In this first part we'll be diving in to captaincy itself and analyzing the captains of the Western Conference of the National Hockey League. In the second part we will be focusing on the Eastern Conference and captaincy in virtual hockey.
The NHL season recently kicked off, so far we've had around 50 games played, over 200 goals scored and a bunch of NHL firsts. Be it first points, first goals or first games. We're living an exciting time of year and it's simply wonderful that the greatest league in sports is back with some action.
The term captain derives from the Greek word katepánō, which roughly translates to ” placed at the top”. That defines a captain rather well, a captain is the Top-Dog, the Alpha-male, the one who steers the ship. Your ship could be the fastest, biggest or the most expensive in the world, but it's useless without a good captain. The same very much goes for ice hockey teams. Without a proper captain, your ship sails where the current takes it. You need a captain with the passion, vision, fire and will to win - then you can even sail against the wind. A hockey match is a battle where questioning your choices might very well mean defeat. That’s where the captain comes into play. He makes sure that everybody goes by the plan and that everybody does their part on the ice. That is what differentiates a good captain from the average or bad ones. A good captain gets the whole team to stand by him no matter what and if the plan needs to be changed he can communicate it to the team and he will lead by example.
Let’s take a closer look at all NHL-teams and their captains. I'll give you my opinion and analysis about them.
Anaheim Ducks – Ryan Getzlaf
Getzlaf is the best player in his team season after another. Point production and playing intensity can vary depending on the mood of Ryan, but even on the off nights he is a force to be reckoned with. When he is in the zone, nothing can stop him. He is a big player with a good shot, but prefers assisting. Getzy also defends well and has no real weaknesses to his game. Has also won a Cup with the Ducks in '07. Truly a franchise player. One of the most underrated players in the NHL.
Arizona Coyotes – Oliver Ekman-Larsson
OEL claimed the captaincy out in the desert this summer. Arizona has been adrift for quite some years and the hockey culture in over in the Phoenix-Glendale area has suffered immensely, partly due to the lack of success. The Swede is turning into the face of the franchise very much needed after the era of Shane Doan has passed. We'll have to wait and see what kind of captain OEL will turn out to be, in a recent interview he stated that he will let his play do the talking and let his assistants be more vocal in the locker room.
Calgary Flames – Mark Giordano
Solid defender with a flame in his heart. Has always represented Calgary at the NHL level and I think he will stay there till the end of his career. No major achievements in his career and that is the biggest problem. I think a good captain needs to have that winning mentality and culture, which sorry to say - Mark simply doesn't possess. I doubt the Flames will make a cup run with Giordano as captain. There is no big flaws in his game but on the other side there aren’t any superb ups in his game either. History won’t remember him as a great leader, but history will remember him as a loyal and solid Flames defenseman.
Edmonton Oilers – Connor McDavid
Does this player even need an introduction or any explanation on why he is the captain? Best player of the NHL right now. McDavid as captain was set in stone from the moment he was drafted. I believe he will turn the franchise around and do good things with them.
Los Angeles Kings – Anze Kopitar
Anze is going into his third season as a captain. His first captaincy season was his worst in the NHL. He had to prove that he can be a leader both on and off the ice and that he did in the 17/18 season as he put up an amazing tally of 92 points. Has two cups already, so he knows what it takes to be the top dog and communicate it to the team, boosting others to make the whole team better. Will the high flying of this Slovenian magician carry on and will rest of the team catch some air time too? It all remains to be seen, but I wouldn't count them out as contenders in 18/19.
San Jose Sharks – Joe Pavelski
”Captain America” or ”Big Joe” took the Sharks leadership after another great in leader Joe Thornton. I recall some minor controversy when the captaincy was transferred to the younger Joe. However, the passing of the torch went well and Pavelski has led the San Jose team efficiently. They even went head to head with the Penguins for the cup in 15/16 but ended up on the losing side. Even though Pavelski has proven himself as playmaker, passer and scorer he still need to prove himself as winner. His only notable win outside of juniors is an Olympic silver medal and with that you won’t go down in history as a great captain.
Vancouver Canucks – Vacant
The age after the Sedins begin. Vancouver is in a huge crisis right now. Their defense is mediocre, goalies are mediocre and offense is mediocre. No captain and basically no playoff expectations. They really need to start building their team for the long term in hopes of making the playoffs in the next 5 years. The Canucks have some young assets in Elias Petterson(who's been looking like a stud in his first strides on the NHL ice!) and Brock Boeser, who went almost a point-per-game in his first full NHL season.
Vegas Golden Knights - vacant
As you know, the Golden Knights are team who has done tremendously well without a captain. I think that this is a unique situation in the history of the NHL. There is some kind of a magical atmosphere within the team and everybody does their best to chip in. I think that stems from the fact that all players were starting from 0 in a new team that has no burdens of history. I certainly thought they'd have to pick a captain for this season as the ”honey moon” is over and some of the first season magic will fade.
Chicago Blackhawks – Jonathan Toews
No drawback found here. Toews is an all-round package in a playing field with some of the best hockey senses ever both on defense and offense. It's a huge reason why the Blackhawks have won three titles during his tenure. He has also won two Olympic gold medals and a World Cup. This guy really knows how to win and every team in NHL would be lucky to have such a great leader in their team.
Colorado Avalanche – Gabriel Landeskog
Had a bad season in 16/17 and had a lot prove in 17/18. Gabriel ended up delivering an excellent effort along Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon. Solid overall player who is leading by example both on the ice and in the dressing room. Still young at the age of 25 and really excellent choice for a captain albeit the criticism that has earlier surrounded him. Can be the leader for coming years and is a good piece to start slowly building a true Cup contender team. Also notable that he has been the team captain for almost 6 years already.
Dallas Stars – Jamie Benn
Still relatively young at age 29 and he has been a captain since 13/14. Has proven himself as goal scorer and a true offensive threat. He is a natural winner and has a U20 gold medal, a WHL championship and an Olympic Gold medal to back that up. In my opinion, Dallas as a team doesn't currently have what it takes to win a cup, but if they can improve some areas such as goaltending I predict that Benn has the qualities to lead the Stars to a Cup.
Minnesota Wild – Mikko Koivu
Koivu has had a bit too big of a hill to climb when has been the sole leader of Minnesota. Since the acquisition of Eric Staal in 16/17 they have a second big leader in the dressing room and Minnesota has bounced back nicely. Also notable is that Mikko's older brother Saku was the captain of the Montreal Canadiens for 10 years so the leadership gene sure runs in the family. Both have also been captains of team Finland and both are gold medalists in the IIHF World Championships, however neither one has won Stanley Cup. Still remains to be seen if the Koivu family will get a taste of the Cup.
Nashville Predators – Roman Josi
Roman Josi has had a great start to his captaincy. Nashville lost to a strong Winnipeg team after a struggle the Playoffs last year, mostly simply due to how good their opposition was. The Preds defense backstopped by "Betoni-Pekka" Rinne is one of the best in league. Josi himself is a superb defender who is never in a rush whether it’s in the attacking zone or in front of the own net. His team can rely on him every night and even if there is a hiccup Mr. Rinne will handle the rest. I'd be surprised if Josi wouldn't lead his team to at least a legitimate cup run in the next three seasons.
St. Louis Blues – Alex Pietrangelo
Reliable. That is the term that defines Pietrangelo. He won’t be the top scorer or top passer, but you can bet on him to be on the ice when the game is in its closing moments and it's time to play the hard minutes. Chasing the 3-gold club as he has an Olympic gold and World Cup gold. Still needs a Stanley Cup and has at least 6-7 seasons left to get it. He knows how to win and what makes a winning team. Now he just needs the material around him to be good enough and he will lead them to glory.
Winnipeg Jets – Blake Wheeler
Blake Wheeler is a machine of a human being. Huge presence on the ice. He is big, he is fast and has the scoring and passing ability. The epitome of a power forward who can be on the ice on powerplays and on the PK. Wheeler doesn't have any big team achievements or major personal trophies in his career so far. The argument could be made: does he have enough passion and fire for winning to achieve greatness as the Jets captain? Winnipeg has a good group of guys put together and it remains to be seen if Wheeler is the locomotive that can haul the rest of the team all the way to a Cup. Inked a fresh five year deal, I predict at least a Cup final run within these five years.
What are your thoughts so far? Who is you favorite captain in the West? Who should be named captain to take one of the vacant spots? Let me know in the comments and stay tuned for the second part in which we'll take a look at the Eastern conference and dive in to what captaincy means in virtual hockey.