What does one expect from a captain? A captain isn’t necessarily your best player. However, it is the player who sets the example for his teammates. The player who can best motivate his teammates. The player who never gives up and makes sure his teammates’ heads are in the game at all times. To be a great captain, you need leadership, poise and the ability to earn the respect of your peers.
In the NHL, being the captain is distinct from other sports. The captain has certain responsibilities that other players don’t. It says so right in the rulebook.
Rule 6.1 states: “One Captain shall be appointed by each team, and he alone shall have the privilege of discussing with the Referee any questions relating to interpretation of rules which may arise during the progress of a game.”
The captain will always come through for the team needs them. The player you want leading your team. Here are the top captains in the NHL that constantly display leadership and is the type of guy you want leading your team through a playoff run.
10) Mikko Koivu — Minnesota Wild
Mikko Koivu has been in Minnesota his entire career. He has been there for the Wild through their playoff drought and their two recent playoff appearances. He was officially named captain back in 2009. The Wild overachieved somewhat this year, considering the constant injury problems they had in goal.
He’s not the flashiest player and not an elite scorer, but he’s reliable for his team and constantly displays tremendous leadership.
He’s constantly battled injuries throughout his career, but his presence clearly means a lot to the Wild. He also was asked to captain team Finland in Sochi this year, but an injury prevented him from playing.
9) Sidney Crosby — Pittsburgh Penguins
You can’t help but knock Sidney Crosby down a few pegs given the recent struggles by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs, and particularly his own struggles.
While he can’t entirely be faulted for the Penguins underachieving, when you’re dubbed the best player in the world and you go 13 playoff games with one goal, you deserve some blame. The playoffs require you to step your game up to another level. Crosby has failed to do that since the Penguins won the cup back in 2009.
There are some fundamental issues with the Pens’ roster and we’re expecting some changes in Pittsburgh this offseason, but there’s no doubt they need more from their captain.
Yes, Crosby’s getting some blame, quite simply because we have higher standards for him, and why shouldn’t we?
Nonetheless, he still belongs on this list, as if you were to ask any general manager in the league if they could ship out their captain and replace him with Crosby, an overwhelming majority would say yes.
8) Brian Gionta — Montreal Canadiens
Brian Gionta has the toughest job of any captain in the league. He’s under the microscope of the Montreal area, where the spotlight shines brighter than any other city.
Gionta has the most media attention to deal with, and he’s always handled himself with class. He was signed as a free agent back in 2009 and after a year he was named captain with no objections by any fan, because it was clear he was the team’s leader.
Since then, he has always shown competitiveness, and plays with tremendous heart. He’s not the most skilled captain in the league, but is a very smart player and it speaks volumes that he has been able to overcome two bicep tears and still remain productive.
7) Henrik Zetterberg — Detroit Red Wings
When you’re replacing Nicklas Lidstrom as captain, it’s not an easy act to follow. Henrik Zetterberg has carried the load admirably, and has had to do so while the Red Wings are going through somewhat of a youth movement.
The Red Wings are a very young team, but Zetterberg has helped them maintain their playoff streak at 23 years. He nearly led Detroit to an upset over the eventual cup champion Chicago Blackhawks last year and unfortunately was not healthy for the team’s first round series against Boston this year.
He’s clearly learned a lot having seen Steve Yzerman and Lidstrom lead the team before him. He’s a big reason why Detroit has still managed to hang around when on paper, it appears they shouldn’t be a playoff team.
6) David Backes — St. Louis Blues
David Backes took a big hit from Brent Seabrook and was out for a few games in the St. Louis Blues’ first-round loss to Chicago. In Backes’ absence, the Blackhawks managed to turn the tide in the series and even though he returned, the momentum was all lost.
Backes regularly hovers around the 30-goal mark, but it’s his physical play and compete level that leads the way for a big, strong Blues team. He’s a responsible two-way forward and is perfect for the way Ken Hitchcock likes to see his team play.
Backes took over as captain the offseason after the Blues traded Eric Brewer in 2011. He’s handled it very well, already going through a coaching change, but has kept his team even keeled. He can bump himself higher on the list if the Blues have the long playoff run everyone is expecting from them at some point.
5) Zdeno Chara — Boston Bruins
In all of Peter Chiarelli’s tenure, his best move remains signing Zdeno Chara as a free agent back in 2006. Look where the Ottawa Senators are now, and look where the Bruins are now.
He quickly took over as captain, after Joe Thornton was traded to San Jose. He has carried that role nicely since. Chara remained the steady, reliable defensive force, while the team around him grew, and they finally reached the top in 2011 when the Bruins won their first Stanley Cup in 39 years.
Chara is now 37 years old and Boston will remain a top dog in the league and will consistently be a cup contender as long as the big man is around.
4) Shea Weber — Nashville Predators
It must be a frustrating situation for Shea Weber, but he’s always handled himself with great dignity. The Nashville Predators are a small-market team and routinely lose top players when they hit free agency.
Weber lost his defence partner Ryan Suter a couple of years ago and has seen many of his fellow teammates leave town. Weber almost did himself when the Philadelphia Flyers gave him the largest offer sheet we can remember, 14 years for over $100 million. The Predators took a stand and matched the offer, keeping Weber in Nashville.
Weber is now mentoring Seth Jones, whom the Preds picked fourth overall last year. It’s too bad we can’t see more of Weber on the big stage. Let’s see if the Predators are able to build themselves into a winner, or if it is Weber’s destiny to leave the music city if he wants a chance to win the cup.
3) Shane Doan — Phoenix Coyotes
If you want loyalty, look no further than Shane Doan. Through all of the turmoil and uncertainty surrounding the Phoenix Coyotes, Doan has stuck around in the desert through their entire existence.
Shane Doan has offensive talent but balances it out with physical play and defensive responsibility.
Like Weber, Doan is part of a team that slowly builds young talent, then can’t keep them once they become valuable. Doan has been through it all and was a big reason the Coyotes made a surprising run to the Western Conference Final back in 2012.
His intangibles are off the charts, and has never lost his fire, despite playing on a lot of really bad teams.
2) Dustin Brown — L.A. Kings
Not only is Dustin Brown regularly amongst the leading scorers on his team, he is a physical force and is always willing to pay the price, whatever it may be, to help his team win.
The constant calmness and poise the Kings have shown in the playoffs in recent years is a reflection of him. Jonathan Quick may be the biggest reason the Kings have enjoyed playoff success, but Brown constantly shows up big when it matters most.
Remember when the Kings had lost their stranglehold on the 2012 Stanley Cup Final and the Devils seemed set to force a game 7 after trailing three games to none? Dustin Brown was being called out because he had not produced to the level he had in the rest of the 2012 playoffs.
He responded in game 6 by opening the scoring and set up two other goals to lead the Kings to a sound 6-1 victory. Brown again led them to a long run last year, losing in the conference final. He also made history with his team this year, as the Kings overcame a 3-0 series deficit to beat the Sharks in the opening round. That doesn’t happen without strong leadership.
1) Jonathan Toews — Chicago Blackhawks
Let’s stop with the name ‘captain serious’. That doesn’t do Jonathan Toews justice. He is ‘captain clutch’. What other player in the NHL is more reliable and constantly shows up at the most important times? Who leads his team better than Toews does?
He’s the Mark Messier of this generation and if you were to pick one player in the league to be your team’s captain, you would go with Toews.
He’s as complete a hockey player as you’ll find. He’s a point-per-game player, he’s defensively responsible, he wins face-offs, he’s a strong forechecker, he’s a great play-maker and he has every intangible you could possibly want. He’s won a Conn Smythe Trophy and may very well win several more before his career is done.
In the last four years, he’s captained the Hawks to two Stanley Cups and has helped his country win two Gold Medals. Come 2018, if pros are still playing in the Olympics, Toews should be the captain.
No player has less detractors than Toews. That’s because there’s not much to dislike about him. Clutch? Check. Skilled? Check. Leader? Check. He’s a natural captain and it’s because of him that his team is currently the model franchise in the NHL.