NHL team captains get the rare honour of wearing a big C on their jersey.
The tradition isn’t widely seen in baseball or basketball while in football, several players share the captain’s load. The captaincy in the NHL is special that way.
In the latest edition of NHL 100, a weekly series from The Canadian Press, we look at some of the most iconic captains in NHL history.
Yzerman wore the C in Detroit for 20 years â€” the longest in league history â€” taking over the captaincy from Danny Gare at age 21 and wearing until he retired from the NHL in 2006. The Wings won three Stanley Cups along the way and began one of the league’s longest playoff streaks. Yzerman set the tone with a cool, determined style of his leadership.
The NHL’s all-time leading scorer on defence, Bourque wore the C in Boston for 15 seasons. Bourque was actually only a part-time captain in those first three seasons. He and Rick Middleton split the duties with Middleton getting the letter at home and Bourque wearing it on the road. The Bruins reached two Stanley Cup finals with the Montreal product at the helm, Bourque later winning his first and only Cup as a member of the Colorado Avalanche.
Doug Harvey held the captaincy in Montreal for one season after Maurice Richard retired and after that came Beliveau. He went on to become the longest-serving captain in Habs history, a mark later tied by Saku Koivu, leading Montreal for 10 seasons while capturing five Cups along the way.
Messier was handed the C in Edmonton after Wayne Gretzky exited for Los Angeles. It was the start of 16 straight seasons as an NHL captain for Messier, the Edmonton native filling role right up until his retirement from the Rangers in 2004. He’s the first and only player to have captained two teams to the Cup, emerging with both the Oilers (1989) and Rangers (1994), the latter the first for New York in 54 years. The NHL later named a leadership award after him.
Known as the consummate pro and one of the best two-way centres in NHL history, Francis captained the Whalers, Penguins and Hurricanes over almost two decades in the league. His No. 10 sweater just looked right with the C anywhere he went.
Gretzky joins Messier and Terry Ruskowski as the only three players in league history to have captained three different NHL franchises. The Great One took over the Oilers captaincy from Lee Fogolin in 1983, became the Kings captain in 1989 and then was given the C immediately upon joining the Blues in 1996, replacing Shayne Corson.
Not only was Potvin one of the highest scoring defencemen ever, but he also manned the captaincy for the Islanders when they became only the second team ever to win the Cup in four straight seasons – joining Montreal which did it twice. New York actually reached a fifth straight final with Potvin at the helm but fell in five games to the rival Oilers.
Sakic split the Norqidues captaincy with Steven Finn during the 1990-91 season before taking the reigns alone the following year. He would wear the letter for the next 17 seasons â€” the second-longest mark behind Yzerman â€” guiding the Avalanche to a pair of Cups, including the first in franchise history in 1996.
Long-time team owner Conn Smythe called Armstrong the best ever Leafs captain. The “Chief” wore the C in Toronto from 1957 until 1969. Armstrong was the last Leafs captain to hoist the Cup in ’67, winning four Cups ultimately over his prodigious term in the captaincy.
The 133rd overall pick of the 1994 draft, Alfredsson got the C in Ottawa under uncomfortable circumstances. The Senators stripped Alexei Yashin of the honour (in light of a contract dispute) and handing it to him. Even when Yashin returned to the Sens the captaincy still belonged to the Swede who wore it well for 13 seasons.
Lemieux was a graceful and almost unmatched talent on the ice, but he was also an inspiration throughout his NHL career. Battling through injuries and cancer, Lemieux just kept making it back to the ice. He guided the Penguins to back-to-back Cups, became a mentor for future captain Sidney Crosby and later co-owner and chairman of the franchise â€” one who helped keep the team afloat in Pittsburgh.
Jonas Siegel, The Canadian Press