Chief of the Tribe: Ranking the Best Chicago Blackhawk Captains
Of the four major North American sports, the captain is most noted and recognized in professional hockey. It is an honor bestowed to the player on each team that exemplifies himself as a leader that the other players on the team can skate behind.
Over the years the Chicago Blackhawks have had many different captains that have emerged from within the organization to become outstanding representatives of Blackhawk Hockey.
There have been other captains who have disappointed in terms of on-ice performance; which in most cases correlated with the team's bad play; such as recently with former captains Marty Lapointe and Adrian Aucoin.
But, for the most part the Blackhawks have had some outstanding captains, many of whom remain legends of the franchise to this day.
With Jonathan Toews as the team's current captain, do not expect any new names to grace this impressive list for hopefully many years.
Best of the Rest
Pit Martin (1975-1977) A four-time All Star during his career. Martin was a small, but talented two-way center who was known to consistently score goals year in and year out.
Most Blackhawks fans will remember him as being the sole bright spot in the trade with Boston that saw Phil Esposito; among others go to Boston. Martin was also a key member of two different Blackhawks teams to reach the Finals.
Terry Ruskowski (1979-1982) "Rosco" as he was known has the distinguished honor of being the only person to be the captain of four different professional hockey teams. He captained the Blackhawks, Kings, Penguins, and the North Stars in his career.
Dick Irvin (1926-1929) The first captain in the history of the franchise, Dick Irvin was known as prolific scorer in his brief three year career. He would be forced to retire after the 1929 season when he fractured his skull. He would later become a Hall of Famer as a head coach leading the Canadiens and Maple Leafs to four Stanley Cups over the years.
Tony Amonte (2000-2002) One of the most beloved Blackhawks for many fans of my generation (Age 18-25) Tony Amonte will be remembered as a leader of the Blackhawks, and one of the best American-born players of all-time.
He was very consistent as he had a five-year stretch where he did not miss a single game. He also scored 30 goals five different times, and in a few seasons scored over 40 goals.
Ed Litzenberger (1958-1961) The captain of the '61 championship Hawks, Litzenberger was an imposing winger for his day at 6'3. He would end up winning four straight titles as he was with the Maple Leafs as they won the next three seasons after 1961, but his best years came with the Blackhawks including his Calder Trophy win in 1955.
No. 10, Darryl Sutter (1982-1987)
Though he never raised the Cup in either his playing or coaching career, Darryl Sutter was an extremely competent and talented player and coach.
Sutter who was one of the longest tenured captains in team history was a respected figure on the Hawks in the 1980's. He would later go on to coach the team for three seasons, including leading a conference points leading team in 1992-1993 season.
His last coaching run was with the Calgary Flames which saw him lead his team to the Cup Finals, only to lose to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
No. 9, Keith Magnuson (1976-1979)
Truly a great example of being a captain. Keith Magnuson is still to this day a beloved figure in the long history of the Blackhawks.
Magnuson was a hard-nosed player that racked up his share of penalties (mostly fighting) in his playing days with over 1,110 career penalty minutes.
He was not known for his scoring as a defensive player, but he was a great representative of the "blue collar" Chicago style of play that endeared him with the fans.
He was apart of two Blackhawks teams that made it to the Finals in 1971 and 1973, but both teams ended up losing to the Canadiens.
He tragically passed away in a car accident in 2003, and five years later his No. 3 was retired at the United Center, along with Pierre Pilote.
No. 8, Denis Savard (1988-1989)
Denis Savard was only a captain of the Blackhawks for one season (88-89), but his contribution to the Blackhawks is legendary.
As fellow writer Tyler Jurnaovich said about Savard, "One of the great scorers in the history of the Hawks organization. His classic 'Spin-o-rama' became famous in Chicago".
One of the few players to have his number retired by the Hawks, the Hall of Fame center had his best years in his first run with Chicago. Even though his only Stanley Cup victory was with the Montreal Canadiens, he will primarily will be thought of as Blackhawk.
His leadership was further seen in his short run as the team's head coach, as he was an important part of the development of players like Duncan Keith, Patrick Kane, and Jonathan Toews who would go on to lead the Blackhawks to Stanley Cup glory.
No. 7, Stan Mikita (1976-1977)
Though he had a very brief run as the "official captain" of the team, Stan Mikita is, and will forever be remembered as perhaps the greatest leader in the history of the team.
In regards to being captain of the team, Mikita has said, “While I saw a picture of me with a ‘C’ on my jersey, so I must have been captain at some point,” he said. “Somebody must have gotten injured, because I can’t think of any other reason. It wasn’t a role that I wanted. Plus, we had some great captains during my time".
His accomplishments have been well-documented. He was an integral part of the 1961 championship run, and was one of the greatest players of not only his generation, but any generation. He also was a central figure on the team with Bobby Hull and Tony Esposito when the Blackhawk games were known as being "The Toughest Ticket in Town".
No. 6, Charlie Gardiner (1933-1934)
Charlie Gardiner is unlike any other captain in the history of the NHL. Not only was he a captain as a goalie, but he was the only goalie to captain a Stanley Cup winning team; which he did in 1934 (keep trying Luongo).
Gardiner was a special player that has even been recognized as being in the Top 100 Hockey Players of all-time as ranked by "Hockey News".
This is also a very significant accomplishment for the netminder as he sadly passed away far too young at the age of 29.
Fellow Bleacher Report writer Kyle Wahlgren said it best in describing Gardiner's passion as a Blackhawk, "He played his final season with illness. He not only led the Hawks to a Championship, but he passed away from the illness he continued to play with. If that doesn’t say “For the Love of the Game,” I don’t know what does".
No doubt the courageous two-time Vezina winner was something special as a Blackhawk.
No. 5, Dirk Graham (1989-1995)
The captain of the Blackhawks during their Cup Finals run in 1992, Dirk Graham was a tough, hard working player.
Among many accomplishments he is thought to be the first African-American captain of a professional hockey team.
His hard work on the defensive side of the ice was rewarded as he received the Frank J. Selke Award in 1991. He was known to be an exceptional checker, and was a great player on special teams.
He did coach the Hawks in the 1998-99 season to minimal success before being replaced. But, his "leading by example" method as captain during his impressive seven years with the patch is something to admire.
No. 4, Johnny Gottselig (1935-1940)
One of the great Blackhawks during the Great Depression and World War II years. Johnny Gottselig played his entire 17 year NHL career with the Blackhawks at left wing.
Gottselig was one of the few players in Blackhawks history to win two Stanley Cups with the team as he won with the club in 1934 and again in 1938. He was also the captain of the club for the winner in '38.
He was a true pioneer in the league being the first Russian-born player to play in the NHL. And, after his playing days came to a close he became the Hawks coach before spending many years as a member of the organization in different capacities, and was around for the 1961 Cup victory.
No. 3, Chris Chelios (1995-1999)
Considered by many to be one of the premier fan favorites in Blackhawks history before his defection to the rival Red Wings. Chris Chelios was the captain of the Blackhawks for over five years in the later 90's, and the hometown player did the "C" proud.
In his time as the captain the Blackhawks had solid playoff performances including a strong quarterfinals run; which ended in defeat in a tough-fought series with the eventual champion Avalanche.
Tyler Juranovich described Chelios: "A great defensive scorer that lead the Hawks to the Stanley Cup Final in 1992"
No doubt he will be remembered more fondly as time passes. Will he get the No. 7 retired with the team?
That is still to be seen.
No. 2, Jonathan Toews (2008-)
It hasn't taken Jonathan Toews long to establish himself as one of the greatest leaders in Blackhawks history.
The Canadien center took over the role as captain in 2008 in only his second season in the NHL. Since than he has quickly become one of the best players not only on the Blackhawks, but in the entire league.
Moving himself into the No. 2 position on the all-time captains in team history was strongly motivated by his Conn Smythe-winning performance in the 2010 NHL Playoffs; which ended in the Toews-led Blackhawks capturing their first Cup in 49 years.
Toews no doubt should move up to number #1 on this dubious list in quick time as it is not a matter of "if", but more "when".
No. 1, Pierre Pilote (1961-1968)
The man who shares the retired number No. 3 with Keith Magnuson is the greatest captain in Chicago Blackhawks history.
Blackhawks Featured Columnist Tyler Juranovich concurred with naming Pilote being #1 as the greatest captain adding, "A 3 time recipient of the Norris Trophy, Pilote is the greatest defensemen the Hawks have ever had. He made the all-star team 7 years in a row, and also lead the Hawks to a Stanley Cup win in 1961".
He was the longest tenured captain of any man to done the sweater, and was a stalwart defensemen for the Blackhawks during his 13 year run with the team.
He was awarded the captaincy the following season after he and the Hawks captured the 1961 Stanley Cup. He did not give up the "C" until he departed from the Blackhawks in 1968.
Please Discuss Your Opinion on The List
Thanks to Blackhawks writers and enthusiasts Kyle Wahlgren and Tyler Juranovich for their contributions to this list.