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The Opening Faceoff: Captain, My Captain

Thursday, 05.29.2008 / 9:00 AM / Crashing the Net

By Shawn P. Roarke - NHL.com Senior Managing Editor


Look into my eyes, what do you see?
Cult of personality
I know your anger, I know your dreams
I've been everything you want to be
I'm the cult of personality
Like Mussolini and Kennedy
I'm the cult of personality
Cult of personality
Cult of personality


-- Cult of Personality, Living Colour

Cult of Personality is perhaps Living Colour's most-recognizable song, which is fortunate because it captures the very essence of the band's message.

Throughout its existence, Living Colour attacked Eurocentric thinking and racism, railing against the status quo and pushing for a re-evaluation in the way things were done.

Cult of Personality railed against the power that charismatic leaders are able to usurp through the mere force of their character. In the song, he mentions varied leaders – Kennedy, Mussolini, Gandhi and Joseph Stalin.

It suggests that leadership is a heavy mantel to carry, full of responsibility and ripe for abuse. And, that is a proper suggestion.

I heard the song -- first released in 1988 on Living Colour's debut album, Vivid – just the other day and couldn't help but relate it to the existence of a hockey captain.

So much is expected from the men chosen to wear the "C" in the NHL. They are asked to be the link between the players and the coach, to be the voice of the team and to hold together 23 varied personalities under the unrelenting microscope that comes with being a professional athlete.

It is the most demanding role in sports and you must have a unique personality to succeed at it. But for those that do, it is the quickest way to immortality.

You don't believe CTN? Think of the players that have served as captain for the past 10 Cup winners. It's pretty easy to come up with the full list. It's even easier to argue that all have the potential to be Hall of Fame inductees.

Who would you turn away from the shrine on Yonge Street in Toronto? Scott Niedermayer? Rod Brind'Amour? Joe Sakic? Derian Hatcher? Scott Stevens and Steve Yzerman, the other captains to win a Cup in the past decade are already in the Hall, so they can't be turned away.

But here is a harder challenge. How would you rank these great leaders from the past decade? Who is the best captain of that elite group?

That is the task that CTN undertakes in this week's Opening Faceoff. It is not an easy task, nor is it a binding resolution on the leadership cred of these men. Rather, it is one man's opinion on how effective these players are in handling the white-hot pressure that is part and parcel of playoff hockey.

CTN would love to hear your rankings, as well. Feel free to send your rankings to CTN by firing off an e-mail to roarkeblog@nhl.com. If you remember to include your name and your hometown, there's a good chance that your list will appear in next week's edition of the Penalty Box.

The Opening Faceoff

To make things a little more interesting and a little more topical, CTN has included the captains of the 2008 Stanley Cup finalists – Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom and Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby -- into the equation.

Amazingly, only seven players have served as captains of Cup-winning teams since the Mark Messier-led New York Rangers won the Cup in 1994. Stevens and Yzerman each won three Stanley Cups since 1994, and Colorado's Joe Sakic has won a pair.

So, let's get down to the business at hand, trying to somehow rank this group.

Hatcher
9. Derian Hatcher, Dallas Stars -- The rugged defenseman was captain of the Dallas Stars from 1995 to 2003 and presided over the team's rise to prominence; a rise that culminated with the 1999 Stanley Cup title. The team beat Buffalo in six games in that Final and returned to the title series again the next year – losing to New Jersey in six games. Hatcher's two biggest traits as captain were diffusing the intensity of coach Ken Hitchcock, whose highly emotional style could grow tiresome during a long playoff run and shepherding some young, promising players into superstardom. 

8. Dave Andreychuk, Tampa Bay Lightning -- One of the highest-scoring left wings in history, Andreychuk joined the Lightning at the tail end of a brilliant career. While his offensive skills had clearly eroded, he gave the Lightning some veteran leadership and refused to abandon ship early in his tenure, even as the Lightning continued to miss the playoffs. That loyalty paid off in 2004 when the Lightning made an amazing and memorable run to the Stanley Cup Final, defeating Calgary in a taut, seven-game series. Andreychuk was able to finally lift the Stanley Cup over his head – after a 22-year wait – because he was able to keep his team unified despite the fact that star forward Vinny Lecavalier had been stripped of the captaincy two years earlier, a move that could have had long-term repercussions. Andreychuk retired midway through the 2005-06 season. It is interesting to note that the Lightning have not advanced past the first round since he left the club.

7. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins -- The youngest captain in the NHL, Crosby has done amazing things for Pittsburgh in his short time as the team's acknowledged leader. The players on his team call him a quiet leader that does most of his leading through his play. This postseason, he has helped carry a young and untested Penguins team to a Stanley Cup Final. The win in Game 3 showed exactly what Crosby brings to the table. His team was down two games to none, had yet to score a goal and looked utterly befuddled. So, what did Crosby do? He scored the team's first two goals, staking the Pens to a 2-0 lead that paved the way to a 3-2 win that put Pittsburgh back into the series. His play on the ice and his willingness to handle the off-ice demands that come with being the face of hockey have earned him respect from even the most veteran players in Pittsburgh's room.

Scott Niedermayer's first Stanley Cup win with Anaheim was his first as a captain. VIDEO
6. Scott Niedermayer, Anaheim Ducks -- The smooth-skating defenseman has done everything there is to do in hockey. He has won four Stanley Cups, an Olympic gold medal, a world junior championship and a Memorial Cup. But he has done most of that in a secondary leadership role. In fact, the 2007 Stanley Cup title with Anaheim was his first as a captain. To win it – in a five-game series against Ottawa – Niedermayer used all the lessons he learned during his apprenticeship with the New Jersey Devils. Niedermayer's greatest leadership trait has always been his ability to stay calm in any situation. His resume of success – one that nobody else in the NHL can match – has afforded him the opportunity to encounter and conquer every situation imaginable. His calmness, especially in the face of adversity, sets the tone for his team.

5. Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings -- Currently two wins away from becoming the first European captain to raise the Stanley Cup over his head, Lidstrom has made the transition to life without the legendary Steve Yzerman leading the charge. The reason that the transition has been seamless is because Lidstrom is the consummate professional, on and off the ice. The best defenseman in the game, he delivers a calmness on the ice that is invaluable. He has also learned his lessons well about what to do away from the rink by watching Yzerman and other vets like Kris Draper, Chris Chelios and Dallas Drake, among others.

4. Rod Brind'Amour, Carolina Hurricanes -- When the Hurricanes won the 2006 Stanley Cup title after a grueling seven-game series against Edmonton, Brind'Amour's fingerprints were all over the championship. The conscience of a very workmanlike team, Brind'Amour did everything but play goal. If the team needed a goal, Brind'Amour scored it. If a game-changing hit was a necessity, Brind'Amour ran over the biggest guy he could find. Need to win a big defensive-zone draw? Call on Brind'Amour. Time to kill a penalty? Here comes Brind'Amour. He did all this with a dogged professionalism that could only inspire his teammates and frustrate his opponents. Brind'Amour is the true lead-by-example captain.

3. Joe Sakic, Colorado Avalanche -- The quiet Sakic is loud on the ice, his play speaking volumes about the drive that makes him one of the best centers – and leaders – to ever play the game. He was integral in Colorado's Cup victories in 1996 and 2001. The central theme revolving around both those teams was the professionalism they exhibited in handling every setback on the long and difficult road to a title. That professionalism emanates from Sakic and permeates the entire Colorado dressing room. Not only does he set the tone in the room, but he delivers on the ice. Need proof? In Colorado's two championship seasons, they played 43 games to win the two Stanley Cups. Sakic scored 60 points in those 43 games and won the Hart Trophy that year.

Scott Stevens helped revive the Devils.
1a. Scott Stevens, New Jersey Devils -- Yes, CTN took the easy way out. What, you wanted CTN to decide between Stevens and Steve Yzerman? It's virtually impossible. Here's the case, though for Stevens. He revived a moribund franchise with his arrival. He changed his game from hot-headed, point-producer, to cold-blooded, defensive specialist. He convinced the rest of the team to accept the defensive leanings of Jacques Lemaire, the very foundation of New Jersey's decade of excellence. He played hurt. He held everyone accountable. And he scared the spit out of opponents with his predatory instincts when it came to open-ice hitting. Oh yeah, he also lifted the Stanley Cup over his head three times.

1. Steve Yzerman, Detroit Red Wings -- "Stevie Y" gets a slight edge here because, unlike Stevens, he spent his entire career with the Red Wings, leading the team from the depths of despair during the "Dead Things" era to the heights of elation when the team snapped a 42-year Stanley Cup drought by defeating the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1997 Cup Final. The team defended its title the next year, running over the Washington Capitals. They remain the last team in NHL history to win back-to-back titles. The club won again in 2002, defeating Carolina in five games to deliver Yzerman a third title. Throughout that run of excellence and until his retirement in 2006, the soft-spoken Yzerman led by example, willing the team to greatness. He became captain of the club in 1986 and held that position for the next 20 years. The legend of his playing through injuries that could cripple other players remains an inspiration to a new generation of players today. Virtually anyone that has ever shared a dressing room with Yzerman calls him the best leader they have ever met. The results certainly back up that contention.


The Opening Faceoff | The Breakaway | The Penalty Box



 

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