Coming out of the lockout of 2004-05, the Buffalo Sabres had positioned themselves as one of the best teams in the NHL. Their success was generated from solid coaching and goal tending in combination with a strong group of quick and talented forwards.
From the beginning of the 2005-06 season until the end of the 2006-07 season, the Sabres amassed an impressive 105 regular season victories.
Yet, with all of this success, there was something wrong with the core of the franchise that kept bothering me as Buffalo failed to advance past the Eastern Conference Finals in both of these remarkable regular season efforts.
The Sabres had two captains.
And I don’t mean the Sabres had one captain and another assistant captain. Both Chris Drury and Daniel Briere wore the “C” on their jersey.
This struck me as somewhat of a curse, or at the very least, self-inflicted bad luck.
How can a team win the Stanley Cup with two captains? Doesn’t having more than one captain mean you really don’t have a captain? And who will be the one to raise the Cup first if the team wins the championship?
So even though the Sabres were playing great in the early 2007 playoff rounds, I kept adamant to my belief that they would not win the Stanley Cup solely because they had two captains instead of one.
NHL clubs just do not win titles without an unquestioned captain leading the team during the grueling playoffs.
During that season both Lanny McDonald and Doug Risebrough shared the captaincy all the way until their ultimate defeat of the blue, blanc, and rouge.
Also, the 1969-70 and 1971-72 Stanley Cup winning Boston Bruin teams never had an official captain.
There goes my theory.
But just as I found this out, another idea dawned on me.
NHL clubs do not win the Stanley Cup without having a superstar player lead the team in spirit or as captain.
This would take into account the aforementioned ’89 Flames and ’70 and ’72 Bruins who each had a number of superstar players on their roster.
Just take a look at the captains of past Stanley Cup championship teams:
Crosby, Lidstrom, Niedermayer, Brind’Amour, Andreychuk, Stevens, Yzerman, Sakic, Hatcher, Messier, Carbonneau, Lemieux, Gretzky and Potvin.
Included in that list of captains are 12 Hall of Famers or soon-to-be Hall of Fame inductees. Only two, Hatcher and Carbonneau, won’t become Hall of Famers, but both played on Cup-winning teams with other Hall of Famers.
So in either case, there have really been only five instances in over 40 years of the Stanley Cup where a team won with multiple captains, no captain, or a captain that was not a Hall of Famer.
With all this being said, I think it is possible to predict the future Stanley Cup champion in 2010 given this criteria.
Here are the four groups:
Not a ton of surprises in this group as five out of the six teams are not currently out of the playoff standings, with only the Kings holding on to the eighth spot in the West.
Need a Miracle
Atlanta & Ilya Kovalchuk, Buffalo & Craig Rivet, Carolina & Eric Staal, Colorado & Adam Foote, Dallas & Brendan Morrow, Montreal (vacant), Nashville & Jason Arnott, Islanders & Doug Weight and Phoenix & Shane Doan.
This list is a little more intriguing. Kovalchuk is a full-blown superstar but he lacks surrounding talent to win a Cup. The same could be said for Eric Staal with the way the Hurricanes have been playing.
Colorado, Dallas, Nashville and Phoenix are long shots to win the Cup and the lack of a great captain (or player) is holding them back. Doug Weight will probably be a Hall of Famer when he retires, but I don’t think the Islanders have much of a chance this year.
The really fascinating test-cases in this group are Buffalo and Montreal. I firmly believe that the Canadiens will not win a Stanley Cup without a superstar playing for them or being their captain.
Buffalo is really the one to look at and it brings me back to my original thoughts with the club. The Sabres have put together another great season and are poised to make a long playoff run. And even though they have rid themselves of the dual-captaincy program, the Sabres now have a mediocre journeyman-type defenseman wearing the “C”.
Also, the Sabres don’t have any All-Stars among their skaters, with goaltender Ryan Miller being the only legitimate star on the team.
Will it be enough?
It’s a Possibility
Out of this group, Nash, Alfredsson and Lecavlier should be Hall of Famers, but none of them have really good teams at the moment. New York and Philadelphia are interesting cases because both are led by very similar type players. Richards and Drury are borderline superstars and both have a decent surrounding cast to play with.
The key out of this group is New Jersey with Langenbrunner as their captain. The Devils have been playing tremendous this year, but will they win the Cup with a journeyman forward as captain?
The Odds Are Good
Anaheim & Scott Niedermayer, Boston & Zdeno Chara, Calgary & Jarome Iginla, Chicago & Jonathon Toews, Detroit & Nick Lidstrom, Pittsburgh and Sidney Crosby, San Jose & Rob Blake, Vancouver & Roberto Luongo and Washington & Alexander Ovechkin.
The odds are your 2010 Stanley Cup champion is going to come from this group. Every captain will be a Hall of Famer (except Toews-too early to tell) and all of these teams have either the experience or current talent to win it all.
So, the next time you’re wondering if a team will win the Stanley Cup, make sure to check out who that team’s captain is.