Why There Is No Standardized Approach to Selecting an NHL Captain


Why There Is No Standardized Approach to Selecting an NHL Captain

Hockey, Hockey News

While NHL teams are appointing captains to fill their leadership roles, there’s no need to worry if your team currently lacks an official ‘C,’ assures Adam Proteau.

Tuesday saw the St. Louis Blues fill their vacant captaincy, appointing longtime forward Brayden Schenn to the role. Meanwhile, the Vancouver Canucks made 23-year-old defenseman Quinn Hughes their official captain, and the Winnipeg Jets bestowed the ‘C’ upon Adam Lowry. However, when it comes to selecting a team captain, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach.

Let’s begin by acknowledging what teams expect from their captain. NHL general managers and coaches don’t place the entire burden of leadership on the captain’s shoulders. While the captain serves as a bridge between players and management and sets an example for teammates in interactions with media, fans, and officials, they are not the sole driving force behind the team’s success. Teams, as a collective entity, play a significant role in governing themselves.

As a result, despite Hughes, Schenn, and Lowry assuming captaincy roles for their respective teams, a substantial portion of NHL teams, including Anaheim, Arizona, Boston, Calgary, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Seattle, currently lack a captain. Each of these teams has distinct reasons for this decision. Some are in the early stages of rebuilding their rosters, so there’s no immediate need to designate a singular leader. The Flames haven’t had a captain since Mark Giordano’s tenure in 2020-21. The Bruins’ captaincy became vacant after Patrice Bergeron’s retirement, and the Kraken, although briefly led by Giordano in 2021-22, continue to develop their leadership group.

Teams appear comfortable without a captain, often assigning the ‘A’ (alternate captain) to experienced players or promising young skaters as they gradually prepare them to become the face of the franchise. However, there is indeed a method to the NHL’s leadership choices. Analyzing the patterns of alternate and official captains reveals a discernible trend.

For instance, of the 25 current captains, 14 are centers, seven are wingers, and four are defensemen. The average age of a captain is approximately 30.8 years, with 16 captains aged 30 or older, and five aged 35 or older. This suggests that players earn the trust of their teams long before becoming seasoned veterans. Elite players often don’t receive the ‘C’ immediately, as they already face high performance expectations. Instead, they are gradually introduced to the role, as exemplified by the Maple Leafs’ approach with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. Eventually, they may succeed current captain John Tavares without a steep learning curve. Of course, there are exceptions, like Sidney Crosby, Gabriel Landeskog, and Connor McDavid, who held or hold the record for the youngest captain in NHL history.

Ultimately, the NHL’s top teams rely on their captains as de facto on-ice coaches, allowing them to lead in their unique styles. Choosing a captain isn’t a one-size-fits-all process; it varies from team to team based on the rationale of GMs and coaches. The results in the win-loss columns ultimately determine whether a captain remains in their role for the long term, as seen with Winnipeg’s removal of Blake Wheeler as captain when the team’s direction changed. While captaincy is not a guaranteed, tenured position, significant time and effort are invested in selecting the right candidate.

So, if your favorite team doesn’t currently have an official captain, don’t worry. The role is flexible and can vary greatly from one team to another. While there’s no fixed formula for identifying and developing a captain, players often earn it through their consistent contributions well before any official announcement. You can be an outstanding player without being a captain, but all captains must excel in some aspect, and this reality will continue to shape captain selections across the league.




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