Power Ranking Every NHL Team Captain Entering the 2013 Season
Two new NHL team captains, Henrik Zetterberg of the Detroit Red Wings and Claude Giroux of the Philadelphia Flyers, were each formally introduced on Tuesday. They will join Gabriel Landeskog of Colorado and the yet-to-be-named new leaders of Columbus, Florida and New Jersey among the league’s first-year captains in the 2012-13.
Until their captaincies have lasted for at least a handful of games, it is only fair to withhold evaluations of those players’ leadership performances. The 24 returning captains, though, have had anywhere between seven and 10 months of waiting to pick up where they left off with their respective teams.
Some of the incumbent captains ought to be pursuing improvement for themselves and/or their teams. Others are seeking enhancement of a sturdy foundation while at least one would just as soon ensure that nothing changes.
Based on a combination of the state of their teams and their influence on that state, here is a bottom-to-top ranking of the NHL’s captains from 2011-12 who are back for more in this shorter 2012-13 campaign.
24. Mark Streit, NY Islanders
Streit was one of those Islanders whose play personified the team’s misfit status in the Atlantic Division.
He tied fellow blueliner Andrew MacDonald for the team lead with a nightly average ice time of 23:22, but handled it like hot coals for most of the time.
23. Shawn Horcoff, Edmonton
The Hockey News lists among Horcoff’s shortcomings in his online profile: “Doesn't cash in on enough of his many scoring chances, nor does he use his size enough to his advantage…Has disappointed on offense.”
Indeed, the 34-year-old Oilers captain once had 73 points in 2005-06 and eclipsed 50 points in each of the following three campaigns. In the three years since, his annual output has plummeted to 36, 27 (albeit in an injury-shortened year) and 34.
This decline occurred, despite the fact that Edmonton has simultaneously snowballed its strike force with the one-by-one arrival and emergence of Sam Gagner, Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
If the seasoned, C-bearing Horcoff were to join in on that frenzy a little more, perhaps his rating would not be the team-low minus-23 that it was last season or the minus-29 that it was in 2009-10.
22. Dion Phaneuf, Toronto
There may not have been much that the habitually hit-happy defender could do for the Maple Leafs’ sad-sack blue-line brigade last season. Nonetheless, any player wearing a letter needs to accept a certain degree of responsibility for what his colleagues achieve at his particular position.
21. Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim
The Getzlaf captaincy, like the Ducks team as a whole, is a work in progress. Getzlaf’s second year with the “C” ended with a fifth-place finish in the otherwise competitive Pacific Division, and there were no shortage of critiques from observant bystanders.
Orange County Register columnist Jeff Miller, for one, wrote at the end of 2011-12: “Getzlaf’s first exposure to extended, absolute failure showed. As the captain, he should feel more of a burden than anyone on this roster for what happened in 2011-12.”
Last season was a natural downturn from Getzlaf’s first year as captain, when the Ducks had 19 more points in the standings and bounced back from another playoff no-show in 2009-10. The coming campaign will come with the crucial, interlinked questions of “Who are the real Ducks?” and “Who is the real Captain Getzlaf?”
One item that he could stand to improve is his giveaway-takeaway differential, which was a harrowing 95-35 in 2011-12. Being on the wrong side of that many turnovers will not do much to inspire one’s teammates.
20. Brenden Morrow, Dallas
They were a cumulative 15-6-4 when Morrow was out in various stretches, and Morrow was actually healthy and present for the five straight regulation losses that zapped them out of postseason contention at the very end of last season.
That collapse in the climax of the homestretch necessitated offseason roster reformation, and even though Morrow was not a part of that, his name did circulate in trade rumors. The fact that he is coming back means that he now needs to justify Dallas' faith in him and guide the team to the end of a five-year playoff drought.
19. Henrik Sedin, Vancouver
The Canucks are simply at a point where it is second nature to expect Sedin to copilot a smooth regular-season ride. But having now been eliminated by the eventual champions in each of the last three playoffs, it is time for the captain to take himself to another level in order to ensure that his team does the same.
Barring an unforeseen unraveling between now and the end of April, no evaluations of Sedin and Co. will be relevant until the 2013 playoffs. Only then will he have a chance to rinse out the mounting vinegar and finally find a way to get himself and his fellow strikers through the laser-beamed fortresses of championship-caliber defensive units.
18. Joe Thornton, San Jose
Like Sedin, Thornton’s position on the Sharks scoring charts speaks for itself, but the void still remains in terms of following up on the regular season.
Even if San Jose falls short of a Cup again, a more dignified exit than the four-game sweep via Chicago in 2010 and the five-game flameouts from the past two seasons would still improve his leadership resume a little.
17. Andrew Ladd, Winnipeg
This coming season, which will be Ladd’s eighth in the league and third with the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise, will be a test of acclimation. After winning a championship as a rookie with Carolina in 2006 and then another with Chicago in 2010, he went to the struggling Thrashers and almost immediately assumed the “C.”
On the one hand, being in the smaller pond with the Thrashers-turned-upstart-Jets has allowed Ladd to bring his productivity to new heights. On the other hand, the subpar supporting cast has amounted to his only two finishes with a negative rating.
It will be another trying season as the misplaced Jets once again compete in the Southeast Division. But Ladd need not let that excuse him from continuing to grow as a player and leader.
16. Brian Gionta, Montreal
While the 5’7" Gionta is not getting any taller, he has had extra time to get healthier after a season-ending injury forced him to watch as his Canadiens plunged to last place in the Eastern Conference.
His size and recent history will make the quick, compact season a trying test, as Gionta is tasked with inspiring a revised cast featuring the likes of Rene Bourque, Brandon Prust and Colby Armstrong along with new head coach Michel Therrien.
15. Eric Staal, Carolina
The way Staal responded to a coaching change—albeit in a too little, too late manner—for the Hurricanes playoff hopes, was admirably exemplary enough.
Through the first 25 games, Staal tallied a 5-6-11 scoring log and brooked a minus-18 rating before Paul Maurice was relieved of his duties. After Kirk Muller was installed as head coach, the captain went 19-40-59 with a minus-two rating over the last 57 outings.
14. Alexander Ovechkin, Washington
Ovechkin gave himself an evaluation in a recent interview with Chuck Gormley of CSN Washington, recounting his role during the brief Dale Hunter era. His answer to one of Gormley's questions regarding Hunter’s limited use of him in the homestretch was as follows:
“I feel like I can make good decisions. When there’s a meeting and somebody asks me, ‘OK, what are you doing here?’ And I say, ‘Listen, I’m cold. What do I have to do? I play four minutes in a period. Do you want results?’ But I never said it to his face, I never said it to my teammates. I just keep it to myself. I learned that sometimes you can talk and sometimes you have to don’t talk, keep it quiet and do what’s right for your team. In that kind of moment, we were fighting for the playoffs, we made the playoffs and you have to put your things aside and put it in the garbage can.”
Regardless of whether one will take Ovechkin for his word, the results he speaks of from last season plainly indicate that he did not generate much negative energy. A team like last year’s Caps cannot dislodge the defending champions and then push a first-place team to seven games without a suitably behaved captain.
13. Vincent Lecavalier, Tampa Bay
They can call him “Valiant Vincent” if they so please.
There is no telling how Lecavalier’s health, which has forced him to miss a significant amount of games in each of the past two seasons, will affect his presence on the ice and in the dressing room this year.
But assuming the Lightning sufficiently remedy their Achilles heel on the blue line and in the blue paint, his difference-making ability should still come into view.
12. Jason Pominville, Buffalo
On an injury-riddled, non-playoff team, Pominville managed to suit up for all 82 games in 2011-12 and led the Sabres with 30 goals and 43 assists.
That is not a bad first impression considering the hand that he was dealt in his first season holding this leadership position. His consistent presence allowed a team that was missing Tyler Ennis for 34 games, Luke Adam for 30, Tyler Myers for 27, Nathan Gerbe for 20, Brad Boyes for 17, Christian Ehrhoff for 16 and Ville Leino for 11 to finish three points short of making the postseason.
11. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh
While the Penguins did not suffer quite as much in Crosby’s protracted absence as other teams might when their captain is injured, his positive impact still speaks for itself. His 37 points in 22 regular-season games-played helped the Penguins to a 14-6-2 record.
After faltering in a wild first-round series with Philadelphia that could have gone either way, the expectations ought to be more stringent this spring. Besides putting his recent concussion history behind him, Crosby’s key to delivering a lengthier playoff run will be ensuring that the fervor and energy that he spreads is abundant, but tamed.
10. Jarome Iginla, Calgary
Like Pominville in Buffalo, Iginla made irreproachable achievements in spite of a shoddy supporting cast that swung and missed on the playoffs for the third straight season. He was tied for third on the Flames with 124 hits and first with 32 goals and 67 points, all in defiance of his age and shortage of celestial alliance.
9. Mikko Koivu, Minnesota
While one factor is hardly ever worth singling out all on its own, the Wild’s fall out of playoff contention last year has to be partially attributed to Koivu’s injury problems.
When he dressed, Minnesota was 27-20-8, translating to a .564 winning percentage, which would have been good for ninth place in the West if spread over the 82-game slate. Instead, they were one of seven teams in the league to finish with a sub-.500 record.
That was no fault of Koivu’s. He had a team-high plus-10 rating as well as the highest nightly average of ice time among forwards, and he had a hand in more goals for his team (44) than he saw go in the net for the opponent while he was skating (41).
Incidentally, a similar story can be told of Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who made only 37 appearances but notched 22 points and was on the ice for merely 19 opposing goals. But Koivu’s value to the Wild and his merit as a captain is still self-evident enough.
8. Daniel Alfredsson, Ottawa
Without that troika, the Senators would have been nowhere near the 2012 playoff picture and would not have pushed the top-dog Rangers to Game 7 in the first round.
7. Ryan Callahan, NY Rangers
In 20 games over three rigorous rounds, he led all forwards with 31 blocked shots and all skaters with 82 hits. At the other end, he tied Brad Richards for the team lead with six goals and threw in four assists.
With the addition of Rick Nash to their moderately needy strike force, the Rangers do not need to change anything else in the coming season and neither does Callahan.
6. David Backes, St. Louis
Like Callahan, Backes is a physical forward leading a team that does not require much more change in its continued pursuit of a Stanley Cup. Individually speaking, though, he holds a slight edge over Callahan in that he gave a hardware-caliber performance last season, finishing among the three finalists for the Selke Trophy.
In a similar vein, Backes deserves no small amount of credit for his Blues buying into midseason replacement coach Ken Hitchcock’s system and ultimately rewarding the new skipper with Jack Adams accolades.
Granted, Backes’ total offensive output did not quite match his career highs of 31 goals and 62 points, and the Blues have a lot to learn from after being swept by Los Angeles in the second round of the playoffs. But the team’s pleasantly surprising surge under Hitchcock could not have been possible without the right leadership among the players.
5. Zdeno Chara, Boston
In the area that matters most, namely postseason achievement, Chara and the Bruins practically returned to square one when they lost in Game 7 of the first round to Washington last spring. It was the first time they failed to win a playoff series since the franchise’s first postseason appearance during the Chara captaincy, which began upon his arrival in 2006.
While hangover and residual wear-and-tear from winning the title during the previous year need not excuse that early of an exit, it is hard to fault Chara much in any way. The peerlessly towering defenseman did his part in his day job amidst a tightly defensive seven-game series and he, like the better part of the team in general, need not change much going forward.
4. Jonathan Toews, Chicago
The Blackhawks had a losing record of 13-15-4 while Toews sat out the homestretch with a concussion. The 24-year-old captain also sat out a Jan. 24 loss to Nashville, rendering the sixth-place Chicagoans 13-16-4 in his absence.
With the aforementioned Landeskog taking the Colorado captaincy, Toews does not look so young for his role anymore. Then again, he has been obscuring his biological youth with his well-rounded athletic maturity for a while now.
3. Shane Doan, Phoenix
Doan offset all doubts about his loyalty to his career-long franchise when he spurned all summer suitors and re-signed with the Coyotes for four more years in September. He did it on the heels of an unprecedented postseason run for himself and Phoenix.
Realistically speaking, there will only be so much the 36-year-old forward can do to help the Coyotes―who have lost top scorer Ray Whitney, defenseman Adrian Aucoin and Tom Pyatt―in their uphill battle to retain their relevance. The situation could devolve into one akin to what Iginla has had with Calgary of late, but the only surprise on Doan’s part would be a mass individual letdown.
2. Shea Weber, Nashville
Weber is the most exemplary defensemen on a team that has subsisted heavily on stingy defense to reach new heights. He led the Preds last year with 177 hits and a plus-21 rating, and he finished second only to Kevin Klein with 140 blocked shots.
In addition, Weber had the best special teams output among all Nashville skaters with a 10-12-22 scoring log on the power play plus a pair of shorthanded goals.
It is safe to proclaim that without Weber’s leadership in every zone, the Predators would not have been among the top 10 offensive and defensive teams in the NHL, nor would they have had home ice for the first round of the 2012 playoffs.
1. Dustin Brown, Los Angeles
While it may seem easy enough to top this list with the captain who most recently accepted the Stanley Cup, it is impossible to overlook Brown's inspiring effort, boundless energy and resultant influence on the Kings' success.
Brown has easily led L.A. in the hits department in each of the last three regular seasons and playoffs. His fruitful physicality has allowed him to finish among the Kings' top three point-getters in each of those regular seasons and, most recently, piloted them to a historic finish as they became the first eighth-seeded playoff champion.
Other than Conn Smythe-winning goaltender Jonathan Quick, there simply has not been a more valuable player among the Kings' current core.