Almost every offseason there is at least one change in who wears the “C” for an NHL squad. Last season there were five newly-named captains in the league while this year there’s just one. Whether a change is made because of retirement, roster moves or any number of reasons, the decision to appoint one individual as team captain is a major one, although some teams choose to play with only alternate captains.
There are currently seven squads without captains: Carolina Hurricanes, Detroit Red Wings, New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks and Vegas Golden Knights. Some of these teams are currently looking at resumes to determine who to promote, like the Maple Leafs who played without a captain for the last three seasons. The only team that announced a new captain for 2019-20 was the San Jose Sharks (Logan Couture).
The teams who lost their captains this offseason were the Carolina Hurricanes (Justin Williams, reportedly taking a break from NHL) and the San Jose Sharks (Joe Pavelski, signed with Dallas Stars).
So why do we need captains?
In the NHL, captains arguably have the most significant role of any major sport. They are the only ones permitted to talk to the referee about rule interpretations per Rule 6.1 of the 2018-19 NHL rulebook. It is also written that no team is permitted to have co-captains.
So what are alternate captains for?
Well first things first, the proper term is “alternate captain” contrary to the popular belief that the “A” stands for “assistant captain.” Essentially the alternate captains are there to take over the responsibilities of the captain if he is not on the ice. In fact, according to Rule 6.1, if a player (captain, alternate or neither) leaves the bench and “makes any protest or intervention with the officials,” they will be assessed a minor penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. It is also clearly stated that disagreements over penalty calls are not considered rule interpretations.
Another rule that is clearly stated — although it appears to lacks enforcement — is the limits on alternates captains. While the rule states, “Either one Captain and no more than two Alternate Captains, or no Captain and no more than three Alternate Captains are permitted,” there are a number of teams with a captain and three or four alternates. This topic was not listed among the rule changes for 2019-20.
One more thing to note: no goaltenders are permitted to be captains or alternate captains. Sorry.
The longest-tenured captain in the NHL is Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins, entering his 14th season wearing the “C” on his chest. The shortest-tenured captains are Buffalo’s Jack Eichel, Florida’s Aleksander Barkov, Montreal’s Shea Weber and the New York Islanders’ Anders Lee — who are all entering their second season as team captains. The Maple Leafs have not had a captain the last three seasons, while the Red Wings, Rangers and Senators were all without a captain for the first time last season and do not have one listed for this year.
The longest-tenured captain in the Western Conference is a tie between Chicago’s Jonathan Toews and Minnesota’s Mikko Koivu, each entering their 12th season as captain of their respective clubs. The newest captain, and the only first-year captain entering the season, is Couture. The Golden Knights have never had a team captain and now enter their third season in the NHL. The Canucks’ previous captain was Henrik Sedin in the 2017-18 season.
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