NHL team captains - an honor, a privilege, and a serious job

MUNICH GERMANY - NOVEMBER 12: Mark Messier head coach of Canada reacts during the German Ice Hockey Cup 2010 first round game between Germany and Canada at the Olympiahalle on November 12 2010 in Munich Germany. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Why is it that NHL captains are chosen by their goal scoring ability, rather than their leadership ability?

This is an honest question. It's one that's been bothering me for years now - since it really got started back in the 1990s with Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier. Before that, you saw more second and third line guys being named captain than star players.

Of the captains currently serving in the NHL - as of the beginning of October, at least - the Colorado Avalanche (Adam Foote), Edmonton Oilers (Shawn Horcoff), and St. Louis Blues (Eric Brewer) are the only teams that have captains that aren't considered NHL-caliber stars. (The Atlanta Thrashers don't have a captain right now, and instead choose to go with three alternates.) The list of NHL team captains reads as a who's who of the league: Zdeno Chara (Boston), Jarome Iginla (Calgary), Jonathan Toews (Chicago), Joe Thornton (San Jose), Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh), and Alex Ovechkin (Washington), just to name a few.

Anyone remember when Dale Hunter was captain of the Washington Capitals? Or when Dave Taylor was captain of the Los Angeles Kings? Or how about when Danny Gare was captain of the Detroit Red Wings?

Is this a fan-driven thing? Because I know a lot of fans like to see star players be named captain of their teams. Which baffles me to no end, quite frankly.

I mean, what's the point of having a team captain?

To me, character comes first, not goal scoring ability. They need to be a leader. Now, I know the definition of leadership can change from person to person, but I think we can all agree with a dictionary definition, right?

Merriam-Webster defines "lead" as:

Lead (verb) 1 a : to guide on a way especially by going in advance b : to direct on a course or in a direction

Therefore, a leader is one who leads - i.e., tells people what to do and where to go. In some cases, it's by setting an example. And in others, it's teaching and guiding verbally.

But where does goal scoring fit into that? I guess you could consider that leading by example, but how does that help the team? Other than winning, of course. Do they teach everyone else how to score a goal? Do they tell others how to score a goal? This is why I don't understand this concept of goal scorers being named captain because of their ability - goal scoring is something they do; it's not a character attribute.

Oh, goal scoring certainly helps, but it's hardly a requirement to being a leader. In fact, in some cases, giving the "C" to a goal scorer may hurt his production because he's forced to think about helping the team in other ways instead of just focusing on what he does best - scoring goals. It distracts him from his primary job, and in the end, hurts both himself and his team. (Jaromir Jagr sort of comes to mind in this case.)

And don't even get me started on how many star players that may not be character guys are in that position.

There's a lot more to being a team captain than just racking up the points. And in the NHL, being named captain isn't just an honorary thing, but it's a real job in and of itself. So naming a team captain is a serious thing, and one that seems to have lost its importance over the years. Or, at least, it's lost its sense of purpose and direction.

Yes, many NHL team captains are character guys and goal scorers, but not all of them are. I'm not going to point fingers and name names, but fans know who they are. And I bet the fans of those teams are able to point out a second or third - or even a fourth - line guy who'd be a far better choice as captain of their teams. It's too bad that the coaches and/or players - whoever chooses these guys for this position - don't quite understand what's involved.

They do a disservice to themselves, the teams, the fans, and most of all to the guy who's been put in the position they're not really suited for.

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