NHL History: Best Captain Ever of Each NHL Team, Part II

MJ Kasprzak@BayAreaCheezhedSenior Writer IINovember 21, 2011

NHL History: Best Captain Ever of Each NHL Team, Part II

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    In the first installment of this series, I took a look at the all-time captain for each NHL franchise.

    The requirements for making the list were pretty simple: Every person had to be the team's captain at some point during their tenure, had to be among that franchise's greatest players and whatever success the franchise had could not have been only under another captain's leadership.

    This led to some surprising choices that you can see by clicking the link above. None were more controversial than Nicklas Lidstrom over Steve Yzerman for the last team covered, the Detroit Red Wings.

    Now the list picks up at the Edmonton Oilers and runs through the Ottawa Senators...read it anyway, because the teams between them are a little less obvious.

Edmonton Oilers: The Great One

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    There is no discussion on who is this team's all-time captain. Wayne Gretzky was captain from 1983-1988, during which Edmonton won four of its five Stanley Cups.

    He certainly was not short in the elite player category. The player they call The Great One won eight straight Hart Trophies (NHL MVP) and seven straight Art Ross Trophies (leading scorer), and has the top four and seven of the top eight all-time single-season point totals as a member of the Edmonton Oilers.

    So how about some discussion as to whether he is the greatest of all-time?

    Bobby Orr changed his position, but did not last long enough to be considered better than Gretzky. But Gordie Howe was.

    Even counting only NHL seasons (Gretzky played one WHA season and Howe played six), Howe played in five different decades and scored 41 points at the age of 52. While he played in six more NHL seasons and scored 93 fewer goals and 113 fewer points, he played in a less-lively scoring era.

    More than that, Howe was feared not just for his scoring. He was as tough as any player in the league while being the most skilled player in his time; there is no such thing as a Wayne Gretzky hat trick.

    Relax, Oliers fans: Mr. Hockey is the only player in front of The Great One.

Florida Panthers: Brian Skrudland

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    The Florida Panthers were conference champions in 1996. Their captain was Brian Skrudland, a player who scored a whopping 99 points in four seasons in Florida.

    Yet there is no question he is the all-time captain. While they have had more talented captains in Pavel Bure and Scott Mellanby, neither could even lead this franchise to one series win.

    In fact, the Panthers made the playoffs the next season under Skrudland's leadership and won one game. He left after that playoff loss, and they had only one more appearance (under Mellanby), coming away without a win. He went on to be awarded a Cup when the league did not have the guts to undo the Dallas celebration instead of ending the triple-overtime "goal" by Brett Hull.

    If the franchise has its only 13 playoff wins under your watch, you are its greatest captain.

Los Angeles Kings: Mike Murphy

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    The Los Angeles Kings have not won a playoff series in over 10 years. But they had plenty of success before the 2001-02 season.

    Their best season came in 1992-93, when Wayne Gretzky led them to within three games of the Stanley Cup. But it would not be appropriate to give the all-time "C" to a member of a team for whom he is not identified—The Great One can only be the all-time captain for Edmonton.

    Their next-best season came in 2000-01, led by the player who most exemplifies the captaincy of this franchise, Rob Blake.

    I know I will hear about this from Kings fans, but you cannot have him. Why?

    Because the fanbase booed him every time he touched the puck for leaving them even though the team refused to sign him. He did leave for San Jose by choice, and the classlessness shown to the best player in their history means they do not deserve him.

    There were only three other captains to ever get this team out of the first round in its 43 seasons, and only one did it more than once. Mike Murphy is just qualified enough in talent to make this list, with 556 points in 831 career games.

Minnesota Wild: Brad Bombadir

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    The Minnesota Wild had rotating captains from their inception in October 2000 until March 2009, when Mikko Koivu took the role for good. One could make the argument that makes him the only valid choice for this list, but they have never made the playoffs with him as captain.

    Brad Bombadir was captain for all but two months in the franchise's most successful season in 2002-03. While he had only 36 points in 212 games with the team and 54 in 356 for his career, he gets the "C" by default: Minnesota won eight playoff games that year and have only three wins in their other nine seasons.

Les Habitants De Montreal: Jean Beliveau

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    The Montreal Canadiens are the most storied team in NHL history, with 25 Stanley Cups and 61 players in the Hall of Fame.

    Finding one captain among their 32 who stands out was not easy. Even eliminating those captains who did not win a Cup only shortens the list to 11, six of whom won multiple Cups.

    Four captains won at least four titles: Emile Bouchard, Maurice Richard, Jean Beliveau and Yvan Cournoyer were three of the six captains from 1948 to 1979.

    The first three were part of the best championship run of any sports franchise outside of the Red Auerbach-led Celts of Boston, winning 12 of 19 titles between 1953 and 1971.

    Bouchard had the most (six), but had just 194 points in 785 games. Considering the careers of the other two captains overlapped with his and they were over four times as productive, the list is down to two.

    Richard has a trophy named after him and won a Cup all four seasons he was captain. He scored 965 points in 978 games and 126 in 133 playoff games, including 167 points in 183 games as captain and 30 in 32 playoff games.

    But Beliveau tied Saku Koivu as the longest-tenured captain (10 seasons) in franchise history and won five Cups. And he was more productive throughout his tenure with the team (1,219 points in 1,125 games; 176 in 162 playoff games) and as captain (723 in 629 and 103 in 93).

    Since he also did not get suspended twice for punching an official like Richard did is all the more reason to choose him.

Nashville Predators: Shea Weber

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    In their 11 seasons in the league, the Nashville Predators had never gotten past the first round of the playoffs before last season.

    In Shea Weber's first year as Predators' captain, that changed. Weber scored 16 goals and 32 assists during the regular season, finishing second in Norris Trophy balloting for the best defenceman in the league.

    Then he led his team as half of the defensive duo that was too much for the Anaheim Ducks and gave the Vancouver Canucks all they could handle. He scored five points in the 12 games and has 17 in 33 for his career (214 in 402 in the regular season prior to this year).

New Jersey Devils: Scott Stevens

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    Another easy choice.

    The New Jersey Devils have won three Stanley Cups since entering the league in 1974 as the Kansas City Scouts. Scott Stevens was the captain of all three, holding the post three times as long as Jamie Langenbrunner or Kirk Muller, the next longest since moving to Newark.

    While captain for his last 12 seasons, Stevens began as a two-way defenceman. In 1993-94 (the season before winning the Cup), he scored 78 points and finished an astonishing plus-53.

    By the time of his last Cup, he was a defensive player with only 20 points. But he was an intimidating presence as arguably the most punishing hitter of all-time, though many of his hits would warrant suspension these days.

    Over his entire time wearing the "C," Stevens played 888 games, scored 371 points and was plus-258 with 893 penalty minutes.

New York Islanders: Denis Potvin

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    The New York Islanders came into the NHL in 1972. They anointed Mark Streit as their 13th captain this season, but only one man gets consideration for the all-time post.

    By the end of their first decade, one of the great dynasties in NHL history was under way. They won four Stanley Cups in a row from 1980-1983, all under the leadership of Denis Potvin.

    They have not won a Cup since. But Potvin would have been tough to beat, anyway.

    One of the best defencemen in NHL history, Potvin scored 1,052 points in 1,060 games and added 164 in 185 playoff games, all with the Islanders. In his eight seasons as the franchise's captain, he played 521 games and scored 498 points and added 101 in 121 playoff games (85 in 78 during the Cup seasons).

New York Rangers: Mark Messier

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    Mark Messier has a leadership award named after him, so he belongs on this list somewhere.

    That honour is likely paid to him for the leadership he showed as captain of the New York Rangers in 1994, breaking a five-decade drought of titles for the franchise. After losing Game 5 at home, he guaranteed victory and had three points to force a Game 7 back at Madison Square Garden.

    Putting that much pressure on himself for a fanbase with that much angst and performing that well is the epitome of leadership. But he also performed all season long, with 84 points in 76 games and a plus-25 rating, capped off with 30 points and a plus-14 rating in 23 playoff games.

    In his first stint as team captain (1991-97), he played in 421 games and scored 452 points with a plus-99 rating. In 70 playoff games, he had 80 points but a minus-nine rating. Even his 173 points in 277 games and minus-25 rating at the end of his career (2000-04) could not take away the heroism of his first stint.

Ottawa Senators: Daniel Alfredsson

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    Since this incarnation of the Ottawa Senators came into the league in 1992, they have had seven captains. But there was only one choice here.

    Randy Cunneyworth and Daniel Alfredsson are the only players with more than a single full season as captain, and only Alfredsson has more than three. He was captain when the team won the President's Trophy in 2003 and when they won the Eastern Conference in 2007.

    Alfredsson has 1,023 points in 1,056 games, all with the Sens. While he has just 88 points in 107 playoff games, he had 14 goals and eight assists in 20 to lead his team to the Cup finals. As captain, his numbers are 813 points in 785 games and 69 in 85 playoff games.

    He is not just an offensive player, either, being used on occasion on the penalty kill despite his star status because of his ability to play strong in his own end.