NHL teams shouldn’t simply hand the “C” to their best player

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To be honest, I often roll my eyes when people attach a mountainous amount of importance to “leadership.” In most of those cases, the player in question was just really good. (Mark Messier didn’t get by on being scary looking alone, after all.)

That being said, it seems like quite a few NHL teams flippantly give their best player the captain’s “C” even if that guy is as inspiring as a tub of tapioca pudding.

Ovechkin and Nash: natural leaders?

It’s likely that Rick Nash and Alex Ovechkin exhibit better leadership qualities than an oddly textured dessert, but their recent runs in the spotlight got me thinking about this subject again.* While each player’s respective team is in a very different situation, it’s hard for me to an accept an argument that their teammates would “battle in the trenches” (or some other goofy and inappropriate war analogy) for them.

Sure, the Columbus Blue Jackets weren’t exactly overflowing with options for their captaincy, but they might as well have done a ceremonial shoulder shrug when they handed Nash the “C.” The Washington Capitals might be more misguided, however, as it is painfully obvious that Brooks Laich (and even Mike Knuble) is the superior choice.

Assuming that Nash and Ovechkin even wanted that honor, I’d imagine that they would have easily dried their tears with a few $100 bills from their enormous contracts.

Other examples

source: APThose two aren’t the only guys whose teams didn’t seem to put a lot of thought into the whole thing, though.

  • Ryan Getzlaf has a great mean streak and buckets of talent, but he hardly screams “captain material” – especially considering his tendency to take bad penalties.
  • Zach Parise has a lot of the qualities you look for, but the parallels between his situation and Ilya Kovalchuk’s* should make New Jersey Devils fans a little queasy.
  • Vincent Lecavalier’s improved recent play upgrades him from “colossally overpaid” to “significantly overpaid.” Still, I can’t see why the team didn’t hand the job to Martin St. Louis instead – unless he outright refused it.
  • Mark Streit went from missing the entirety of the 2010-11 campaign to becoming the New York Islanders’ captain this season. It went by without much of a reaction because, let’s face it, we expect weird things from the Isles now.
  • I don’t have a big issue with them, but others might question the logic of appointing Joe Thornton, Dion Phaneuf, Jason Pominville and Milan Hejduk as captains

***

Ultimately, leadership is an intangible quality that is frequently blown out of proportion. Still, when things go bad, there are quite a few teams who seem to lack a go-to guy to turn to because management based their captaincy decision on box scores alone.

* – The moment that really planted this idea in my head came when the Atlanta Thrashers made Kovalchuk their captain. The team was desperate to keep the Russian star in the fold, so they handed him the “C” to try to convince him to stay. That failed spectacularly, and amusingly enough, Kovalchuk is displaying more leadership qualities in New Jersey than he ever did in Atlanta.

Ducks deny rally, end Penguins’ winning streak

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When Ondrej Kase cashed in on another breakaway opportunity for the Ducks to make it 4-1 in the second period, it looked like that goal would be icing on the cake for Anaheim. Even if it would be especially pretty frosting.

Instead, that stylish goal ended up being critical, as the Pittsburgh Penguins nearly rallied in the third period to at least send Wednesday’s game to overtime. John Gibson ended up holding down the fort, and with an empty-netter in the dying seconds, the Ducks ended up beating the Penguins 5-3.

You could call it a game of periods and close calls.

The Penguins entered the first intermission thanks to a 1-0 Evgeni Malkin goal, but the Ducks dominated the middle frame with their first four-goal period of 2017-18. The Penguins’ prolific power play helped them stay in the game (2-for-4, with both goals coming during that third-period comeback bid), but the rally fell short. Pittsburgh’s winning streak ended at four victories.

Some bounces went both ways, as Antoine Vermette nearly scored for the Ducks while Carl Hagelin suffered a near-miss. So maybe those missed opportunities cancel each other out?

From the Ducks’ perspective, this is the latest argument in favor of this team being a threat now that key pieces have returned to the lineup. This win begins what they hope is a successful five-game homestand, as Anaheim still needs to battle for its own playoff hopes.

The Penguins can’t ruminate on this loss for very long. They head to Los Angeles to face what must be a frustrated Kings team (four straight defeats, only two wins in their last eight games) on Thursday, with little reason to expect any mercy.

This last stretch of wins improved the Penguins’ outlook, but dropping games in back-to-back nights could make things tense again in a hurry. You can check out that Penguins – Kings game on NBCSN Thursday.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Willie O’Ree celebrates 60th anniversary of debut with Bruins

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BOSTON (AP) Hockey pioneer Willie O’Ree was honored in Boston on Wednesday on the 60th anniversary of the Bruins forward breaking the NHL’s color barrier.

At a news conference at the TD Garden before the Bruins game against the Montreal Canadiens, Mayor Marty Walsh declared Jan. 18, 2018 to be “Willie O’Ree Day”. O’Ree made his debut in 1958 during a 3-0 victory against the Canadiens at the Forum in Montreal.

Walsh called O’Ree a Boston legend who changed the city for the better and thanked him for his courage. As part of the celebration, the city dedicated a new street hockey rink in the Allston-Brighton neighborhood to be known as Willie O’Ree Rink.

A native of Canada, O’Ree, 82, had four goals and 10 assists in 45 games over parts of two NHL seasons. He spent a total of 21 years in pro hockey.

For the past two decades, O’Ree has served as the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador, spreading the message that hockey is for everyone.

More AP NHL hockey at https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Bruins cruise vs. Canadiens in Julien’s return to Boston

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Don’t blame Claude Julien if Wednesday made him think of better times, and not just because it was his welcome back night in Boston.

Coming into this one, it was a tale of two teams going in opposite directions, and the teams stuck to their scripts. The Boston Bruins remain red-hot with a 4-1 win, while the Montreal Canadiens are mired in mediocrity .. or worse?

When you’re as disappointing as the Canadiens have been, plenty of things are going wrong. It was a weak start even with a 1-0 lead and 1-1 first period in mind, and it obviously didn’t get any better.

Nights like these have to sting for Julien, a coach known for his sophisticated systems and eye for defensive detail.

There are questions about Max Pacioretty possibly being trade bait. People wonder if Jonathan Drouin or Alex Galchenyuk fit as centers, or if neither work that way. Yet, these performances make you realize that as exasperated as management must be, they may also appreciate more specific distractions.

Because, frankly, this was a team … non-effort.

Then again, the Bruins are a red-hot squad, so maybe they shine an especially harsh light on the Habs’ haplessness?

Boston generated a 32-22 shots on goal advantage in this one, with multiple contributors stepping up. Big guns came through (Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak were among the goal scorers, Patrice Bergeron collected two assists), while David Backes and others added to the fun.

It was the kind of effort Julien would have been very happy with, if it didn’t come at his expense.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Pittsburgh Penguins at Anaheim Ducks

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PROJECTED LINEUPS

Pittsburgh Penguins

Dominik SimonSidney Crosby — Daniel Sprong

Carl HagelinEvgeni MalkinPatric Hornqvist

Conor ShearyJake GuentzelPhil Kessel

Tom KuhnhacklRiley SheahanRyan Reaves

Brian DumoulinKris Letang

Olli MaattaJustin Schultz

Matt HunwickJamie Oleksiak

Starting goalie: Tristan Jarry

[NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Canadiens vs. Bruins; Penguins vs. Ducks]

Ducks

Rickard RakellRyan GetzlafCorey Perry

Derek GrantRyan KeslerJakob Silfverberg

Nick RitchieAdam HenriqueOndrej Kase

Chris WagnerAntoine VermetteJ.T. Brown

Cam FowlerKevin Bieksa

Hampus LindholmJosh Manson

Francois BeaucheminBrandon Montour

Starting goalie: John Gibson