Over the past 24 hours Jack Eichel (Buffalo) and Anders Lee (New York Islanders) have been announced as captains of their respective teams. For the Sabres, Eichel will be their first captain since Brian Gionta wore the “C” during the 2016-17 season, while Lee will be filling the role that was left vacated when John Tavares signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs in free agency.
Even after those announcements there are still six teams in the NHL (approximately 20 percent of the league) that will be entering the 2018-19 season without anyone being designated as the “captain” of their team.
Those teams include…
- The Vegas Golden Knights, who are going forward with the same leadership by committee approach they took during their expansion year (a “23 captains mentality as coach Gerrard Gallant likes to put it).
- The Toronto Maple Leafs have not named a captain since Dion Phaneuf was traded during the 2015-16 season and will go forward with Tavares, Patrick Marleau, and Morgan Reilly as alternate captains.
- After having just three captains (Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg and Steve Yzerman) over the past 32 years the Detroit Red Wings will not name a replacement for Zetterberg following the end of his playing career, instead going with four alternate captains in Dylan Larkin, Frans Nielsen, Niklas Kronwall, and Justin Abdelkader.
- The New York Rangers are going with five alternate captains following the mid-season trade of Ryan McDonagh a year ago, naming Chris Kreider, Jesper Fast, Mike Zibanejad, Mats Zuccarello, and Marc Staal to the role.
- The Ottawa Senators are not naming a captain following the trade of defenseman Erik Karlsson just before the start of training camp.
- In Vancouver, the Canucks are filling the leadership void left by Henrik Sedin’s retirement with a quartet of alternates that includes Brandon Sutter, Bo Horvat, Alex Edler, and Chris Tanev.
In almost all of these situations the teams have opted to phrase it as a “leadership by committee” approach. While the majority of these teams are just starting massive rebuilding projects and just lost their long-time captain (either by trade, free agency, or retirement) within the past few months, Toronto and Vegas are playoff teams a year ago and both expect to be contenders for the Stanley Cup. Vegas was actually playing in the Stanley Cup Final just a few months ago without an official captain.
Regardless of the circumstances, it’s a unique situation because the NHL has never had a season where this many teams are entering the season without a captain. Just look at the past 25 years as the most recent example, where only once did the league have more than three teams without a captain … and that season was this past season when there were four such teams.
It is probably not yet time to say the role of the captain as we know it (a player having the letter “C” stitched on their jersey) is going away (how often do four teams lose captains in one four-month stretch), but it certainly seems teams aren’t as concerned about that letter being stitched on a player’s jersey as they used to be.
Just consider that since the start of the 2014-15 season (a stretch of only five years) there have been 16 teams to enter a season without an officially designated captain on their roster, including the six teams this season. In the 20 years prior to that there were only 19 such teams, or less than one per season on average.
At the end of the day everyone in a locker room knows who the leaders of the team are, whether they have a letter on their jersey or not. Everyone knows who is going to be the player to speak up, who is going to be the player to “lead by example,” and who is going to be the player to “hold everything together.” You should not need a letter to recognize that.