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NHL teams shouldn’t simply hand the “C” to their best player

Feb 23, 2012, 8:00 AM EDT

New York Rangers v Washington Capitals Getty Images

To be honest, I often roll my eyes when people attach a mountainous amount of importance to “leadership.” In most of those cases, the player in question was just really good. (Mark Messier didn’t get by on being scary looking alone, after all.)

That being said, it seems like quite a few NHL teams flippantly give their best player the captain’s “C” even if that guy is as inspiring as a tub of tapioca pudding.

Ovechkin and Nash: natural leaders?

It’s likely that Rick Nash and Alex Ovechkin exhibit better leadership qualities than an oddly textured dessert, but their recent runs in the spotlight got me thinking about this subject again.* While each player’s respective team is in a very different situation, it’s hard for me to an accept an argument that their teammates would “battle in the trenches” (or some other goofy and inappropriate war analogy) for them.

Sure, the Columbus Blue Jackets weren’t exactly overflowing with options for their captaincy, but they might as well have done a ceremonial shoulder shrug when they handed Nash the “C.” The Washington Capitals might be more misguided, however, as it is painfully obvious that Brooks Laich (and even Mike Knuble) is the superior choice.

Assuming that Nash and Ovechkin even wanted that honor, I’d imagine that they would have easily dried their tears with a few $100 bills from their enormous contracts.

Other examples

source: APThose two aren’t the only guys whose teams didn’t seem to put a lot of thought into the whole thing, though.

  • Ryan Getzlaf has a great mean streak and buckets of talent, but he hardly screams “captain material” – especially considering his tendency to take bad penalties.
  • Zach Parise has a lot of the qualities you look for, but the parallels between his situation and Ilya Kovalchuk‘s* should make New Jersey Devils fans a little queasy.
  • Vincent Lecavalier‘s improved recent play upgrades him from “colossally overpaid” to “significantly overpaid.” Still, I can’t see why the team didn’t hand the job to Martin St. Louis instead – unless he outright refused it.
  • Mark Streit went from missing the entirety of the 2010-11 campaign to becoming the New York Islanders’ captain this season. It went by without much of a reaction because, let’s face it, we expect weird things from the Isles now.


Ultimately, leadership is an intangible quality that is frequently blown out of proportion. Still, when things go bad, there are quite a few teams who seem to lack a go-to guy to turn to because management based their captaincy decision on box scores alone.

* – The moment that really planted this idea in my head came when the Atlanta Thrashers made Kovalchuk their captain. The team was desperate to keep the Russian star in the fold, so they handed him the “C” to try to convince him to stay. That failed spectacularly, and amusingly enough, Kovalchuk is displaying more leadership qualities in New Jersey than he ever did in Atlanta.

  1. comeonnowguys - Feb 23, 2012 at 8:57 AM

    How about listing the players you think exemplify the “C?”

    • har21441 - Feb 23, 2012 at 9:14 AM

      starting with Crosby.

      • fleurysteeth - Feb 23, 2012 at 9:17 AM

        and ending with Crosby.

      • comeonnowguys - Feb 23, 2012 at 9:22 AM

        Are you sure about that?

      • comeonnowguys - Feb 23, 2012 at 9:22 AM

        …the ending with Crosby, I mean.

  2. blainelacher - Feb 23, 2012 at 9:35 AM

    Chara, Iginla, Lidstrom, Callahan, Pronger

    • fleurysteeth - Feb 23, 2012 at 9:52 AM

      all bums.

      • polegojim - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:07 AM

        oh yes teeth – everyone knows Lidstrom is such a bum…

        Take off hoser.

      • lostpuppysyndrome - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:53 AM

        Despite the trolling, that made me lawl. What is it with Pittsburgh trolls? Mrskunitz, now fleurysteeth. I think I smell some bitterness…

      • psujay - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:59 AM

        same person, also, soupcansid, the jamesneilname, it’s all one 13 year old with an inferiority complex.

    • polegojim - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:05 AM

      @blainelacher – Agreed. Those guys teach in locker room and on ice, making others better and appropriately/privately taking them to task when they’re dogging it.

      Too many ‘talkers’ think they’re exhibiting leadership by publicly calling out mates. That’s just mouthiness and nobody respects that. It’s not motivating.

      It’s different to say ‘we’ve got to get our act together’ or ‘some of us need a tune-up’, than to attack and accuse. When it needs to be done specifically, that’s for the locker room and closed doors.

  3. comeonnowguys - Feb 23, 2012 at 9:38 AM


  4. martysbetter - Feb 23, 2012 at 9:56 AM

    I understand what you’re getting at regarding Parise, but honestly this guy exemplifies everything you want in a player on the ice. He’s at 110% all game every single game, and is especially a shining example of what Pete Deboer’s vision for this Devils team needs to be in order to be successful, he’s a scoring forward who’s always aggressive on the puck.

    • polegojim - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:08 AM

      Best player… maybe not the best LEADER.

      Mike Modano as another example….when with the Stars….number of years ago.

      • martysbetter - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:13 AM

        Well statistically he’s not even the best player on the team, but I think the way he plays the game rubs off on everyone else on the ice, he leads by example.

      • polegojim - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:34 AM

        Exactly… leading by example, but not necessarily the Team Leader, the ‘C’.

        Not trying to split hairs… but IME anyways, there’s a big difference.

    • James O'Brien - Feb 23, 2012 at 7:44 PM

      Parise is absolutely captain material IMO – but it would be awkward if he leaves. I think you gathered that, but wanted to clarify.

  5. polegojim - Feb 23, 2012 at 9:59 AM

    Exactly Right James.

    Sakic = great player, quiet, non-leader. The Avs suffered for it during his final years.

    There’s a difference between a doer, a talker, and a leader. Very view are the latter.

    • andidee15 - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:10 AM

      Not true. The Avs suffered from losing all the talent around him in those last years, not losing Sakic’s leadership. He may not have been the most vocal captain, but he was certainly the right guy for the team. Quiet leaders do exist, and Sakic was one of the best.

      • wingsdjy - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:18 AM

        A player does not have to be vocal to be a leader. Yzerman was a great captain who primarily led by example.

      • polegojim - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:33 AM

        @and…That’s a fallacy.

        No such thing as a quiet leader. That’s the point of James article.

        Sakic and Modano types can do some leading by example, but that’s not the Leadership that warrants the ‘C’.

      • t16rich - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:44 AM

        In terms of business and jersey sales, the face of the franchise warrants the C. You might be one of 10 people who like hockey that feel Sakic wasnt a leader. I have heard guys like Claude Lemieux talk about how good of a leader Joe was. Whether you like Claude or not, you cant argue a player like him knows leadership.

      • michiganhockey11 - Feb 23, 2012 at 3:47 PM


        Yzerman was a quiet leader. He did lead by example and the few times he spoke, you know darn well you could hear a pin drop in that locker room.

  6. Exiled1 - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:13 AM

    Mark Streit “Captian” of the Islanders.
    might as well be the healthiest person at a leper colony.

  7. michiganhockey11 - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:14 AM

    Mike Knuble would be a much better choice for a Captain than Ovie. I’d take the Kentwood, MI native anyday as a leader of a team. Leadership trumps talent. Period.

    • lostpuppysyndrome - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:58 AM

      Meh, that’s what you get for making a Russki captain. Another example of ok player/great captain is Andrew Ladd. The guy flew to Winnipeg on his own buck just after the they got the team to scope out the city, talk to the guys upstairs, and make a case to the rest of the guys on the team to be excited about coming to Winnipeg. That’s what a captain does: leads on AND off the ice.

      • bethgoesglobal - Feb 23, 2012 at 12:33 PM

        “that’s what tou get for making a Russki captain”? That’s just an ignorant thing to say. Period.
        Ladd is a terrific example of what of a great “C” should be though.

      • michiganhockey11 - Feb 23, 2012 at 3:49 PM

        Russki? Someone’s been drinking a little bit too much of the Don Cherry kool-aid…..

        I suppsed Sweedes can’t figh teither right?

      • lostpuppysyndrome - Feb 24, 2012 at 12:05 AM

        Swins and Fedes don’t fight. And I would never make a Russian captain. Just like I’d never make a goalie captain.

      • lostpuppysyndrome - Feb 24, 2012 at 12:07 AM

        I do have one caveat: his name must be Datsyuk.

  8. t16rich - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:35 AM

    I think Streit being captain of Islanders is a great move by them. Mark captained a Swiss olympic team in ’06 that had 2 big upsets. Mark has consistantly been one of the Isles best player when healthy. He is 34 on a young team. Racks points up from the blueline. I think giving him the C after missing an entire was more respectful and justified than questionable. It’s tough to say who you think should be captain when youve never been around these guys or teams. People think captains have to be vocal. I dont. I feel captains set examples with their work and not words. Communication is obviously key at games and away from games. Relationships with teammates makes a good captain too. But I truly feel the best captains arnt the ones giving the pump up speeches, it’s the ones who get the team pumped up by their effort at practice and during games. Sure a guy should give it to his team when sucking but being vocal dosnt make you a leader. A guy like Lidstrom probally gains more respect from teammates by his body of work and work ethic instead of what he says to them during a game.

    • bcisleman - Feb 23, 2012 at 1:10 PM

      Mark leads by example. He is a quiet presence as opposed to a rah rah in your face guy. He has the respect of the room regardless of whether he was injured the year before.

      As to Mr. O’Brien’s comment, “we expect weird things from the Isles now,” I have to sadly respond that Islander fans expect foolish comments like that from journalists who should know better.

      If anyone wants a primer as to what it means to be a great NHL C, watch the Legends of Hockey tribute to The Captain, Denis Potvin, starting at the 2:20 mark.

  9. vshehane - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:38 AM

    Shea Weber

    • vshehane - Feb 23, 2012 at 11:32 AM

      If you can put a thumbs down for Shea Weber then you must be Alex Burrows mama.

  10. jamesmakesurmomneal - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:50 AM

    Soupcan is better leader from the pressbox than half the captains in the NHL. Guys like Zetterberg think they are great captains, but a real captain knows the right thing to say at just the right moment. Soupcan learned from watching Mario now the rest of the NHL can learn from him

    • psujay - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:56 AM

      Mario? Really?

      By most accounts until he came back from retirement Mario was a terrible leader and Francis was the man for the job. Mario was out smoking cigarettes, partying, and slacking off at practice. Sure in the games he was the best, but everything I’ve read about Mario as a person during his prime wasn’t exemplary. You should look up history.

      After his retirement he was a different teammate, according to Jagr, much like after his retirement Jordan came back and was a better teammate, according to Pippen.

      Mario was not known for his work ethic off the ice, and he wouldn’t even put on the Penguins jersey on draft day. I know you’re not old enough to remember these things, but you do seem capable of reading up on a topic before you post.

      • tribesofneurot - Feb 23, 2012 at 1:10 PM

        Dude,you need to read up on your history.
        Mario didn’t put on the jersey because he wasn’t happy with the contract not because how they went about drafting him.
        Unless you were sitting next to him at the draft and he told you this.
        We all know you hate the Penguins but spouting off about something you really don’t know about just makes you look like an ass.
        I am old enough to remember when Lemieux was drafted in ’84.

    • back2backbees - Feb 23, 2012 at 11:47 AM

      there is another “C” name for guys leading from the bench…it’s called “Coach”.
      And if Soft Neck Sid hopes to speak/live a normal into and beyond his thirties he should consider it as his last best option. It’s over Pens fans…admit it.

    • wingsdjy - Feb 23, 2012 at 12:29 PM

      What do you have against Zetterberg? I agree that Lidstrom was the better choice when Yzerman retired, but I think Zetterberg will be ready to step up once Lidstrom calls it a career.

    • hockeyknowledge - Feb 24, 2012 at 12:31 PM

      Campbell’s soup?

  11. jamesmakesurmomneal - Feb 23, 2012 at 11:24 AM

    Keep quiet psugay, how dare you question the leadership of Mario? You my friend are an old terd who needs to go play shuffleboard and stop giving the elderly a bad name with your nonsense

  12. jamesmakesurmomneal - Feb 23, 2012 at 11:32 AM

    Go figure, a psu guy posting about 13 year old boys…creep

  13. sportsfreak13 - Feb 23, 2012 at 12:05 PM

    Mario played the day after chemo for his cancer..he played for 3 months with back pain so bad he had to have someone else te his really doubting his work ethic. As far as that pens troll is concerned PHT needs to ban him. He makes all pens fans look bad.

    • sportsfreak12 - Feb 23, 2012 at 12:15 PM

      This name stealing crybaby again? go away 13. whats some cheese with that whine?

  14. bensawesomeness - Feb 23, 2012 at 12:22 PM

    if we keep throwing out old captians, how has Yzerman not been mentioned yet?

    • bethgoesglobal - Feb 23, 2012 at 12:37 PM

      He was.

    • t16rich - Feb 23, 2012 at 3:52 PM

      Stevie Y won a cup on a broken leg. No more to be said. Leader.

      • bruins33 - Feb 23, 2012 at 5:06 PM

        Ray Bourque — better leader than Yzerman. — now nothing more needs to be said.

      • t16rich - Feb 23, 2012 at 6:39 PM

        Actually one more thing needs to be said on this. Stevie Y 3 cups. Ray 1 cup. And that one cup didn’t come with your Bruins. Not sure why you threw Ray Bourque in on the Stevie Y comment. You simply could have said Ray Bourque is awesome without trying to put down a legend like Steve.

      • bruins33 - Feb 24, 2012 at 2:31 AM

        the Bruins didn’t not win a cup with Bourque because of his leadership and the Wings didn’t solely win 3 times because of Yzerman’s leadership, so the Stanley Cup talk is irrelevant.
        But I’m just throwing Bourque’s name out there and trying to push some people’s buttons, there is no definitive way of saying who was a better leader.
        I’m sorry if I have offended you.

  15. federovs4skn - Feb 23, 2012 at 12:36 PM

    sportsfreak13, im a die hard dirty detroit fan and i think you should keep your mouth shut. you are a waste of space in this world and need to go do something with your life instead of sitting on here fighting with 13 year olds. but child molesting is your thing tho right?

  16. sportsfreak13 - Feb 23, 2012 at 1:28 PM

    Messier for the rangers is another example of a old but great captain.

    • govtminion - Feb 23, 2012 at 1:33 PM

      Example, hell- he’s the model for all others to try to strive towards.

      Pity that goaltenders can’t be captains- Patrick Roy always struck me as the kind of guy that the rest of the locker room would go through hell for.

      • sportsfreak13 - Feb 23, 2012 at 1:37 PM

        very good point!

  17. icelovinbrotha215 - Feb 23, 2012 at 6:37 PM

    It happens way too much in hockey were the best player is automatically the Captain. From Mites to the NHL and everywhere in between, the best player is looked to as the leader. But all of us fans who have played ice hockey at some level know that this is far from the truth. Leadership does come with a letter. It’s either you have it or not. Idk if Ovi has it. I just hope he changes his ways because his game isn’t headed in the right direction.

  18. lolnowhy - Feb 25, 2012 at 2:11 AM

    what exactly qualifies James O’Brien to question a player’s captaincy? how many games have you spent in an NHL uniform, let alone around an NHL team?

    my guess: zero. a perfect example of a keyboard warrior

  19. tcclark - Feb 25, 2012 at 3:50 PM

    Dave Anderchuk
    Keith Primeau
    Rod Brind’amour
    Mike Eruzione (Olympic Team Obviously)

    Just four examples of guys who were great captains but not the best players on their team. and of them, Primeau was the only one not to win anything as a team Captain, but he scored so many huge playoff goals.

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