Last week, the NHL Network apparently aired a segment where they counted down the top-25 captains of all time. I say “apparently,” because there is no record of it available. The NHL Network didn’t see fit to upload it to YouTube, nor did they tweet about it or share it on Instagram.
It was almost like they were ashamed of the list they had created for some reason and, when it was tweeted out by Chicago Blackhawks beat reporter Mark Lazerus, it became clear why: they named Mark Messier the greatest captain of all time.
Let’s be clear: no he isn’t. Mark Messier is definitely not the greatest captain of all time. The reason why is clear even just from looking at the list:
1. Mark Messier, Edmonton Oilers and New York Rangers
2. Jean Beliveau, Montreal Canadiens
3. Steve Yzerman, Detroit Red Wings
4. Scott Stevens, New Jersey Devils
5. Ray Bourque, Boston Bruins
6. Bobby Clarke, Philadelphia Flyers
7. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks
8. George Armstrong, Toronto Maple Leafs
9. Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings
10. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
11. Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh Penguins
12. Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings
13. Denis Potvin, New York Islanders
14. Syl Apps, Toronto Maple Leafs
15. Joe Sakic, Colorado Avalance
16. Ron Francis, Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins
17. Yvan Cournoyer, Montreal Canadiens
18. Ted Lindsay, Detroit Red Wings
19. Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins
20. Maurice Richard, Montreal Canadiens
21. Derian Hatcher, Dallas Stars
22. Pierre Pilote, Chicago Blackhawks
23. Dit Clapper, Boston Bruins
24. Saku Koivu, Montreal Canadiens
25. Daniel Alfredsson, Ottawa Senators
Messier is listed as the captain of the Edmonton Oilers and New York Rangers, conspicuously leaving off the Vancouver Canucks. Why? Because he was clearly not a good captain in Vancouver.
Mark Messier is the most hated player in Canucks history and it’s not particularly close. How can a player be considered the best captain when the fanbase of one of the teams he captained despises him?
Perhaps he was good in the room: that’s the report from a number of the Canucks that played with him, including Todd Bertuzzi, who defended Messier on Sportsnet 650 Tuesday morning. But that raises the question: for whom is the captaincy?
I’ve seen players dismiss the captaincy as a formality, that the players in the room know who the real leaders are and that handing out the “C” is more about giving the fans and media a figurehead. The captain is the publicly-recognized leader and, with that in mind, shouldn’t the views of the public play a role in determining whether a player was a good captain or not?
In any case, his on-ice performance and the struggles and dismantling of the Canucks under his tenure as captain should suffice to dispute the efficacy of his captaincy.
So, if a player was an excellent captain for two franchises and a terrible one for another, how can he possibly be considered the greatest captain of all time? Sure, he can make the list, but that strike against him should knock him down a few notches from the top perch.
Before the season started, the NHL Network had Alex Tanguay name the greatest captain of all time. He got it right: Jean Beliveau. Sure, he had Messier at number two, but I think Canucks fans would be pretty okay with Messier and “number two” being associated with each other.