Captaincy is a part of sports, but it means more in some sports than others. All in all, though, the captaincy means the most to hockey. In the NHL, your team only has one captain, and they are always the captain. They wear the “C” on their uniform and everything. However, not every NHL team has a captain. Currently, six teams are sans a captain. Arizona and Anaheim are young, rebuilding teams. Seattle is in its second season. The Flyers and Jets have new head coaches who are of the “tough guy” variety. Calgary…hasn’t named anybody to replace Mark Giordano for some reason. And now, the captain of every remaining NHL team.
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When Bergeron decided against retiring, the Bruins avoided having to name a new captain. Now, while the future Hall of Famer and Selke hoarder is an icon of the franchise, he’s only been the captain since the 2020-21 season. Remember, Zdeno Chara held down the role in Boston for a long time.
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Memorably, the Sabres dealt Jack Eichel to the Golden Knights. He wasn’t just the team’s best player but also their captain. Instead of naming a young player like Rasmus Dahlin, the new captain, the Sabres opted for the veteran Okposo, a guy approaching 1,000 games in the NHL.
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It isn’t a birthright of the Staal family to captain the Hurricanes, but it may feel that way. Jordan’s brother Eric was the captain in Carolina from 2010 until 2016. Jordan actually took over from him in 2017, but then for a couple of years the veteran Justin Williams was captain. When he retired, Jordan took the role back over in 2019.
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Will Toews ever leave Chicago? The Blackhawks are rebuilding, so icons of the Cup-winning squads in, Toews and Patrick Kane, are in the mix to be dealt. If that happens, it will be a significant change for the Blackhawks. Toews has been their captain since the 2008-09 season.
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Back in the day, a rebuilding Avalanche team made Landeskog the youngest captain in the NHL. Since then, more-talented players like Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar have joined the team. However, Landeskog (no slouch talent-wise, for the record) remains the captain, having had the role since 2012-13.
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For years, the Blue Jackets went the “steady veteran” route at the captain, with Nick Foligno in the role. He left to chase a Cup and was then replaced by Jenner. Jenner has been a Blue Jacket his entire career, and in his first season as captain had 23 goals and 21 assists in 59 games during the 2021-22 campaign.
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In his prime, Benn won the Art Ross trophy, so he’s certainly had some memorable campaigns. For many years, he and Tyler Seguin were the faces of this franchise. Now in his thirties and more of a complementary piece rather than a star for the Stars, Benn remains the captain for the only franchise he has ever known.
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The lineage of the captaincy in Detroit is vaunted. Steve Yzerman, a Hall of Famer, was the captain for 20 years. Then, Nicklas Lidstrom, arguably the greatest defenseman of all time, was in the role. Even his successor, Henrik Zetterberg, was an excellent player if a step below the Hall of Fame. Now, Larkin is in the role and has been since 2020, but as a Michigan native who has been the clear top forward for a few seasons, he is a worthy captain in his own right. He could fill the role for many years.
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McDavid has done the near impossible, which is to surpass the hype that surrounded him when he was drafted first overall. He is the best player in the NHL. He already has two Harts and four Art Ross trophies. If he stays in Edmonton for his entire career, he could replace Wayne Gretzky as the franchise’s greatest icon. Yes, really.
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Barkov gives you everything you could want on the ice. Thirty goals and 80 points? You bet. Defensive acumen? He’s won a Selke. Disciplined play? He’s also won a Lady Byng. The Finn also clearly has leadership skills, having been the captain since the 2018-19 season.
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Slovenia’s greatest player is basically Barkov, but a veteran with Cups to his name. Although, both of those Cups were won before he began captain in the 2016-2017 season. However, Kopitar has spent years as a star in Los Angeles and has two Selkes to go with his Lady Byng.
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Mikko Koivu was the only captain the Wild franchise had ever known. Seriously, when Koivu took on the role in 2009, he was the first permanent captain named by the team (previously it had weirdly been rotated for years, often month by month). Koivu’s last campaign ended in 2020, so Spurgeon took over the role for the 2020-21 season. The veteran defenseman had been with the team for a decade, so it made sense.
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Historically speaking, the Canadiens are the NHL’s most successful franchise, but it can also be a fraught fan base to deal with. If the head coach or GM isn’t French Canadian, there is hell to pay. The captaincy isn’t treated with the same level of jingoistic fervor as Suzuki took over the role for the 2022-23 season from Shea Weber, who is effectively medically retired. A promising young forward, Suzuki is a smart choice for a young, rebuilding team.
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One of the NHL’s best defenseman for years, Josi has a Norris win to his name and also a 96-point season wherein he somehow didn’t win the Norris. Josi effectively took over as Nashville’s captain from Weber as well, though there was one transitional season in there (2016-17) where Mike Fisher was in the role.
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Hischier and Jack Hughes were both drafted first overall. They both play center. They are both quite good at hockey. However, Hischier was drafted first and arrived first, which may be why he got to be the captain, taking the role starting with the 2020-21 season.
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John Tavares left the Islanders for the Maple Leafs. You may have heard about it. When that happened, the veteran Lee took over the role. He got the gig in 2018-19, the season after he scored 40 goals. Maybe that played a role in the decision.
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The Rangers had been without a captain since 2018, when Ryan McDonagh had the role. In his first season as head coach, Gerard Gallant didn’t name a captain, but prior to his second campaign, he put the veteran defenseman Trouba in the role. A somewhat surprising choice but not a bad one.
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The Senators were also sans captain for a few years after Erik Karlsson left. Tkachuk, son of Keith and brother of Matthew, took on the role prior to the 2021-22 season. Having started his career with gusto, it seems like a smart choice. Keith, by the way, was the captain of the Coyotes back in the day.
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Crosby took the torch from Mario Lemieux and ran with it. The Penguins named a young Crosby captain back prior to the 2007-08 season and haven’t looked back since. Considered by many the best player of his generation, he’s won trophies, lifted multiple Cups, and done it all. A true franchise-altering player and one of the iconic captains in NHL history.
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Joe Thornton had the role, and he then passed it to Joe Pavelski, but in time both Joes would be gone. Couture was, frankly, the obvious next guy in line. He’s been a top talent since the 2010-11 season and has spent his entire career in San Jose. Couture has been the captain since the 2019-20 season, and all that’s left is for the franchise to retire his number someday.
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In the 2018-19 season, his first in St. Louis, O’Reilly won the Selke, and then he won the Conn Smythe as the playoffs MVP. When Alex Pietrangelo left for Vegas, O’Reilly was then the clear choice to replace him as captain. It’s only been a couple of seasons, but O’Reilly is holding it down for the Blues.
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Injuries have perhaps kept Stamkos from being an all-timer, and yet he will still end up with over 500 goals and 1,000 points. He’s also been the Tampa captain since the 2013-14 campaign. Stamkos was captain when the team hoisted the Cup in 2020 and 2021 and was also there when they lost in the finals in 2022.
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Clearly, Tavares must be well thought of as a leader. He was the captain for the Islanders, and then when he moved to Toronto, he became the captain there as well. That’s even with career Leafs like Auston Matthews and Morgan Rielly around. If the Leafs ever lift the Cup with Tavares at center, nobody will question the decision.
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The Sedin twins were the faces of the Canucks for years, and Henrik is the one that wore the “C” on his jersey (no word on how Daniel felt about merely getting the “A” on his). When the Sedins retired, naturally at the same time, in 2018, a new era began. Horvat, having been around since the 2014-15 season on a young team, got the call.
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Stone can say something nobody else on this list can: He’s the only captain in Golden Knights history. Sure, that’s because the franchise has only been around a few seasons, but it remains true. When Vegas decided to name its first captain prior to the 2020-21 season, it went with Stone.
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Ovechkin is not the longest-serving captain on this list, surprisingly. While he’s been in the NHL as long as anybody, he and Crosby memorably debuted the same season after the lockout. When Ovi joined the league, Washington was captain by…Chris Clark. Wisely, during the 2009-10 season, the Capitals decided to give the face of the franchise the captaincy. Ovechkin led them to a Cup, and he may someday become the NHL’s leader in career goals while wearing a Capitals uniform.