Welcome to the club, kid. (Photo: Ed Mulholland/US PRESSWIRE)

Ranking The NHL's Captains

When the Colorado Avalanche named 19-year-old Gabriel Landeskog the youngest permanent captain in NHL history last Tuesday, he joined a select and prestigious group. Brian Bellows, Vincent Lecavalier and Sidney Crosby are the only other players who became captains before their 20th birthdays. Bellows was actually younger than Landeskog when he was awarded the captaincy with Minnesota in 1983-84, but that was on an interim basis filling in for the injured Craig Hartsburg.  Lecavalier was stripped of his captaincy by Tampa Bay Lightning coach John Tortorella after only one season.  Crosby, who’s widely regarded as the best player in the game, was 11 days older than Landeskog when he was named captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins. What I’m trying to say is…

No pressure, kid.

There’s no position revered more on an NHL team than the captain. A captain must represent his team with class, leadership, toughness and superb play on the ice. A good captain is highly respected by not only his teammates, who are willing to skate through a wall for him, but his opponents as well. As fans, we spend hours arguing that our team’s captain is better than your team’s captain.

Well, now you know if that’s really the case.

I took on the less-than-enviable task of compiling a ranking of all 26 captains in the NHL (Columbus, Detroit, Florida and New Jersey do not have captains on their rosters as of today). I used three criteria (playing ability, longevity and track record) to rank the captains, then added the three rankings together to come up with a final score.

Playing ability – Definitely the most subjective of the three criteria, I used stats as much as possible to figure out which players contributed to their team’s on-ice success, but there are many other factors that can’t be quantified on a stat sheet.  For example, Zdeno Chara and Shea Weber are widely regarded as two of the best defencemen in the NHL, but you wouldn’t necessarily tell by statistics. Jonathan Toews and David Backes might not put up huge offensive numbers either, but they contribute in other ways to help their teams win. I tried my best to be as objective as possible, but I am a Leafs fan, so feel free to hammer me for putting Dion Phaneuf way too high on this list.

Longevity – AHA! SOMETHING COMPLETELY QUANTIFIABLE! STAT NERDS REJOICE! The more seasons you have spent with the team you are captaining, the higher you rank on the list. The tiebreaker is how many seasons you have spent as captain of that team. So Crosby and Alex Ovechkin both came into the league at the same time, but Crosby was named captain of the Penguins earlier than Ovechkin was of the Capitals, so Crosby ranks higher than Ovie. Pretty simple.

Track record – For this one I combined regular season games played with points for team and player awards. You get five points for a Stanley Cup, three for an Olympic gold medal, two for any of the major player awards (Hart, Art Ross, Rocket Richard, Lester B. Pearson/Ted Lindsay, Conn Smythe or Norris) and one for a King Clancy or Calder Trophy. Add that score to regular season games played divided by 100, and (PRESTO!) you have a final track record score. An example:

Jarome Iginla – 1188 GP/100 + 3×2 gold medals + 2×1 Art Ross + 2×2 Rocket Richard + 2×1 Lester B + 1×1 King Clancy = 26.88

It’s an imperfect system, but I did my best to rank awards by order of importance. The way I see it, the Stanley Cup and Olympic gold medal are the two biggest things a professional hockey player can win, with the Cup obviously being number one. Player awards also tell a lot about personal accomplishments, but aren’t as important as a Cup or gold medal.

These are the final rankings:

Playing Ability

Longevity

Track Record

Final Score

1

Sidney Crosby, C, Pittsburgh Penguins

1

11

1

13

2

Jarome Iginla, RW, Calgary Flames

9

3

2

14

3

Henrik Sedin, C, Vancouver Canucks

3

7

8

18

4

Alex Ovechkin, LW, Washington Capitals

2

13

5

20

5

Daniel Alfredsson, RW, Ottawa Senators

11

1

9

21

Vincent Lecavalier, C, Tampa Bay Lightning

13

4

4

21

7

Eric Staal, C, Carolina Hurricanes

7

9

10

26

8

Zdeno Chara, D, Boston Bruins

4

17

7

28

9

Joe Thornton, C, San Jose Sharks

8

16

6

30

10

Shane Doan, RW, Phoenix Coyotes

19

2

13

34

11

Jonathan Toews, C, Chicago Blackhawks

5

20

11

36

Shea Weber, D, Nashville Predators

6

14

16

36

13

Ryan Getzlaf, C, Anaheim Ducks

10

15

12

37

14

Chris Pronger, D, Philadelphia Flyers

12

24

3

39

15

Brenden Morrow, LW, Dallas Stars

23

5

14

42

16

Dustin Brown, RW, Los Angeles Kings

21

8

15

44

17

Jason Pominville, RW, Buffalo Sabres

18

10

20

48

Mikko Koivu, C, Minnesota Wild

15

12

21

48

19

Shawn Horcoff, C, Edmonton Oilers

26

6

17

49

20

David Backes, C, St. Louis

14

18

23

55

21

Dion Phaneuf, D, Toronto Maple Leafs

16

22

19

57

22

Mark Streit, D, New York Islanders

17

21

24

62

23

Ryan Callahan, LW, New York Rangers

20

19

25

64

24

Brian Gionta, RW, Montreal Canadiens

25

23

18

66

25

Andrew Ladd, LW, Winnipeg Jets

23

25

22

70

26

Gabriel Landeskog, RW, Colorado Avalanche

24

26

26

76

Unsurprisingly, Crosby finds himself at the top of the list. Iginla may be past his prime, but he still scored 32 goals last year, has won multiple awards and has been a vital part of the Flames for years. Henrik Sedin might not immediately come to mind when you think of great captains, but no one can argue that he leads by example with his point production. Ovechkin’s scoring may have declined over the past two seasons, but his ability and track record speak for themselves. Daniel Alfredsson is still going strong, even as he gets ready for his 17th season with the Senators, and Lecavalier has matured immensely since his rocky early days with the Lightning.

As for our boy Landeskog, he’s got some work to do. But after a full 82-game season that netted 22 goals, 52 points and a Calder Trophy as rookie of year, he’s off to a good start.

Again, no one’s saying these are the definitive rankings on NHL captains. They’re simply my rankings, and if you think I’m out to lunch, I’d love to see your rankings. And if all else fails, at least it gives us something to talk about as we gear up for the lockout to begin in five days.

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Tags: Alex Ovechkin Captain Colorado Avalanche Gabriel Landeskog NHL Rankings Sidney Crosby Vincent Lecavalier

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