excuses and settle for an average or sub-average role made Boivin a worthy captain when he approached his prime.
9. Fern Flaman (1955-61)
Only Maurice Richard’s Montreal Canadiens barred the Flaman-led Bruins from a championship in 1957 and 1958.
For what it’s worth, Flaman spent nearly three decades in his post-playing career as a professional and college coach, including 17 seasons at Northeastern University.
8. Wayne Cashman (1977-83)
Cashman succeeded Johnny Bucyk as the Bruins captain in 1977 and retained the title until his retirement in 1983.
An ideal fit for head coach Don Cherry’s Lunch Pail AC, Cashman was as physical on the ice as he was vocal on the bench, in the dressing room and in any other team setting. He would dole out his two cents without hesitation if he disagreed with a coaching or management decision and go out of his way in the effort to get into an opponent’s head.
Perhaps most famously in the season before he garnered the captaincy, Cashman collaborated with trainer Frosty Forristall to disable the host Los Angeles Kings’ sound system before an elimination playoff game. The opposing crowd was thus denied its lucky pregame rendition of “God Bless America” and the Bruins proceeded to claim a series-clinching 4-3 victory.
7. Lionel Hitchman (1927-31)
A stay-at-home defenseman who partnered with Eddie Shore, Hitchman was named the Bruins’ first captain at the start of the team’s fourth year of existence. One season later, he led Boston to its first Stanley Cup.
And upon hanging up his blades, Hitchman became the first former Bruin and the second NHLer altogether to have his jersey retired.
6. Milt Schmidt (1950-54)
The center of the famed Kraut Line, opposite Bobby Bauer and Woody Dumart, Schmidt played through injuries when able and volunteered to play on wing or defense when a teammate was too wounded to carry on.
A promoter of team unity on and off the ice, Schmidt was averse to favoritism to such an extent that he declared his longtime linemates co-godfathers for his firstborn child.
The peerlessly seasoned hockey writer Stan Fischler once summed up Schmidt’s leadership qualities crisply when he called him “a captain’s captain.”
5. Terry O’Reilly (1983-85)
O’Reilly personified the Bruins’ ideals of fruitful physicality in his 13-year career spent exclusively in Boston. The only reason his captaincy lasted a mere two seasons was that his primal years overlapped with Bucyk and Cashman’s tenures.
4. Zdeno Chara (2006-present)
Imported via free agency as part of general manager Peter Chiarelli’s first attempt at a redressed Bruins’ identity, Chara has led the team through five years of near-exponential improvement.
After a false start under the misguidance of Dave Lewis in 2006-07, Chara’s leadership began to flash more legitimacy with the advent of Claude Julien. Since then, the Bruins have appeared in four consecutive postseasons, playing and winning as many or more rounds than the previous year.
The renaissance reached its summit last spring when Chara posed with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and the Stanley Cup. He also garnered the Mark Messier Leadership Award, a testament to his on-ice qualities as well as his off-ice philanthropy.
3. Johnny Bucyk (1966-77, 1973-77)
Second on the franchise’s all-time career games leaderboard with 1,436 appearances, Bucyk served two terms as Boston’s captain for a cumulative five seasons.
Inexplicably, in the interim between 1967-68 and 1972-73, the Bruins left a vacancy in the captaincy. Nonetheless, Bucyk was the de facto captain for the Stanley Cup championships of 1970 and 1972, accepting the trophy from NHL president Clarence Campbell after both clinching victories.
2. Dit Clapper (1932-38, 1939-47)
Over 34 years after his death, Clapper remains a revered figure among those who knew, watched and/or worked with him in his two decades as a Bruin.
The aforementioned Schmidt credits Clapper for helping him, among other young players, make a comfortable adjustment to Boston and the NHL when he debuted in the 1930s.
In addition, Clapper’s qualities as a leader and teacher of the game were so trusted that he spent the better part of the 1945-46 season and a sliver of his final campaign in 1946-47 as the Bruins’ player/coach. He subsequently served an additional two seasons behind the Boston bench.
After his passing, Clapper’s survivors defended the dignity of his legacy by condemning Bruins general manager Harry Sinden’s decision to briefly unretire his No. 5 jersey. And as recently as this month, proposals to name a street after Clapper have circulated around his Ontario home community.
1. Ray Bourque (1985-00)
To proclaim Bourque a leader by example would be as great an understatement as, say, calling the 2004 Red Sox’ championship a cathartic moment for New England sports fans.
In his 15 years as the Bruins’ captain, three shared with Rick Middleton and 12 solo, Bourque demonstrated a concoction of patience, toughness and year-round dedication to conditioning that commanded emulation. And all along the way, one understudy after another attributed his own development as a player to feeding off of Bourque’s passion.
Bourque’s numbers are too jutting and too telling to leave out of the debate. One of the reasons why he played a franchise-record 1,518 career games and topped the Bruins’ all-time charts with 1,111 assists and 1,506 points was his unwavering commitment to the Spoked B.
Sure, he ultimately left for Colorado to pursue his overdue Stanley Cup. But that was only when it was clear that his window was millimeters away from shutting and the oft-maligned Jeremy Jacobs and penny-pinching Harry Sinden were not going to build him a contender in Boston.
Before that, Bourque had multiple opportunities to join a more promising contender and/or demand a raise in salary. Yet he consistently put the interests of his first franchise ahead of everything else for two decades.