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by Staff Writer / Buffalo Sabres
Ryan Miller (Getty Images)

There are only 27 full-time captains employed in the 30-team NHL, but there are countless leaders throughout the League. 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 the 2006-07 season 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 March 29, readers can vote weekly among three players 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. Voting for Week 1 is currently underway and runs through March 7.

Starting March 30, the five weekly winners will be pitted against each other in the final reader poll.

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 Week 1 candidates are:

Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh -- After scoring the gold medal-winning overtime goal for Canada at the start of the week, now we truly can say that Crosby has done it all -- and he's only 22 years old.

During his rookie season of 2005-06, Crosby was named an alternate captain as an 18-year-old. On May 31, 2007, he was named the full-time captain of the Penguins, making Crosby the youngest team captain in NHL history at 19 years, 9 months, 24 days old. All he's done since then is lead Pittsburgh to two consecutive Stanley Cup Final appearances, winning it all in 2008-09. At 21 years, 10 months, 5 days, Crosby became the youngest NHL captain to hoist the Cup.

Crosby is the youngest player to do a lot of things, but now in his fifth NHL season, he plays and leads the Penguins with poise way beyond his years. "He's very mature," Penguins GM Ray Shero told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "In teams of leadership, he really drives our team with his emotion and, obviously, with his play."

Ryan Miller, Buffalo -- 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 tournament MVP. Miller, 29, was lauded for his calm demeanor in settling a young squad that included 20 of 23 players making their Olympic debut.

"(Right after beating Canada in group play), 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."

Miller backstopped the Sabres to consecutive appearances in the Eastern Conference Finals, in 2005-06 and 2006-07, and he has the Sabres in the thick of the playoff race this season, battling Ottawa 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."

Teemu Selanne, Anaheim -- In his 17th NHL season, the Finnish Flash remains a potent goal scorer and is closing in on 600 for his career. He will be the 18th player in League history to reach the mark, and 600 may become the most impressive number in a certain Hall of Fame career that includes a Stanley Cup championship in 2007. In that essence, Selanne is recognized as a different kind of leader. Not a vocal player, he leads by example and in how he prepares for each contest, even at age 39.

In what is likely his final season, Selanne has endured injuries to his hand and jaw, costing him a total of 25 games. During his absence in January, teammate Petteri Nokelainen said, "A guy like Teemu, you can't replace him. There's no guy you can just pull out and is going to be like him.

"We all saw what impact he made after coming back (from a broken hand in January). Not only for goals he brings in but the leadership as an older guy, an experienced guy. It's huge."
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