As with last season, I’ll touch on the three most recent players to have been each team’s captain, to show what kind of acts their successor, whoever he may be, will have to follow. As well, I will give three potential options (dat rule of three tho), at least one forward and one defenceman among them, that, to me, make the most sense. Is it arbitrary as hell? You bet! Additionally, not naming a captain is a viable option, so I will also touch on why these teams wouldn’t name a captain quite yet.
The Coyotes have had only three captains since relocating from Winnipeg in 1996. Their first captain was Keith Tkachuk, who had also spent time as a captain during the franchise’s time in Winnipeg. A first-round pick by the Jets in 1990, he debuted in 1991/92 and became a regular in 1992/93. Tkachuk had two stints as this franchise’s captain. His first stint lasted from 1993/94 to 1994/95, when maturity issues led the Jets to strip him of the captaincy. His second stint lasted from 1996/97 to 2000/01, during which he was traded to St. Louis. In his two stints as captain, he scored 466 points (242G, 224A) in 464 games, was named twice to the NHL’s Second Postseason All-Star Team (1995, 1998, and played in three All-Star Games (1997, 1998, 1999). He would spend the remainder of the 2000s with the Blues, aside from the spring of 2007, which he played with the Atlanta Thrashers, and retired after the 2009/10 season.
Longtime Jets 1.0 defenceman Teppo Numminen was Arizona’s next captain, receiving the “C” in time for the 2001/02 season. Numminen would only spend two seasons as captain before being traded to Dallas, in which he scored 78 points (19G, 59A) in 154 games. After his season in Dallas, the lockout came and went and Numminen moved on to Buffalo, with whom he would spend four seasons, one of which (2007/08) he only played one game due to getting open-heart surgery, and retired after the 2008/09 season.
Arizona’s most recent captain was Shane Doan. Drafted in the first round in 1995 while the franchise was still in Winnipeg, Doan has played with the franchise since 1995/96. Doan was named captain in 2003/04, in time for the franchise’s visual redesign and move into Glendale. As captain, Doan scored 689 points (287G, 402A) in 971 games from 2003/04 to 2016/17, playing in the 2004 and 2009 All-Star Games and winning the 2010 King Clancy Trophy and 2012 Mark Messier Leadership Award. Doan was the longest-tenured active captain in the NHL until the Coyotes stunningly opted not to re-sign him, after a 27-point season. Though he doesn’t seem to have garnered much interest from other teams, he remains an unrestricted free agent.
Max Domi (Left Wing-16)
With Shane Doan and Radim Vrbata gone, Domi is now arguably Arizona’s best forward. Though he’s still young, he has been a member of the team for a couple years. Domi has had to not only deal with a small stature, an obstacle to NHL success, and diabetes. That kind of perseverance could lend well to a leadership role.
Derek Stepan (Centre-21)
Stepan hasn’t matched a strong 2014/15 season in which he scored 55 points in 68 games, or even the 53 points in 72 games he scored the following year. Generally, he scores between more than 50, but fewer than 60, points in a full season. What Stepan does have is experience, having played seven seasons at age 27.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson (Defenceman-23)
Yes we know Ekman-Larsson will be the next captain of the Coyotes, making the other options unnecessary, but just humour me and let me stick with my format. Ekman-Larsson is coming off a down year, in which he only scored 12 goals and 39 points, worse than his previous two seasons. Those previous two seasons saw him scored 23 goals and 43 points and 21 goals and 55 points, respectively. Those seasons are more in line with what Ekman-Larsson is capable of. Really, Ekman-Larsson is the only sensible option to succeed Doan as team captain.
The Coyotes have less of a reason to not name a captain than any other team on this list. The only reason I can think of why they wouldn’t is that Shane Doan, who was recently let go, was captain for 14 years, so perhaps they’d wait to adjust to life after Doan before starting a new chapter. I admit this would be a very flimsy addition, as the Senators and Red Wings both named new captains right after the departures of their long-term captains, and both had been captain longer than Doan was.
During the 2013/14 season, Thomas Vanek and Steve Ott were named co-captains of the Sabres. Vanek only played a handful of games with the “C”, as he was only captain during home games. He scored five points (1G, 4A) in seven home games, before being traded in late October 2013. He spent the remainder of the season with the Islanders and Montreal, and has since spent two seasons with Minnesota, followed by splitting the 2016/17 season between Detroit and Florida, and is now an unrestricted free agent.
Ott was named full-time captain of the Sabres following Vanek’s trade to the Islanders. In his time as captain, Ott has scored 18 points (9G, 9A) in 52 games. Ott himself was traded, being sent to St. Louis late in the 2013/14 season, and would play there until the end of the 2015/16 season. Ott spent last season with Detroit and Montreal, and has since retired.
Brian Gionta was named captain of the Sabres for the 2014/15 season. The likely explanation is that the Sabres didn’t have many more impactful options to get the “C”, and Gionta was coming off of four seasons as captain of the Montreal Canadiens. Gionta scored 103 points (40G, 63A) in 230 games for the Sabres. Gionta is an unrestricted free agent after not being re-signed.
Jason Pominville (Right Wing)
Pominville rejoins the Sabres after spending four seasons and part of a fifth with the Minnesota Wild. Pominville was named Sabres captain for the 2011/12 season, back when he was a 30-goal-scoring All-Star. Pominville’s past few seasons saw an offensive decline, though 2016/17 was a major rebound, with Pominville scoring 13 goals and 47 points, all but seven assists coming at even strength, in 14:13 per game, his lowest average since 2006. Pominville would make the natural pick for captain, but won’t make the same kind of on-ice impact as he did in his first stint with the Sabres.
Jack Eichel (Centre-15)
The second-overall pick in the 2015 draft scored 24 goals and 33 assists last season, one more assist than in his rookie season. What makes that impressive is that Eichel played only 61 games, as opposed to 81 as a rookie. Even without the technicalities of points per game, Eichel still led the Sabres in scoring. As with Connor McDavid in Edmonton, it makes a lot of sense for the Sabres, a team building a young core, to make Eichel the team captain.
Rasmus Ristolainen (Defenceman-55)
True, the advanced stats fro Ristolainen are pretty bad. In spite of that, Ristolainen is the defenceman the Sabres are building around. He is pretty decent in terms of point production, coming off a 45-point season. He was also far and away the team leader in TOI last season, averaging 26:28 per game, way more than second-place Dmitry Kulikov’s 21:54 per game.
Buffalo doesn’t really need to name a captain right now. The tenures of recent Sabres captains doesn’t leave a legacy that needs to be built on, and the Sabres are still a very young, rising team. They can afford to mature into a competitive team before naming a player (likely Jack Eichel) captain.
Ron Francis, previously the captain of Hartford Whalers in the 1980s, rejoined the Hurricanes for the 1998/99 season after spending most of the 1990s with Pittsburgh, being named captain the following year. As captain, Francis scored 302 points (97G, 205A) in 390 games between 1999/00 and 2003/04 and won the 2002 Lady Byng Trophy. Francis was traded to Toronto to close off the 2003/04 season and retired following the lockout. Francis was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2007, became the Hurricanes’ director of hockey operations in 2011, and was named general manager in 2014.
Rod Brind’Amour joined the Hurricanes in a trade from Philadelphia during the 1999/00 season, and was named captain following the lockout. In his stint as captain, Brind’Amour scored 265 points (96G, 169A) in 342 games from 2005/06 to 2009/10, leading the Hurricanes to the 2006 Stanley Cup and winning the Selke Trophy in 2006 and 2007. Brind’Amour relinquished the captaincy in late January 2010, spending the rest of the season as an alternate captain before retiring. Brind’Amour remains with the organization as an assistant coach, having also served as a development coach from 2010 to 2012.
Eric Staal, a member of the Hurricanes’ roster from the point he was drafted in 2003, was named captain during the 2009/10 season after Rod Brind’Amour gave it up. In his stint as captain, Staal scored 384 points (148G, 236A) in 464 games as captain, playing in the 2011 All-Star Game. He was traded to the Rangers during a disappointing 2015/16 season, and after not being retained, signed with Minnesota, where he has been a successful reclamation project.
Jordan Staal (Centre-11)
Staal is coming off his fifth season with the Hurricanes, still yet to return to the 50-point mark. The reasoning for Staal being captain is no different than it was last year. He produces a decent chunk of the team’s offence, is defensively sound, averages more TOI than any of Hurricanes forward, and is the brother of the Canes’ most recent captain, Eric Staal.
Justin Faulk (Defence-27)
Faulk, it could be argued, is the face of the Hurricanes franchise. Though he hasn’t maintained the heights of his 49-point 2015 season (he didn’t quite keep pace in 2016 and fell far short in 2017), he remains the Canes’ best offensive defenceman. With most of the Canes’ other defencemen either younger than Faulk or less experienced in the NHL, Faulk is already the defence’s de facto leader. He is also the most visible to the rest of the league, being Carolina’s only All-Star representative since his rookie season and coming off his third straight appearance.
Jeff Skinner (Left Wing-53)
Skinner is a good candidate for captain because he’s both the team’s best forward and the longest-tenured player not named Cam Ward. Skinner has played for Carolina since 2010/11, also his first and only All-Star appearance, and now the only skaters on the team with more NHL seasons under their belt have joined the team since Skinner’s debut. Skinner is coming off career highs of 37 goals and 63 points.
The Hurricanes can decide not to name a new captain if they feel there aren’t any suitable options. Perhaps they think Skinner and Faulk aren’t captain material. Maybe they want their next choice for captain to be symbolic of a new direction, and naming Jordan Staal, the brother of their most recent captain, and an unsuccessful one at that, isn’t the way to do that.
Power forward Jason Arnott was named Predators team captain in his second season with the team after Kimmo Timonen left. Arnott was captain from 2007/08 to 2009/10, scoring 175 points (80G, 95A) in 207 games, representing Nashville in the 2008 All-Star Game. Arnott would be traded to New Jersey for the 2010/11 season, being traded to Washington during the season before joining St. Louis for 2011/12. Arnott attempted to sign with the Rangers in 2012/13, but was forced to retire at age 38 after a failed physical nullified the contract.
Defenceman Shea Weber, Nashville’s second-rounder in 2/403, debuted in 2005/06 and +became a full-timer in 2006/07. Weber, who became the team’s no.1 defenceman, was named captain for the 2010/11 season. Weber was captain from 2010/11 to 2015/16, scoring 277 points (102G, 175A) in 443 games, winning the Mark Messier Leadership Award in 2016, being named to the NHL’s First Postseason All-Star Team in 2011 and 2012, the Second Team in 2014 and 2015, and representing Nashville in 2011, 2012, 2015, and 2016. Weber was traded to Montreal for the 2016/17 season.
Following Weber’s trade to Montreal, centre Mike Fisher, who had been acquired from Ottawa during the 2010/11 season, was named captain for the 2016/17 season. Fisher scored 42 points (18G, 24A) in 72 games as captain. Fisher retired following the end of the season.
Filip Forsberg (Left Wing-9)
Forsberg, a three-year vet with the Predators, is probably Nashville’s best forward at this point. At the least, he’s their best goal-scorer, coming off 33- and 31-goal seasons. Though he only tied this past season in goals, he is still more experienced than Viktor Arvidsson, with whom he tied.
Roman Josi (Defenceman-59)
Josi is Nashville’s most productive defenceman. I expected Josi to be named captain last season, and after leading the Preds in average TOI with 25:04 and scoring 49 points in 72 games (a 56-point pace, just short of the prior season’s 60), his track record makes him an even more suitable option.
Ryan Johansen (Centre-92)
Johansen also tied with Arvidsson for the team lead. In Johansen’s case, it was 61 points. Johansen is the Preds’ top centre, and is coming off his fourth straight season with at least 60 points.
When the Predators named Mike Fisher captain, they might have had a longer tenure in mind, even if they definitely viewed him as a bridge. Maybe the Predators are looking to make sure they know who will be with Nashville for a long time with their next captain.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Centre Doug Gilmour had spent two and a half seasons with the Maple Leafs before being named captain for the 1994/95 season, after the trade of Wendel Clark to Quebec. Gilmour scored 165 points (57G, 108A) in 186 games between the 1994/95 and 1996/97 seasons. Gilmour was traded to New Jersey during the 1996/97 season, joined Chicago in 1998/99, moving on to Buffalo during the 1999/00 season, and signing with Montreal for 2001/02 before being traded back to Toronto late in the 2002/03 season and retiring in 2003. Gilmour was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2011.
Mats Sundin, acquired from Quebec prior to the 1994/95 season, was named team captain in 1997. From 1997/98 to 2007/08, Sundin scored 763 points (323G, 440A) in 776 games as captain, winning the 2008 Mark Messier Leadership Award, being named to the NHL Second Postseason All-Star Team in 2002 and 2004, and representing Toronto in the 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2004 All-Star Games. Sundin signed with Vancouver during the 2008/09 season in a failed attempt to pursue a Cup, and retired. Sundin was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2012.
The Leafs wouldn’t have another captain until 2010, when defenceman Dion Phaneuf, acquired during 2009/10 in a trade from Calgary, got the “C”. Phaneuf scored 186 points (43G, 143A) in 397 games from 2010/11 to 2015/16, representing Toronto in the 2012 All-Star Game. Phaneuf was traded to Ottawa during the 2015/16 season, and his refusal to waive a no-movement clause for the expansion draft has ensured he will remain with Ottawa for the foreseeable future.
James van Riemsdyk (Left Wing-21)
In his fifth season with the Leafs, van Riemsdyk scored a career-high 62 points, and fell just one goal short of tying his career-high of 30. Van Riemsdyk is unquestionably Toronto’s best veteran forward, so if Toronto decides to hold off on naming Auston Matthews captain but still does pick one, van Riemsdyk is the best option.
Auston Matthews (Centre-34)
Matthews would be the obvious pick for Leafs captain. Similar to Connor McDavid in Edmonton, Toronto has a former first-overall pick coming off a successful rookie season in Matthews. While Toronto has several players coming off a rookie season, none have the same franchise-player status that Matthews seems to have.
Jake Gardiner (Defenceman-51)
Last summer, I suggested Morgan Rielly would be a good candidate for the Maple Leafs’ captaincy as their top defenceman. While he is certainly the top in terms of TOI, it is Jake Gardiner that performed the best this past season, something I weigh heavily when deciding who would make a good captain. Gardiner led all Maple Leafs defencemen with nine goals, 34 assists, and 43 points, the latter two career-highs, as well as a 52.0 ESCorsi%. He is also in a sweet spot of still being fairly young while having years of experience.
Toronto isn’t in a rush to name a captain. Matthews has plenty of time to grow into a captain kind of player, and the Leafs could just as easily wait until then as they could name a bridge captain. The Maple Leafs also waited two seasons between Mats Sundin’s departure from the team and their naming of Dion Phaneuf as captain.
Vegas Golden Knights
The Golden Knights are a brand new franchise, so obviously they haven’t named a team captain. Of the expansion franchises added in the modern era, only the Tampa Bay Lightning didn’t name a captain for their inaugural season. Minnesota techincally had a captain, but they rotated the position around until 2009. Based on that trend, Vegas will likely have a team captain during their inaugural season.
Deryk Engelland (Defenceman)
I feel the need to stress that I don’t think Deryk Engelland is a good option for captain. I have him listed here for several reasons, only one of which is to meet by arbitrary rules for this list despite Vegas not having any really good defencemen. Engelland was signed to a seven-figure contract the same day he was picked in the expansion draft and has been a fairly public member. Another reason I could see him being named the franchise’s first captain connects to the probable main reason he was picked in the first place, the fact that he lives in Las Vegas, and has since he played for the ECHL’s Las Vegas Wranglers. Selected specifically for his leadership attributes and his connection to Las Vegas, Engelland seems like the obvious choice for the captaincy.
James Neal (Right Wing)
29-year-old Neal would be an option for the captaincy. Though he is coming off a fairly weak season, he scored 31 goals and 58 points in 2015/16 with Nashville, 61 points in 2013/14 with Pittsburgh, and 40 goals and 81 points in 2011/12 with Pittsburgh. Seeing as Neal is practically guaranteed to be one of the players Vegas will lean the heaviest on for offensive production.
Vadim Shipachyov (Centre)
If Vegas really wants to be different and outside the box with their choice for their first captain, they can pick Shipachyov, who will be making his NHL debut with Vegas this fall. Shipachyov does have credentials though. He is coming off a career-high 76 points in the KHL, and has worn a letter on his jersey for the last three seasons, including the captain’s “C” in 2015/16. Picking Shipachyov as captain would help them establish an identity even more separate from other teams, something they wouldn’t be doing if they were to be naming a veteran from some other existing NHL team their captain.
Vegas isn’t going to be a very successful team out of the gate, so there is absolutely no rush to name a new captain. If part of their reasoning for a new captain would be to set the tone for their franchise’s early years, then they should look at those aforementioned 90s expansion teams as cautionary tales, as those captains did nothing but have poor personal results and oversee some of the worst seasons in their respective teams’ histories. Even Tampa Bay, who waited to establish their franchise first before naming their first captain, had a forgettable first captain. The Golden Knights could buck tradition (and break a rule) by naming their true marquee star, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, their first captain a la Roberto Luongo, but Fleury wouldn’t be able to so much as wear a “C” on his jersey, much less act as team captain, so they would need an alternate captain to carry out those duties, the same as not having a full captain.
For those wondering, the 2010/11 season was the last time all of the NHL teams had a captain at the same time. And for those really curious, the last every team playing in the NHL had one captain from the start of the season until the end was in 1966/67, the last season before the NHL expanded beyond the Original Six. The captains were Boston’s John Bucyk, Chicago’s Pierre Pilote, Detroit’s Alex Delvecchio, Montreal’s Jean Beliveau, the Rangers’ Bob Nevin, and Toronto’s George Armstrong. If every team this season A) names a captain prior to the first game of the season, and B) doesn’t trade away that captain or strip him of the captaincy for the whole year, then it would be the first since the NHL was a six-team league.