For that reason alone, current Boston Bruin defenseman Zdeno Chara, Detroit's stellar blue liner Nicklas Lidstrom, and Phoenix Coyotes winger Shane Doan all have the right to be excited that they were acknowledged as some of the game's best leaders by Messier, who announced the three team captains as finalists for the NHL Mark Messier Leadership Award, presented by Bridgestone. Messier made the announcement Monday at TD Garden, just hours before the start of game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final.
The recipient will be announced Wednesday, June 22, during the 2011 NHL Awards in Las Vegas.
Messier's playing career of 25 years -- from 1979 to 2004 -- included runs with Edmonton, New York and Vancouver, highlighted by six Stanley Cups; five with the Oilers (1984, '85, '87, '88, '90) and one with the Rangers in 1994.
That grass-roots theme serves as a segue to Messier's other award announcement, naming Alex DePalma the 2011 recipient of the Bridgestone Mark Messier Youth Leadership Award, which was created to reward youth hockey players or mentors for their leadership and contributions to youth sports or education. Nominations were received for the award from across the United States and Canada.
Messier captained both franchises en route to becoming the first professional ice hockey player in history to captain two different teams to championships before retiring on Sept. 12, 2005 after 1,756 games in which he tallied 1,887 points. His game total is 11 shy of the all-time record by Gordie Howe.
Messier's point total is second only to Wayne Gretzky's 2,857, alongside whom Messier played during much of his career in Edmonton. All of this culminated with his Messier's induction into the Hall of Fame in 2007.
Since 2009, Messier has served the Rangers organization as special assistant to the president and general manager. He has also established the NHL Mark Messier Leadership Award, presented by Bridgestone, which recognizes an individual as a superior leader in hockey and as a contributing member of society.
In selecting candidates for the annual award, Messier solicits suggestions from club and League personnel and NHL fans through NHL.com in compiling a list of potential candidates. However, the selection of the three finalists and the ultimate winner is Messier’s alone.
"I feel like I get to know these players intimately," said Messier, "because of the information I gather about these guys. Unfortunately we have to come up with one winner."
Chara is the only one of the three still playing hockey.
"First of all, I'm a big fan of Zdeno's from the time he came to the National Hockey League with the Islanders and I was with New York," Messier said. "I don't think there's a player in the League that's improved as much as this guy. Him coming to Boston started the rebuilding program here, and here they are challenging for the Stanley Cup. A blend of incredible size and strength and talent. And more importantly what he's done from a leadership perspective … he is the true leader of the Boston Bruins on and off the ice."
Doan could not help get his Coyotes past the first round, but he has been instrumental in helping the organization weather a tumultuous two-year period of near-constant relocation talk. Both years, the Coyotes made the playoffs.
"When you talk about leadership in Phoenix, you don't have to go far beyond Shane Doan," Messier said. "With all the uncertainty they've had the past two years around the team's future, the coaching staff and Shane have taken the team to the playoffs and made the players believers. They have not allowed the outside circumstances to interfere with team goals. Shane has a lot to do with all of this as captain. And what he does off the ice is unparalleled in our sport."
Lidstrom, the third finalist, made the playoffs with Detroit yet again and played far younger than his 41-year-old body would suggest possible.
"We've been looking at Nick [for consideration] for a long time," Messier said. "He's had to fill some pretty big shoes in Detroit when Stevie Yzerman retired. Since that retirement, nobody has talked about the lack of leadership in Detroit. I'm not sure how many players could have stepped into that situation and seamlessly filled the void created by Stevie Yzerman. He's done it unbelievably well and the franchise continues to play and play well for Stanley Cups, while he reaches out to his community."
Messier knows he will have a tough time picking a winner, but he looks forward to the challenge.
"We want to celebrate these successes," Messier said. "Too often the negative gets the headlines. There's so much more to being a professional off the ice and these guys are testament to that.
"Not one player tonight didn't benefit from some influence given to them on their way to these Finals. To see these three guys giving back, especially at the grassroots level speaks highly of the integrity that we have in our game."