Ranking the 10 Most Respected Captains in NHL History
Being named captain of a team in any professional sport is an honor.
However, it has special meaning in the NHL. It means a player is looked up to as a leader by his teammates and the best captains in hockey history have worn the "C" on their sweater with pride and dignity.
Captains look out for the best interests of the team and the organization—and not necessarily themselves.
In addition to talking to officials whenever any matter on the ice needs explanation, they will speak to their teammates when it matters most.
Being named captain means holding a position of respect in the NHL
Some of the game's best and most legendary players have worn the "C." Here's our ranking of the 10 most respected captains in the NHL's history.
10. George Armstrong, Toronto Maple Leafs
George Armstrong was never a sensational talent for the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was a slow skater who at times looked clumsy.
Despite a lack of physical talent, Armstrong played 21 years in the NHL for the Leafs and was a solid defenseman throughout his career. While Armstrong was captain of the Leafs, they won three consecutive Stanley Cups from 1962 through '64 and another championship in 1967.
Leaf fans have been waiting for another cup since then.
Armstrong used his size and strength to dominate along the walls. While he was never spectacular on the ice, he did not make mistakes. He scored 296 goals and 713 points in his career, played in seven All-Star games and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1975.
9. Ray Bourque, Boston Bruins
Ray Bourque came to the Bruins with the team's legacy on the line.
Bourque was supposed to take the torch from Brad Park, who had taken it from Bobby Orr as the team's signature defenseman.
While nobody could compare with Orr, Bourque may be the second-best defenseman in the history of the NHL.
Bourque was not quite as spectacular as Orr form an offensive perspective, but he is the Bruins' all-time leading scorer. From a defensive point of view, Bourque was dominating and responsible.
When the Bruins' retired Phil Esposito's uniform No. 7, Bourque was also wearing that number at the time. Bourque selflessly peeled off his No 7 jersey and handed it to Esposito. Bourque would never wear that number again. Instead, he would make the No. 77 jersey famous.
Bourque was not rewarded with a Stanley Cup in Boston. He was traded to Colorado and finally earned a championship in 2000-01, the last year of his career.
Bourque played in 19 All-Star games, won five Norris Trophies and was named to the Hall of Fame in 2004.
8. Bobby Clarke, Philadelphia Flyers
Bobby Clarke would do anything to help his team win.
That persona has made him one of the most beloved players to compete in Philadelphia in any sport. It also made him hated in many cities around the NHL.
Clarke was not above helping his team win by any means necessary. If that meant tripping, elbowing or slashing his opponent, Clarke would do it.
While there was a filthy element to his game, Clarke's motivation was simply to help his team win. He stood up for his teammates and they stood up for him.
He led the Philadelphia Flyers to consecutive Stanley Cup triumphs in 1974 and '75.
Clarke played in eight NHL All-Star games, won three Hart Trophies as the NHL MVP and was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1987.
7. Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton Oilers-Los Angeles Kings
Wayne Gretzky is arguably the greatest player in hockey history.
He is the most prolific scorer in the game, the NHL's all-time leader with 894 goals, 1,963 assists and 2,857 points.
He was the best player on a spectacular team in Edmonton that took the torch from the New York Islanders.
When Gretzky was traded to the Los Angeles Kings following the 1987-88 season, he helped turn hockey into a prime-time sport in Southern California.
While the Kings would not win a Stanley Cup with Gretzky, they got to the Finals following the 1992-93 season.
Despite his unparalleled status in the game's history, there was never anything stand-offish or holier-than-thou about Gretzky's personality. He welcomed all teammates and always kept his eyes on the prize of winning and not his own personal achievements.
Gretzky played in 18 All-Star games, won nine Hart Trophies and was a four-time Stanley Cup champion. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999, the same year he retired.
6. Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh Penguins
Most hockey observers will debate the merits of Bobby Orr or Wayne Gretzky as hockey's greatest player.
However, there are some who will take up the cause of Mario Lemieux.
He may have been even more gifted than Gretzky and just as dominant as Orr. When Lemieux had the puck on his stick, he could make the best Hall of Fame players look like children as they tried to defend him. This is not exaggeration. Just ask Ray Bourque, who was powerless to slow him down.
As great as Lemieux was on the ice, he was also a tremendous leader for the Pens.
He led them to the first two Stanley Cups in the franchise's history in 1991-92. He also came back from a bout with Hodgkin's lymphoma and regained his leadership role and his brilliant talent.
Lemieux won three Hart Trophies and played in 10 All-Star games. He was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1997 before resuming his career in 2000-01 and playing in five additional seasons.
5. Denis Potvin, New York Islanders
Denis Potvin was the captain of one of the greatest dynasties in NHL history.
He led the New York Islanders from expansion team and obscurity to dominating NHL champions.
The Islanders were clearly the second banana in the New York City metropolitan area with the Rangers being the better and more popular team.
The Islanders had a crew of great players including Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier and Billy Smith, but Potvin was the powerful captain. He became one of the hardest hitting defensemen in hockey history, he could carry the puck and he had a blistering shot.
Potvin was a nine-time All-Star, won three Norris Trophies, was a part of four Stanley Cup-winning teams and he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1991.
4. Joe Sakic, Colorado Avalanche
Joe Sakic made the journey from Quebec City to Denver when the Nordiques left Canada's French-speaking province and went to the Rocky Mountains to become the Colorado Avalanche.
Sakic played with consistent excellence throughout his career. He was always at his best in the Stanley Cup playoffs. He won two Stanley Cup titles with the Avalanche and was named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the playoff MVP once.
Sakic scored 188 points in 172 career postseason games. He also scored eight playoff overtime goals, the most in NHL history.
Sakic was an All-Star 12 times in his career and also won a Hart Trophy. He was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2012.
3. Jean Beliveau, Montreal Canadiens
There have been great leaders in all of sports, but nobody handled the role of captain with more class and dignity than the legendary Jean Beliveau of the Montreal Canadiens.
Beliveau was named captain by head coach Toe Blake in 1961. He was a slick passer, a clever goal scorer and he was one of the best clutch players who ever lived.
At the biggest moments, Beliveau would make the plays that mattered most. Whether it was a pass to an open teammate, picking up a rebound and scoring or whipping his patented wrist shot past a startled goaltender, Beliveau never flinched.
He was as decent and brilliant off the ice as he was on the ice. He treated those who came in contact with him with honor and respect.
Beliveau played in 13 game All-Star games, won two Hart trophies and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1972.
2. Steve Yzerman, Detroit Red Wings
Steve Yzerman was the face of the Detroit Red Wings from 1983 through 2006.
He was the franchise's unquestioned leader and he helped lead the franchise out of the dark and to the top of the league.
Yzerman was a center with tremendous speed and talent. He lifted the Red Wings up and helped them become contenders. Yzerman was an All-Star nine times in his career and he led the Red Wings to three Stanley Cup championships.
He scored many spectacular goals, but his goal in double overtime of the seventh game of the 1996 Western Conference semifinals vs. the St. Louis Blues may have been his best. With the game scoreless, Yzerman carried the puck just past the St. Louis blue line and fired a slapshot to the top corner of the net.
The Red Wings advanced to the conference finals where they would lose to the Colorado Avalanche. There would be no denying the Red Wings the following year, as they brought home their first Stanley Cup since 1955.
1. Mark Messier, New York Rangers
Mark Messier is second on the NHL's all-time scoring list to Wayne Gretzky.
The two formed a near-perfect partnership during their time together on the Edmonton Oilers.
However, it was during his tenure with the New York Rangers that he had the most dramatic impact of perhaps any captain in the history of team sports.
In the 1993-94 playoffs, the Rangers were under as much pressure as any team in NHL history. They had not won the Stanley Cup since 1940. They had been the best team in the league during the regular season.
However, they were trailing the New Jersey Devils three games to two in the Eastern Conference finals, with the sixth game in New Jersey.
Messier decided to take matters into his own hands. He told the press (video above) that the Rangers would not lose. He guaranteed the victory.
The Rangers won the game and Messier scored a hat trick to lead the way. The Rangers would win the series and then earn their first Stanley Cup in 54 years with a seven-game triumph over the Vancouver Canucks in the finals.
Messier was a 15-time All-Star, a two-time Hart Trophy winner, a six-time Stanley Cup champion and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!