NHL Power Rankings: The Best Captain in Each NHL Franchise's History
There are many ways to measure a great captain. Some captains are outspoken in the dressing room. Others let their actions on the ice do their talking, leading by example.
Either way, great captains are great leaders.
What makes a great leader? There are many adjectives that could be used to describe a great leader. They need to be respected. They need to be committed and loyal to the team. They need to defend their teammates. They need to lead their team in the right direction, winning and raising the Stanley Cup.
Those are just a few.
It’s hard to judge captains on these qualities as an outsider, because none of us are in the locker room and see what type of leader someone is behind closed doors.
However, some captains are obviously great captains.
Here are the best captains in each NHL team's franchise history.
Anaheim Ducks: Scott Niedermayer
Scott Niedermayer was drafted by the New Jersey Devils in 1991. He played for them for 14 years, winning three Stanley Cup championships while with the team.
Entering free agency in 2005, Niedermayer chose to sign with the Anaheim Ducks, as he wanted to play with his younger brother, Rob.
Niedermayer was named captain of the team and in his first year as a Duck, led the team to a Western Conference Finals berth. The following season, Niedermayer won his fourth Stanley Cup championship and the Ducks' first.
He won the Conn Smythe because of his leadership throughout the playoffs.
Atlanta Thrashers: Scott Mellanby
Scott Mellanby spent just two years of his 21-year NHL career with the Atlanta Thrashers. Even though it was short, Mellanby made an impact.
Mellanby signed with the Thrashers as a free agent in the summer of 2004. Following the lockout, Mellanby was named captain beginning the 2005-06 season because of his vast experience that would help the young locker room.
The two years Mellanby spent in Atlanta and as captain were the franchise's two best seasons. That first season the team accumulated 90 points, an improvement over the 78 points of 2003-04.
The next season, the team accumulated 97, enough to win the Southeast Division and make their first (and only) playoff appearance (they were swept by the New York Rangers).
After that season, Mellanby announced his retirement. To date, Mellanby is the only Atlanta Thrashers captain to retire while the Thrashers captain. All other captains were either traded or signed with another team in free agency.
Boston Bruins: Ray Bourque
Ray Bourque is the longest-serving captain in Boston Bruins' history. Bourque wore the "C" for 15 years, three as co-captain with Rick Middleton and 12 himself from 1988-2000.
Despite playing spectacular defense (he won five Norris Trophies in his career), Bourque was renowned for his offensive contributions as well. He holds league records for the most goals, assists and points by a defenseman.
Bourque's excellent play helped the Bruins' continue their consecutive playoff berths streak into a North American professional sport record of 21 straight playoff appearances.
Perhaps what solidifies Bourque as the Bruins' best captain was his commitment to the team. Bourque and the Bruins never spent much time in contract negotiations.
With his talent, Bourque could have demanded much higher salaries than he received. Instead, he typically agreed to the Bruins' offers, showing that he cared more about playing for the team than making the most possible money.
Buffalo Sabres: Pat LaFontaine
Pat LaFontaine is one of the longest-serving captains in Buffalo Sabres history, serving as captain from 1992-1997.
LaFontaine's actions on the ice speak for themselves: In 268 games as a Sabre, he scored 385 points, 158 goals and 227 assists.
His first year as a Sabre, LaFontaine scored a franchise-record 148 points and helped linemate Alexander Mogilny score a franchise-record 76 goals.
LaFontaine is widely considered to be one of the greatest Sabres in history. The Sabres retired his number, 16, and put him in the Sabres' Hall of Fame.
Calgary Flames: Jarome Iginla
Very few people better epitomize the idea of a great leader on and off the ice than Jarome Iginla.
On the ice, Iginla holds the Calgary Flames' records for most goals, most assists and most games played.
Iginla was named captain before the 2003-04 season, becoming the first black captain in NHL history. Iginla is an excellent leader, leading by example, as well as someone who is always quick to defend a teammate or help build momentum with a fight.
Off the ice, Iginla is very philanthropic. He helps promote the sport of hockey as an ambassador for NHL Diversity, which helps fund underprivileged kids playing hockey who wouldn't otherwise get the opportunity.
He also holds the Jarome Iginla Hockey School in Calgary, donating the proceeds to Diabetes Research Association. Since 2005, he has donated $2,000 for every goal he scores to the KidSport charity (from 2000-2005, it was $1,000 for every goal).
Carolina Hurricanes: Rod Brind'Amour
The Carolina Hurricanes' captains have used the motto "lead by example" a lot. Rod Brind'Amour continued the tradition.
Brind'Amour is famous for his work ethic: On the ice and off the ice, in the weight room.Brind'Amour was meticulous about his fitness. It paid off, allowing him to play hockey until he was 39.
Brind'Amour helped lead the Hurricanes to their first and only Stanley Cup championship. The season leading up to the championship, Brind'Amour scored 70 points, the most as a Hurricane (to that point) and since the 1998-99 season as a Philadelphia Flyer.
Oftentimes after a team wins a championship, the following season is a disappointment. In some ways for the Hurricanes it was, but it was also Brind'Amour's best season. He scored 82 points that season, his best since the 1995-96 season.
Brind'Amour helped current Hurricanes' captain Eric Staal learn how to be a captain and to continue the work ethic of Hurricanes' captains.
Chicago Blackhawks: Pierre Pilote
In 1961, the Chicago Blackhawks won their first Stanley Cup championship in 23 years, their third total. Assistant captain Pierre Pilote scored 15 points in 12 games in the series.
Though a defenseman, Pilote was known for his offensive output as well, one of the first of his time.
Pilote was named captain the season following the Stanley Cup win. He would remain captain until 1968, the longest-serving Blackhawks' captain to date.
Pilote retired in 1969 and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1975.
In 2008, the Blackhawks retired the No. 3, which was worn by both Pilote and Keith Magnuson.
Colorado Avalanche: Joe Sakic
Arguably one of the greatest captains of all time period, Joe Sakic is the obvious choice as the best captain in the Colorado Avalanche franchise history.
Sakic served as captain of the Quebec Nordiques from 1992-1995 and remained captain when the team relocated to Colorado from 1995-2009.
While with the Nordiques, Sakic was criticized for not being able to lead his team to playoff success despite being one of the league's top players.
Once the Nordiques relocated and became the Avalanche, Sakic led the team to the franchise's first Stanley Cup championship and was awarded the Conn Smythe. His performance shut the critics up.
Sakic will be remembered for being a motivational and classy leader.
One moment in particular exemplifies Sakic's character. After the Avalanche won their second Stanley Cup, Sakic was of course handed the Cup, due to captain's priority. Instead of raising it, he immediately handed it to new teammate Ray Bourque, who had waited a league-record 22 years to win his first Cup.
Sakic will always be remembered for that moment and everything he did for his team.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Rick Nash
The Columbus Blue Jackets have only been around this millenium, so there are not too many captains to pick from. No matter, Rick Nash has represented his franchise well.
Nash was named captain in 2008, succeeding Adam Foote.
As a lot of young captains do, Nash led by example on the ice. His first season as captain, Nash scored a personal-best 79 points. Nash also scored 40 goals for the first time in five years.
Nash is a leader in the community as well. He was the recipient of the 2009 NHL Foundation Award, awarded for community service.
Dallas Stars: Mike Modano
Mike Modano did a lot for the Minnesota North Stars and then for the Dallas Stars. When the franchise moved, Modano seemed committed to helping spread hockey into the south.
Modano served as captain of the Dallas Stars from 2003-06, when the captaincy was given to Brendan Morrow.
Perhaps what is most impressive about Modano is that he was so classy about Morrow becoming captain. It shows the type of leader that he is. After all, he chose to be classy so as not to create friction in the dressing room.
Detroit Red Wings: Steve Yzerman
There are obviously a number of names that could be considered the best captain in Detroit Red Wings' history. However, Steve Yzerman has to be the No. 1 choice. After all, his nickname is "The Captain."
Yzerman served as captain of the Red Wings for 20 years, from 1986 until his retirement in 2006.
It's no surprise that everything Yzerman touches turns to gold (literally, in Canada's case). He just knows how to lead his teams to success.
As a player, Yzerman led the Wings to three Stanley Cup championships. After he retired, his number 19 was retired by the Wings, with the "C" sewed on in honor of his legacy as the Wings captain.
Yzerman then joined the Wings front office.
He also has served as a GM for Canada, first for the 2007 IIHF World Championship, in which Canada won and then for the gold-medal winning 2010 Vancouver Olympics Canadian national team.
This past season, Yzerman became the GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning, helping the team to their first playoff berth in four years.
Edmonton Oilers: Wayne Gretzky
Wayne Gretzky is the most prolific scorer in hockey history, as well as the most recognized hockey player worldwide.
Gretzky served as the Edmonton Oilers captain from 1983-88.
Gretzky led the Oilers to Stanley Cup championships four of the five seasons he served as captain.
Also during his tenure as captain, Gretzky set an NHL record for most points in a season, with 215 points. Gretzky scored over 200 points three of five seasons as captain.
Florida Panthers: Olli Jokinen
Coming into the 2002-03 season, Olli Jokinen had never scored more than 29 points in a season. That changed that year. Jokinen scored 65 points that year.
Jokinen was named captain the following season.
He kept up his higher scoring the rest of his tenure in Florida, scoring 58, 89, 91 and 71 points his last four seasons with the Panthers.
Los Angeles Kings: Dustin Brown
Dustin Brown has been captain of the Los Angeles Kings since 2008.
Brown has helped lead the Kings to back-to-back playoff berths in 2009 and 2010. The Kings hadn't made it to the playoffs since the 2001-02 season.
The Kings lost in both playoffs in the first round to the Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks respectively. However, the team is still building its foundations, their team is very young and were up against a couple of the best teams in the league.
Brown is a leader off the ice as well. He has been nominated three times for the NHL Foundation Award and is up for this year's award.
Brown's charity work is commendable and can be read about here.
Minnesota Wild: Mikko Koivu
This one was hard to choose because the Minnesota Wild have had rotating captains from their inception in 2000 until 2009.
Mikko Koivu was a part of the rotation in 2007, multiple times in 2008 and was finally named the captain in 2009, where he has remained since. Koivu is the first permanent captain of the team, which has to say something.
The Wild have had disappointing finishes the past couple years and not made the playoffs; however they are still a young franchise.
Koivu on the other hand, has been improving his game. The season he was named captain, Koivu scored a personal-best 71 points. He scored 62 this past season, but played in nine fewer games.
Montreal Canadiens: Jean Beliveau
Jean Beliveau is arguably the most successful man in NHL history: He has played a role in 17 Stanley Cup championships. Of those championships, 10 came as a player and seven came as an executive.
Beliveau played his entire 21-year career for the Montreal Canadiens, 10 of them as captain. Five of Beliveau and the Canadiens' Stanley Cup wins came while he served as captain.
Beliveau will be remembered for being a great hockey player--he was listed No. 7 on The Hockey News list of 100 greatest hockey players in 1998.
He was given the NHL Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009.
Nashville Predators: Greg Johnson
Greg Johnson was only the second captain in Nashville Predators' history. He served as captain from 2002-06.
Johnson was the first captain to lead the franchise into the postseason, in 2003. The team lost the series to the Detroit Red Wings, 4-2.
Coming back from the lockout, the team made the playoffs again and again lost in the first round, this time to the San Jose Sharks.
New Jersey Devils: Scott Stevens
Scott Stevens played for the New Jersey Devils from 1991-2004 and served as captain from 1992-2004.
Stevens was known for his physical presence as a defenseman, but he also produced offense. He consistently led the team in points among defenseman and even was among the top scorers for the entire team.
He helped lead the team to three Stanley Cup championships during his tenure.
Stevens' No. 4 was the first number retired by the New Jersey Devils.
New York Islanders: Denis Potvin
Denis Potvin served as captain of the New York Islanders from 1979-87.
In his first year as captain, Potvin and the Islanders won the franchise's first Stanley Cup, the first of four consecutive championships.
During Potvin's tenure as captain, the Islanders always made the playoffs.
Potvin was originally regarded as being arrogant by fans and many teammates because of his intelligence and outspoken personality. However, as he matured, his personality helped make him a great leader.
New York Rangers: Mark Messier
Mark Messier is another name synonymous with great leadership, even having his own Mark Messier Leadership Award.
Messier served as captain of the New York Rangers from 1991-97. He led them to their first Stanley Cup championship in over 50 years in 1994, his sixth (he won five in Edmonton).
During their series against the New Jersey Devils, the Rangers were down 3-2. Messier went to the New York media and guaranteed the Rangers would win Game 6.
In the game, Messier backed it up with a hat trick, joining the likes of Joe Namath, who had guaranteed a Super Bowl victory and accomplished it.
Messier is a leader on the ice and off the ice with his philanthropic work.
Ottawa Senators: Daniel Alfredsson
Daniel Alfreddsson has served as captain of the Ottawa since 1999, through the good times and the bad.
The two seasons before being awarded the captaincy, Alfredsson's production struggled as he missed many games and he didn't score more than 45 points.
However, once he became captain, his production immediately increased. He hasn't scored under 59 points except this past season, which he missed part of due to injury.
The team has won their division three times with Alfredsson as captain, including during the 2005-06 campaign, when he scored a personal-best 103 points.
Alfredsson led the team to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2007, which they lost to the Anaheim Ducks.
Philadelphia Flyers: Bobby Clarke
Bobby Clarke was the Philadelphia Flyers captain from 1973-79 and again from 1982-84.
Clarke is arguably the greatest Flyer of all-time. He holds most of the Flyers franchise records, including most games played, most goals, most assists, most points and best plus/minus rating.
Clarke won three Hart Memorial Trophies, a Lester B. Pearson Award and was named to eight All-Star Games.
Most importantly, he led the Flyers to back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships in 1974 and 1975.
While some have criticized Clarke's style of play, Clarke epitomizes the grit and physicality of the Broad Street Bullies team and the rewards that come with it. Clarke will always be synonymous with the Flyers.
Phoenix Coyotes: Shane Doan
Shane Doan is a great leader on and off the ice. Doan has been in the organization his entire career, beginning with the Winnipeg Jets and continuing with the Phoenix Coyotes.
He is the only Winnipeg Jet still left on the Coyotes' roster.
Doan assumed the role of captain in 2003. He is respected by his teammates and the community.
Last year, Doan was recognized for his leadership and community contributions as the recipient of the King Clancy Memorial Trophy, given to the NHL player that "best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and makes a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community."
Pittsburgh Penguins: Mario Lemieux
Without Mario Lemieux, who knows where the Pittsburgh Penguins would be (although some would say Kansas City).
Not only was he a fantastic player and captain, leading the team to back-to-back Stanley Cup victories, but he was the savior of the team, becoming a partial owner and saving the team from bankruptcy in 1998.
Lemieux is also well-known for helping young players with their transition to life outside of their home country and living independently, as young stars like Sidney Crosby lived with him.
Mario Lemieux is the source of the Penguins' success.
San Jose Sharks: Owen Nolan
Owen Nolan served as the captain of the San Jose Sharks from 1998-2003. The Sharks made the playoffs every year during Nolan's tenure as captain except the last.
However, they never went further than the second round.
Nolan's second year as captain was his personal-best. He scored 84 points in the regular season, including 44 goals that tied him for the league-lead.
He continued that success into the playoffs with eight goals and two assists. Six of his goals came in the seven-game series against the first seed St. Louis Blues.
The Sharks upset the Blues in Game 7, with Nolan leading the way. He scored the eventual game-winning goal from past center ice with just 10 seconds to go in the first period.
That momentum helped the Sharks go on to win the game and series, 3-1.
St. Louis Blues: Al Arbour
Al Arbour was the first captain of the St. Louis Blues. Arbour served as captain of the team from 1967-70.
Arbour, who had won Stanley Cups as a member of the Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks and Toronto Maple Leafs, led the team to three straight Finals appearances.
Unfortunately, the Blues were swept in all of them, by the Montreal Canadiens twice and then the Boston Bruins.
The second and third seasons of existence, Arbour led the team to first place in the Western Conference.
Those Finals' losses were the closest the franchise has come to the Cup, as they haven't made it out of the Conference Finals since.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Dave Andreychuk
Dave Andreychuk signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning before the 2001-02 season. This shocked most people because Andreychuk could have signed with a Stanley Cup contender.
That season, the Lightning failed to make the playoffs again. The team offered to trade Andreychuk, but he refused the offer, saying that he wasn't finished with the team.
He was given the captaincy the following season. In his first year as captain, he led the team into the playoffs. The team beat the Washington Capitals in the first round but lost to the New Jersey Devils in the second round.
The next year, he led the team to the ultimate prize: the Stanley Cup. It was the franchise's first and (to date) only Cup victory.
While Andreychuk is beloved for what he helped the team accomplish on the ice, he is beloved is the community for his contributions as well. He has remained with the Lightning, working in the community.
Toronto Maple Leafs: George Armstrong
The Toronto Maple Leafs are another team with many possible choices for best captain, making it a tough decision.
George Armstrong remains the Leafs' longest-serving captain, serving from 1957-69.
Armstrong may have never been the biggest star on the Leafs, but he was an effective leader. He led the Maple Leafs to three consecutive Stanley Cup championships 1962-64, their first wins since 1951.
Armstrong led the team to another championship 1967, their last to date.
Vancouver Canucks: Trevor Linden
Trevor Linden served as the Vancouver Canucks captain from 1991-97.
Linden led the Canucks to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1994, where the team lost to Mark Messier's New York Rangers.
It was the closest the team came to the Cup since 1982 and the farthest they have gone since (to date).
Linden was beloved in Vancouver for his service off the ice in the community, prompting the nickname "Captain Canuck."
Part of his charitable work is an annual golf tournament that benefits BC Children's Hospital. He has been rewarded for his philanthropy as the recipient of the King Clancy Memorial Trophy in 1997 and the NHL Foundation Award in 2008.
Washington Capitals: Rod Langway
Rod Langway served as captain of the Washington Capitals from 1982-93.
After not making the playoffs the first eight seasons of existence, the Capitals made their first playoff appearance during Langway's first year as captain.
The Capitals would make the playoffs every year during Langway's tenure, although they never made it past the Conference Finals.
One of the greatest players in Capitals history, his number, 5, was just the second number the Capitals retired.