What Does it Take to be a Captain in the NHL?

In the National Hockey League, one player is given the honour of having the “C” placed on his sweater. This is one of the main reasons the captain of a hockey team is more important than the captain, or captains, of teams in other major sports. In other organized sports, the team captain is quite often the superstar of the group, or the best player or perhaps even the most marketable. In hockey, the team captain might not be close to being considered the best player on the team. Very frequently in hockey, the team captain is not the best skater, or the best scorer or the toughest guy on their team. Instead, the captain demonstrates the appropriate actions for the moment and is capable of showing leadership when the team needs it. 

There is no other major sport whose team’s potential success or failure so directly tied to the abilities and leadership of its captain. Relating this back to Gevurah, leadership lies in the judgement of the captain. As we learned in our last post, the rabbis describe gevurah as sensitivity to both using the power we have, considering that the spotlight could follow us around. It’s the balance between starting a massive line brawl when a teammate gets hit, or on the other hand doing nothing. Authentic leadership lies somewhere in the middle. 

What makes a captain great? He leads by example on and off the ice. It means leading by example and speaking up and defending his teammate’s actions on the ice. Usually, that means the captain’s job is to be the point person with the referee if there is a disagreement about a penalty call. It means coming to the rink every day as a professional, working hard to develop their skills and work with players to support them. At the arena, it means adjusting on the fly and implementing systems with the players and coaches to make sure everybody is on the same page. A great captain earns respect and admiration of his team: two precious assets critical to the success of the organization. A captain is usually known as one of the hardest-working players on the team; the one who studies film meticulously; the first one at practice; the last one to leave; and, the one who implements much of what the coach’s specific game plan is. The captain is known as the heart and soul of the team and a player that is relied upon for whatever the moment calls for. 

Here is a list of some of the best captains currently playing in the NHL, who I believe demonstrate gevurah in its truest definition.

Dustin Brown

Dustin Brown isn’t a superstar, but he was the heart and soul of a competitive squad as Los Angeles’ captain for eight seasons. With Brown as captain, the Kings made the playoffs five straight times from 2010 to 2014, including a conference-final berth in 2013 between their Stanley Cup wins. What demonstrates his incredible leadership was his willingness to give the captaincy to his teammate Anze Kopitar a few years back. He knew when to take a step back and let someone else lead the team, which shows the true character of a leader.  

Sidney Crosby

In just his third NHL season, at only 19 years of age, Sidney Crosby became the youngest player ever at the time to be named captain. By the end of that decade, “Sid the Kid” had already captured the Art Ross, Hart, Lester B. Pearson (now Ted Lindsay Award), and “Rocket Richard” trophies, in addition to leading the Pittsburgh Penguins to a championship in 2009. Since then, it’s been much of the same from No. 87. Crosby ranks second in points and assists this decade, and fifth in goals, even while sitting 110th in games played. Pittsburgh has made the postseason in each of his 12 campaigns at the helm, and in 2017, the team became the first in 19 years to capture back-to-back Stanley Cup championships, with Crosby earning the Conn Smythe Trophy each time. He also served as captain for Team Canada at the Olympics.

Alex Ovechkin

The best player in Washington Capitals franchise history is also by far its most exceptional leader. He has missed the playoffs just once during his 11-year run as captain, and they captured their first Stanley Cup in 2018. In addition to the club’s success, Ovi’s individual accolades as the captain put him a step above the rest. “The Great 8” is one of just three players – along with Steve Yzerman and Mario Lemieux – to notch five 50-plus-goal seasons as captains. Had the 2019-20 campaign not been suspended, Ovechkin would have likely become the first captain to achieve that accomplishment six times. More then that, he is quite entertaining.

DISCLAIMER: Expletive language used, but it’s worth it (the whole speech is great, but 4:18 is where Ovi shows his true passion)

Steven Stamkos

Steven Stamkos has personified the perennial powerhouse Tampa Bay Lightning since breaking out in his second NHL season back in 2009-10. The superstar forward has put up the best offensive numbers of any Bolts captain since 2000-01. He’s also worn the “C” for Tampa Bay for longer than anyone else in team history. As captain, Stamkos helped the club reach the playoffs in five of six seasons, including two trips to the conference final and the Stanley Cup Final in 2015. He comes to the rink each day ready to work and is relied upon each night to lead his team. 

John Tavares

John Tavares, like Shea Weber, has now served as captain for two NHL teams. With the New York Islanders, he donned the “C” for five seasons, putting him tied for the second-longest tenure as captain in franchise history. He’s also one of two captains since 1992-93 to lead the Isles out of the first round of the playoffs. However, Tavares is considered a villain these days on Long Island after leaving in free agency for Toronto, who was named captain earlier this year. A first overall draft pick, Tavares is known for his commitment to detail and work ethic, and will one day lift the Stanley Cup for the Toronto Maple Leafs (you hear it here first). 

Jonathan Toews

“Captain Serious” has been responsible for leading the Chicago Blackhawks since the 2008-09 season. During Toews’ tenure as captain, Chicago has won the Stanley Cup three times while also rattling off nine straight postseason appearances before missing out in 2017-18. Toews is not one to put up high offensive numbers, but he’s been a steady presence and often elevates his game when the team needs it most. 

Shea Weber

Shea Weber is indisputably the Nashville Predators best captain, and he’s also the most essential player in the club’s brief history. The 6-foot-4 blue-liner each year has asserted himself as one of the NHL’s top defensemen, garnering attention for the team leaguewide with his dynamic play and his incredible slapshot. Weber helped lead the Predators to the playoffs during eight of his 11 seasons in Nashville, including four as captain. Although he never won the Norris Trophy as best defensive player, Weber finished among the top four in voting for the award four times as a captain and was twice a runner-up. He also holds the franchise record for games played, goals, and points by a defenseman. He also (sadly) was named captain of the Montreal Canadiens (my least favourite hockey team), but despite this fact, his exceptional leadership is undeniable. 

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