Handing Out Grades to New Captains

Being named captain of an NHL team is an honour that has been held in fairly high regard as far back as the practice has existed. For some teams like the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs, the captaincy is occasionally vacant while they await a candidate deemed worthy enough for the honour. For other franchises, sometimes it’s just easier to hand the ‘C’ to an underachiever like Alexei Yashin simply because he’s the best player on the team. Not every captain leads in the same manner, of course. There’s the vocal leaders, guys who lead by example, and the grizzly veteran too.

Eight of the NHL’s 30 teams entered the 2010-11 season with a new captain. Of those eight players, only Joe Thornton has ever held the esteemed honour of being an NHL captain. The other seven players that are sporting their team’s ‘C’ for the first time include Ryan Getzlaf, Andrew Ladd, Shawn Horcoff, Brian Gionta, Shea Weber, Dion Phaneuf, and Henrik Sedin. With about 50 games played thus far and the All-Star break behind us, we figured now would be a great time to hand out our grades to the NHL’s latest batch of captains.

Ryan Getzlaf: It wasn’t a great start to the Getzlaf era for the Anaheim Ducks, but they’ve been one of the NHL’s best teams since the holiday break. Of course, Getzlaf has been out with nasal sinus fractures since before the New Year.

Getzlaf’s tenure as captain has seen its share of criticism while the Ducks were struggling mightily. Getzlaf’s play looked uninspired for stretches before he picked up the pace in late November, and when you’re the captain and arguably the team’s best player you’re going to take some heat when the losses outnumber the wins.

The team has played its best hockey in the absence of their captain, though. While we’re not declaring that the Ducks are better off without Getzlaf driving the bus, we’ll be keeping our eye on their performance when he returns.

The Grade: C

Andrew Ladd: Andrew Ladd is on pace to eclipse his career highs in goals and points, and he’s been enjoying this offensive success while wearing the ‘C’. There may not be a bigger surprise in the NHL this season than the play of the Atlanta Thrashers, which has us drawing on Ladd’s playoff experience and leadership as a big reason why. Those familiar with his work in Chicago hailed the move to name Ladd captain as a solid choice upon its announcement.

Ladd has picked up his scoring after a brief dry spell in late December, although, the Thrashers have slipped down the standings and are 3-4-3 over their last ten games. We’re not going to anoint Andrew Ladd as the sole reason for the Thrashers’ first-half success, but we’re willing to peg him as a key component. You would have to think that signing Ladd to a long-term deal will be a top priority for Rick Dudley following the season.

The Grade: B+

Shawn Horcoff: Let’s not beat around the bush here; Shawn Horcoff’s job is probably not one that draws a lot of envy around the league. It’s not easy to lead a team of fading veterans and young kids still wet behind their ears.

Horcoff was the obvious choice for the Oilers’ captaincy for most. His hard work on the ice sets a fine example for Edmonton’s kids like Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, et al. For his efforts, Horcoff still takes a lot of heat from fans, probably because of the salary he commands. As a veteran leader earning a cap hit of $5.5 million and the Oilers on the hook until the end of the 2014-15 season, there’s always going to be elevated offensive expectations.

For the time being, he’s a great fit as leader for the young and struggling Oilers.

The Grade: C+

Brian Gionta: Who says nobody ever looks up to Brian Gionta? Short jokes aside, Brian Gionta appears to be rather comfortable in his role as captain of the Montreal Canadiens. Sure, the points could probably be a little higher but there’s been little in the way of controversy since the onset of Gionta’s tenure as captain.

Maybe it’s just an extended losing streak or playoff disappointment away, but things have been rather amicable between the Canadiens’ American-born captain and the Montreal media this season. The Globe and Mail’s Eric Duhatschek called Gionta “the right choice at the right time to assume the Montreal Canadiens’ captaincy” back in September. Given the Canadiens’ impressive performance through their first 50-games, we’re going to go ahead and say Duhatschek nailed it.

You can try and drum up controversy around the Montreal Canadiens but it’s safe to say that they’ve remained mostly imperturbable in the face of adversity.

The Grade: B

Shea Weber: There were some that thought the Nashville Predators named Shea Weber as captain in an effort to offer the defenceman some incentive to re-sign with the club after the 2010-11 season. We tend to believe Weber was named captain because it was the best move for the club and a natural progression in the 6’4″ defender’s career.

People easily forget that the Nashville Predators have been one of the NHL’s more consistent teams since the lockout of 2004-05. The Predators are currently second in the Central Division ahead of the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, and it’d be remiss not to credit some of the team’s poise to the leadership of Big #6.

It’s a long shot that Weber will match or surpass his career high 23-goals from two seasons ago, but the pucks usually moving in the right direction when Weber’s on the ice. Any belief that Weber will bolt for “a chance to win” or Canada is very shortsighted. The Predators captain has said all along that he’s not going anywhere.

The Grade: A

Joe Thornton: Boston Bruins fans either snickered with memories of complacency or pounded their fists in ‘what could have been’ rage when the San Jose Sharks named Joe Thornton captain prior to this season. Thornton’s run as captain of the Bruins ended with a whimper, and he appeared to have rejuvenated his career upon arrival in San Jose.

It’s hard to look at Thornton’s success those first few seasons in San Jose and not think that it due in part to leadership he was no longer asked to provide. Jumbo Joe is a gentle giant of sorts, okay David Perron wouldn’t agree, but he’s played his best hockey when his job was just that… to play hockey.

We’re not saying Joe Thornton shouldn’t be the Sharks’ captain, but as is always the case in San Jose – we’ll wait until the playoffs roll around before ultimately making up our minds. For the most part, Thornton has looked comfortable as the captain in San Jose.

The Grade: B-

Dion Phaneuf: The Toronto Maple Leafs went a couple of season with a vacant captaincy before declaring Dion Phaneuf as their leader this past offseason. It was a move that received mixed reviews. Some argued that it was too much too soon for the 25-year old ex-Calgary Flames defenceman. Others championed the decision of Brian Burke and Ron Wilson to give Phaneuf the ‘C’ and prepared to usher in a new era.

It’s been another tough year in Toronto and Phaneuf’s own play hasn’t exactly inspired confidence in the decision. Sure, he’s one of the more exciting players on the team but it’s far too often that he’s coughing up a puck or lapsing on defence rather than shutting down the opposition or scoring a timely goal. Phaneuf also missed a significant chunk of time with severe cut to his leg, so we’re not ready to declare him as captain bust… not yet.

We bet the music is loud in the dressing room, and Phaneuf gets some leeway because of the time he missed and because Toronto’s got personnel issues.

The Grade: D+

Henrik Sedin: “Hank” earned the Canucks captaincy after Roberto Luongo relinquished the role following yet another playoff disappointment in Vancouver. Henrik, fresh off an Art Ross Trophy as the league’s top scorer, took the ‘C’ and has done a commendable job wearing it.

There’s no shortage of leadership in Vancouver with the Sedins, Ryan Kesler, Kevin Bieksa, Manny Malhotra, and Luongo to name a few – so Henrik’s certainly got some help in steering the Canucks both on and off the ice. It’s twin brother Daniel that’s leading the team in scoring with 67-points and is on pace for 50-goals this season, while Henrik has enjoyed a productive 62-point effort of his own thus far.

We’re giving Henrik some bonus points because his Canucks sit atop the NHL and have been nearly unbeatable at home. He’s carried himself well in interviews and said the right things when he’s been called upon even if some believe he’s not the vocal leader in the dressing room.

The Grade: A-

Do you agree or disagree with our grades? Play nice…