My friends and I frequently get into sports debates that sometimes go on all night. They’re not always about which team is better, or which player will score the most points. They’re about things like the best sports movies of all time, whether Barrett or Pierzynski was out of line in 2006, and this one last night:
Is being the Captain of a hockey team overrated?
Before I get into the technicalities of being the Captain, I’ll compare it with other sports.
On our original site, I wrote a blog about respecting Derek Jeter despite hating the Yankees. In it, I talked about how Derek always represents the Yankees in a good light, he sticks up for his teammates, etc. Baseball in general doesn’t have a designated Captain on every team like hockey does. Only a couple guys in recent memory have been recognized as a Captain. Jeter, Jason Varitek with the Red Sox, and even Sammy Sosa wore a “C” on his Cubs jersey for awhile.
While captains in baseball are more of a rarity, I think they are nothing more than a rip-off of the NHL. Naming a player on a baseball team Captain is nothing more than a novelty.
In basketball, the captains serve a little more of a purpose. They meet with the officials for a pregame conference, and are expected to be the liason between the officials and the teams on the floor. The captains are expected to be the even-headed players, and are expected to keep their teammates in line. Each team may do something different, whether it’s voting on team captains or having the coach pick a captain, but captains do mean a little more in basketball.
In football, the captains go out for the coin toss, and after that, they’re not needed anymore.
In hockey, the Captain is so much more than a figurehead on the ice. The Captain is responsible for speaking with the officials about on-ice rules interpretations. They’re responsible for representing the organization off the ice. They serve as the liason between the players and management. Maybe most importantly, they serve as the recipients of on-ice awards…like the Stanley Cup.
Think about all the awards presentations. If I remember correctly, the head coach or manager is usually the one to accept a championship trophy. But in hockey it’s the Captain who accepts the Stanley Cup.
But is being named the Captain of a hockey team overrated? I don’t think so. Is it watered down because every team has one? Again, I don’t think so.
Maybe it’s just because hockey is steeped in tradition, but the concept of a Captain has held on through the decades. It’s not always the best player on the team that’s named Captain, either. Take the Blackhawks, for example. Some would argue that Patrick Kane or Marian Hossa might be more talented than Jonathan Toews, but it’s Toews who wears the “C”.
NHL teams are not required by any means to name a Captain. For 11 seasons of their storied history, the Blackhawks did not have a Captain, including five years in a row from the 1970-71 season through the 74-75 seasons.
The fact that hockey players have to earn their captaincy makes being a hockey captain that much more special, in my opinion. I think hockey captains mean more to their teams than any other captain, and it should continue to be revered as a great hockey tradition.