The Captain is a position that requires a certain breed of hockey player. They are the leader of their team both on and off the ice, and it's their job to motivate their teammates, and to help the coach in making sure they remain a cohesive unit. They are the ambassador of their team, and they must possess all of the intangibles that make a leader great. They need to be able to unify and inspire their team. Suffice it to say that this is not a job that every player can do.
Some people argue that the integrity of this position has been diluted over the last few years, as teams seem to care more about goal-scoring than about actual leadership quality, but there is no denying the NHL has seen some of the best leaders in the history of professional sports.
I want to preface this article by saying that this is not ranked in any particular order. I made rough draft rankings over and over again, and it was impossible to get something incredibly consistent. I know there are big names that were left off of this list, and just because they didn't make my cut doesn't mean I don't think they were great. I encourage debate, but please keep it classy.
Anyways, some of the classiest, most respected, and sometimes boldest leaders are products of the NHL. So here are my top 5 NHL Captains of All Time. Enjoy!
Looking at Beliveau's extensive resume, it's hard to believe that at one point in his life, he didn't show all that much interest in playing professional hockey. He was quite content playing senior hockey in Quebec, but the Canadiens owned his rights, so Montreal purchased the league he played in, turned it pro, and the Canadiens got their man.
Beliveau went on to be one of the most successful and and most respected players of all time. A perennial All-Star, he also won the Conn Smythe, Art Ross, and Hart trophies, and he won the Stanley Cup 10 times as a player. He is second all-time in scoring for the Canadiens and is their longest serving captain (10 years).
Beliveau's skills and his attitude enabled him to be one of the best team leaders on and off the ice. His air of confidence could be felt by all of his teammates, and it brought the calming influence that all great leaders have. He was seen as a natural leader by both teammates and opponents alike. Even if you weren't a Habs fan, you liked this guy. He oozed classiness and respect, and his reputation is well deserved.
"The Moose" is highly regarded as one of the best leaders not just in hockey, but in all of professional sports. Messier played along side Wayne Gretzky on the great Oilers teams of the 80's, winning 4 Stanley Cups, and blossoming into a star. Many thought the Oiler's run of success was over when Gretzky got traded, but Messier led his team to another Cup just 2 years after the fact.
Messier is most known for what he did while with the Rangers during the 1994 playoffs. Down 3-2 in the conference finals, Messier guaranteed his team would win game 6, and he netted a hat trick in the final period to insure it would happen. Some may call that cocky, others may call it veiled determination, but in the end, he threw the team on his back and made good on that promise.
Messier won 6 Stanley Cups, 2 Hart Trophies, 1 Conn Smythe, 2 Ted Lindsay awards, and was a perennial All-Star. Messier was able to blend skill and confidence into a mixture that made him one of the best leaders in NHL history.
This is probably the most controversial name on this list. A lot of people consider him overrated either because of his time in Vancouver, or they say that he built his whole reputation on that incident in the 1994 playoffs. I'll leave that debate for the comment section, but there's no question Messier DID have leadership skills, and was an elite player.
The man we know as "The Great One" was more than just a big time point producer, he was also a great captain. Gretzky was a player who was able to use his exceptional skills, and translate that into great leadership. His championships and statistical achievements speak for themselves, and he basically owns the offensive record book in the NHL, but his achievements as captain are just as impressive.
He captained the Oiler's to four Stanley Cups in the 1980's, he had a huge impact on hockey in the United States as a member of the Kings, and his style of play benefited his teams as a whole. Gretzky's vision and knowledge of the game are unparalleled, and he used that to make everyone around him better. He was a total team player who knew how to get the best out of his teammates. For evidence, just look at his mammoth assist totals.
Not only was he fantastic on the ice, but he was a gentleman off the ice as well. He did the charity work, he was good to his fans, and he was just a classy guy. Gretzky was a great ambassador for hockey, and that was mirrored in his great team play on the ice as well.
"Burnaby Joe" was a player that even the most jaded Red Wings fans have to respect (I know I do). Sakic had a Hall Of Fame career, is regarded as one of the best players and team leaders in NHL history, and was/is a monumental figure in Colorado sports history.
He spent his entire 20 year career with the Quebec/Colorado franchise, and was its captain for 16 of those 20 seasons. He owns all of the franchise's scoring records, and sits 8th overall in scoring in league history. Sakic was a burgeoning superstar, but he was a humble leader who was always able to unite and lead his team to playing top flight hockey for the majority of his captaincy.
During his storied career, Sakic won the Conn Smythe, Hart, Lady Byng, and Lindsay trophies/awards. He captained the Avalanche to the Stanley Cup twice, and in 2001 instead of following captain's tradition as being the first player to skate the Cup around the rink, he immediately gave it to teammate Ray Bourque who had played 22 years waiting to get his autograph on hockey's holy grail. Classy, talented, and selfless. Joe Sakic was one heck of a player.
It's only fitting that a man nicknamed "The Captain" finds his way on this list. Everyone knows the story about how the Red Wings had to "settle" for Yzerman in the 1983 draft after Pat LaFontaine had been taken by the Islanders, but what they didn't know was that they had just landed a player that would cornerstone their franchise, and revolutionize hockey in the state of Michigan. Stevie Y went on to captain the Wings for 20 years, making him the longest tenured captain in NHL history.
Yzerman will be remembered for his great two-way play, and his humble leadership both on and off the ice. In the latter part of his career he was hampered by knee injuries that should have sidelined him indefinitely, but his dedication to the team kept him playing. Stevie always knew what to say in the locker room, and he always found a way to inspire his teammates.
Yzerman captained his team to 3 Stanley Cups; he won the Conn Smythe, Lindsay, Selke, Masterson and Lester Patrick trophies, and he sits 6th all-time in NHL scoring. Yzerman was as classy and modest as they come, and he has immortalized himself in the hearts of the citizens of Michigan and Red Wing fans everywhere.