Oh Captain My Captain: The best captain in the NHL is…………..????????
I am writing this based off the fact that the sport of hockey is a well belonged passion in my heart. As a kid growing up in NJ during the 90s and 00s I was able to watch the likes of the great Marty Brodeur, captain Scott Stevens, Norris winner and true legend defenseman Scott Neidermeyer, future HOF winger Elias, mixed with the quirky pests Scott Gomez, Claude Lemeiux, John Madden, Pandolfo, Daneyko and Lagnenbrunner (the list go’s on and on) compete in 4 cups, (1 more recently 2012) and win 3 of them en route to a triangle devils trap dynasty. The problem is, I am a New York Rangers fan.
Being a Rangers fan as you would expect, has no perks. The lower half of the Original Six totum has brought the great city 1 championship in 75 years in the sport and many lows, most recently a Game 7 home loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Wednesday night I sat, very enviously as the Lightning played Game 1 vs Chicago and could not help but notice the young and very great Jonathan Bryan Toews, captain of the Blackhawks, skating and playing with the visions of ample captains that I watched through my years. Such as Joe Sakic, Steve Yzerman, Mark Messier, Trevor Linden, Mats Sundin, Nicklas Lidstrom and Mario Lemeiux. And it brought to me an interesting question, of all these HOF players in the past, who presently, is the best?
Being a captain is more than just leadership, it’s about growing and learning, even beyond your years. We’ve seen so many times through this great sport’s history men who only acheive the greatest of leadership qualities from their latter years forward, putting the past behind them. A great example of this would be Zdeno Chara whom until his days in Boston, was just a good defender with a wicked slap shot. Or how about Andrew Ladd? The Winnipeg Jets captain won 2 Stanley Cups, 06 with Carolina, 10 with Chicago, before he made his stardom into Winny and donned the ever so deserving C, never thought of before that moment. So who today is the best?
Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins )— the consensus best player in the entire league as voted on from his peers, and easily the most loved and hated player in the game today. Captain Canada had one hell of a run from 2008–2010, appearing in 2 Stanley Cup Finals and 1 famously Gold Medal game, in which we all know the result, the golden goal which gave team Canada the coveted medal over the US in OT. He symbolizes everything you want in a Captain, he leads, he plays through injury (broken jaw), he makes EVERY SINGLE PERSON he plays with better (Kunitz, Bennett, Dupuis, even Malkin), and he has the sports biggest prize which he raised a couple inches over his head in the summer of 2009. Through those playoffs you could see in Sid the kid’s eyes the year before, losing the cup at home in 6 games to Detroit that he was a captain possessed. His 31 points those playoffs ranked just 2nd to his teammate, and eventual playoff MVP Evgeni Malkin, on his team. With 2 Messier leadership awards, 2 Art Ross, 3 Pearson/Lindsay awards, 2 Harts, 1 Rocket and 1 Cup, love him or hate him, he’s only 27 yrs of age and HAS to be recognized as one of the best captains to date.
Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim Ducks)— from the moment this man stepped on the ice he has been considered one of the best players in the entire world. His size (6'4) matched with his tremendous ability to hit, backcheck, forecheck, and get to the net is so rare in today’s game and is hard to match when talking captains. A prime “lead by example” type player, in just his 4th year with the team in Anaheim he won the franchise’s only stanley cup in 2007 and carried a group of superstars in points during their postseason run with 17, at the time, a franchise record. He quickly grew from first round pick to superstar overnight and donned the Ducks C in 2010, growing into a prime time leader and scorer in this league. When you say captain, people in Anaheim say Getzlaf.
Dustin Brown(Los Angeles Kings)— California a hockey state??? Who knew? Dustin is arguably one of the best multi talented players in the game and his unique style of forechecking, scoring, and fantastic penalty killing has made him a leader on the ice for the 2 time Stanley Cup champs. The thing Brown is most known for is his rare ability to take penalties, a category he has led in the NHL 5 times. He has also scored more than 22 goals in his career 5 straight seasons, amassed with 45 playoff points. His “clutchest” moment came in Game 6 of the 2012 Finals, where he scored 2 goals, en route to a throbbing of NJ, and the cities first Stanley Cup in 45 years of franchise history, becoming just the 2nd American born Captain to ever hoist Lord Stanley.
Shane Doan (Phoenix Coyotes) — whenever you play 19 seasons in the NHL, for just ONE FRANCHISE, you HAVE to be considered one of the games best leaders. From his moments briefly in Winnipeg, to his stardom in Phoenix, Shane has exemplified the pure ability to score, win and smile, through some of the toughest times making him a true Captain. It’s very easy to signify players on winning teams, but Shane Doan, notoriously on the same tough “loser” organization for his entirety has never once fallen apart. Instead, he’s picked himself, his teammates and even his bosses back up and carried the load for all of my lifetime. Doan isthe all-time leader in games played with the Jets/Coyotes franchise. He is also currently second in Jets/Coyotes history in points and goals behind Dale Hawerchuk, and third in assists behind Hawerchuk and Thomas Steen. In 2012 he had this franchise just 3 wins away from its first ever trip to the Stanley Cup Final, the closest he has personally ever gotten. With just 9 playoff trips in his 19 seasons as hockey fans we know he deserves better and IF, a big IF, in fact his time with this franchise is coming to a close, he can hopefully muster up all that he has left in his tank to join a cup contender and finally win. But until then, he will forever be known as the greatest player, and Captain for a single franchise, putting him WITHOUT QUESTION in this articles category.
Steven Stamkos (Tampa Bay Lightning )- just 25 years of age “Stammer the Hammer” is among the leagues elite. His slap shot ability is only masked by one other (coming soon) and some would say so is his goal scoring ability as well making him lethal from anywhere on the ice. Up to this point in his career I would say his leadership qualities were a bit iffy, but this current run that Tampa Bay is on in the 2015 Stanley Cup Finals I believe has put Stammer into this discussion. He was able to fight through some really rough hockey drought early in the postseason, and turn it on immensely when his team needed it in rounds 2 vs Montreal and 3, the conference final vs New York. His 60 goals in 2011 saw him claim the Rockey Richard as did his 29 in the shortened 2013 season. Currently, his 17 points are 2nd on his team this playoff as there are still 3 games to be played with a possible 3 if Tampa can find its way back in the series.
Before I reveal my last choice I would like to mention some notables. Henrik Zetterberg is a man that I believe is a tremendous leader, even with his injuries progressing and his production digressing over the last 3–4 years, he is still the heart and soul along with Pavel. That said, considering Pavel is so vital to that team as well I did not add him. Many people are probably puzzled as to why I did not mention Ovechkin as well. In my OWN PERSONAL OPINION, Alexander is the best pure goal scorer in the game and maybe the best I’ve ever seen but a great Captain he is not. His inability to backcheck and constantly let series get away from him (which I understand is a team effort) happens way too often, and you usually follow your captains lead. Until he gets past these demons I cannot put him in this coversation. Jamie Benn, the Art Ross winner is an all around stud and with some playoff success, maybe just 1 run to the 2nd round with Seguin, he’ll be right at the top. What he was able to do on a team with limited depth was and is amazing.
I really enjoy Chara, Giroux, Ladd, Weber and Tavares, but Chara has slipped and the obvious leadership on that team is Patrice. Ladd has a little more work to do but out of all that I left off he is the 1 guy I would put on if given the choice. Weber struggles from the unfortunate franchise that pulls him down, but his offensive ability mixed with his crushing hits absolutely have him at the cusp, needs some playoff success. Tavares is phenomenal, sensational, spectacular, just young, he’ll be in this convo very shortly. As for Giroux, a team with that much talent that doesn’t make the playoffs is tough to root for its Captain. I will however absolutely admit the fact that he is one of the best players in this league, unbelievable PP presence has his team at the top every year and for a small man he does big extraordinary things. I just chose to pick who I thought were the best right now, and I love every Captain choice, even my own teams in McDonagh, I just do not believe they are in the league with the rest. Now, on to my final guy and in my opinion, the best captain in today’s game and best all around player in the world:
Jonathan Toews (Chicago Blackhawks) — he is 27 years old. Yes, he plays with Duncan Keith, and Patrick Kane, and Marian Hossa, and Patrick Sharp, and on and on and on. But there is no doubt who the #1 guy on this potential dynasty full of stars is. As hockey fans, when asked who leads, who is the best, who is the most consistent, who plays the PP, the kill,who stays out of the penalty box, keeps his guy cool, comes up clutch and always, always delivers, the answer is simple, the answer is his nickname, the answer, is Captain Serious. That name alone should tell us all who the head honcho is when it comes to this category. #19 in red has been the best player in this league since he was drafted 3rd overall. From his gold medal shootout goal, to his most recent crazy Game 7 in Anaheim, at the age of 27 he has already cemented his legacy. He’s the youngest captain ever to win the Conn Smythe (playoff MVP), 2nd youngest EVER among any player. He is the youngest player to gain entry into the Triple Gold Club, winning an Olympic Games gold medal, a World Championship gold medal, and the Stanley Cup at the age of 22. He has 1 Selke, the award given to the best defensive forward in the game. Plain and simple, Toews is a winner, and there is nothing more important next to leadership in a Captain than winning. All the TRUE GREATS have done it. Gretzky, Lemeiux, Howe, Clarke, Orr, Messier, Hull, Yzerman, Sakic and Beliveau. Toews is in elite company, there is no doubt. There is only 1 question, in a day and age of the goalie, of the blue line, where 50 goals is the high point, how much further can #19 go in his quest for greatness? It is truly scary and currently, win or lose the 2015 Finals, he is at the tippy top of this list.