There are only 27 full-time captains employed in the 30-team NHL. But there are countless leaders throughout the League, and their leadership can be recognized in numerous ways, some not always easy to quantify.
The Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award presented by Bridgestone has been awarded since 2006-07 and is presented "to the player who exemplifies great leadership qualities to his team, on and off the ice during the regular season."
The honor is named after Mark Messier, one of the finest leaders in NHL history who was a six-time Stanley Cup champion and is one of three players to have captained three different teams.
Suggestions for nominees are solicited from fans, clubs and NHL personnel, but the selection of the three finalists and the ultimate winner is made by Mark Messier himself.
From now through April 11, NHL.com visitors can vote
among five candidates in the final reader poll and attempt to sway Messier's decision on who will be the finalists for the 2009-10 Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award presented by Bridgestone.
Previous winners of the Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award presented by Bridgestone are Chris Chelios of Detroit (2006-07), Mats Sundin of Toronto (2007-08) and Jarome Iginla of Calgary (2008-09).
Your final candidates are...
Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings:
Though he's only worn the captain's "C" since the 2006-07 season, inheriting the designation from Steve Yzerman, Lidstrom has been a leader for much of his 18 seasons with the Red Wings.
In 2008, the Swedish defenseman became the first European-born captain in NHL history to lead his team to a Stanley Cup title. Six years earlier, he was the first European-born player in League history to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the playoffs.
Lidstrom ranks fourth in games played and points in franchise history. He has won four Stanley Cups and is a six-time winner of the Norris Trophy as the League's best defenseman.
Lidstrom captained the World Team to victory in the 2000 NHL All-Star Game in Toronto.
"He's one of the top defensemen on both ends of the rink," Yzerman said. "He's got really good instincts, and he's incredibly skilled. He's a really, really intelligent hockey player. Nick is your best player in training camp. He's your best player in preseason. He's your best player in the regular season. He's your best player in the playoffs. I'm not sure what else he could do."
Jamie Langenbrunner, New Jersey Devils:
After years of being under the tutelage of future Hall of Famers Mike Modano and Scott Stevens, Langenbrunner has emerged as one of the NHL's most respected leaders. He was named captain of New Jersey on Dec. 5, 2008.
In the midst of a 40-win, playoff-bound season with the Devils, Langenbrunner became part of an even smaller fraternity of captains, those wearing the "C" for their respective country at the 2010 Winter Olympics. He was named to the post on Jan. 11.
"As far as individual accomplishments, if you'd call it that, it's got to be right up there," Langenbrunner said. "I've never really prided myself on individual accomplishments for the most part. I think it's kind of always been about the team. The greatest thing in my career has been winning two Stanley Cups and being a part of those great teams. As far as individual things, I don't have anything to compare (this) to."
"He's been a model of consistency, of versatility, and he's a guy that does just about everything well on an ice surface, and lots of things well in the dressing room," U.S. GM Brian Burke said. "There were lots of tough decisions for Team USA going into this Olympic Games, but picking our captain wasn't one of them. It was easy to do."
Off the ice, Langenbrunner serves as the Devils' Hockey Fights Cancer All-Star Captain. Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres:
Now in his seventh NHL season, all with the Sabres, the All-Star goaltender received his just due during a phenomenal Winter Olympics representing the United States and was voted the tournament MVP. Miller, 29, was largely lauded for his calm demeanor in settling a young squad that included 20 of 23 players making their Olympic debut.
"(Right after beating Canada), he went about his business, stretching and preparing for that next game," Olympic teammate David Backes told USA Today. "To have that backbone and leadership is huge for any club, but to see that in your locker room is impressive."
With Buffalo, Miller backstopped the team to consecutive appearances in the Eastern Conference Final in 2005-06 and 2006-07, and he has the Sabres in the thick of the playoff race this season, battling Ottawa neck and neck for the Northeast Division title.
Miller exudes a quiet focus rather than being a vocal leader. "I'm not the most talkative person in the world, but I engage," Miller told USA Today. "I like to observe, but I'm trying to be better about that. I don't want to sit around and be mute."Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals:
Ovechkin is not your typical leader. As the NHL's premier goal scorer and a dynamic showman, there is nobody else like him playing the game today. Though he leads by example, teammates watching Ovechkin's game won't magically become 60-goal scorers as well. Rather, where Ovechkin shows leadership is in his maximum effort and unabashed joy of playing the game each contest during the long season.
On Jan. 5, 2010, Ovechkin was named the 14th captain in franchise history.
"Our team has adopted his personality, and the energy, passion and drive to win that are his hallmarks have become our teams as well," GM George McPhee said. "He sets the tone, on the ice as well as off. He's respectful to everyone and a great ambassador for our team and our sport. We look forward to him leading the Washington Capitals for a long time."
On the day Ovechkin was named captain, the Capitals were trailing by five points in the Eastern Conference race. In his first 30 games wearing the "C," Washington went 24-3-3 and is primed to win its first Presidents' Trophy.
Mike Richards, Philadelphia Flyers:
Being a captain comes naturally to Richards, who is focused, intense and excels at both ends of the ice with great determination. He was appointed to the post in 2008-09.
Richards is a two-time winner of the Bobby Clarke Trophy as the team's most valuable player, as selected by a panel of sportscasters and sportswriters. Clarke, a gritty and talented Hall of Famer, is one notable player Richards has been compared numerous times to.
An opportunistic scorer, last season Richards led the NHL in shorthanded goals (7) and paced the Flyers in power-play points (33).
Richards came to the Flyers as captain material. He was captain of Team Canada at the 2005 World Junior Championships, recording five points in six games en route to winning a gold medal. In juniors, he served as Kitchener's captain for two seasons (2003-04 and 2004-05).
Richards has had a memorable 2009-10 no matter what the next few months hold, as he was part of Canada's gold-medal winning squad at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.