Joe Thornton was recently named as the eighth captain of the San Jose Sharks, and there have already been questions raised as to whether or not he is the right person for the job. It’s an interesting concept, that fans and sports analysts can tell whether or not specific players would be a good leader for a specific team. But what are the requirements of a hockey captain?
Surprisingly, not much, at least officially.
The main role of captains on the ice is to be the go-to person to talk to referees about rule discrepancies, but even that is fairly unimportant since the Canucks did so for the last two years with their goaltender as the ‘captain’. But we all know it is about the intangibles. The referee chatter is just something logical to put in the NHL rulebook. This is what a captain actually does:
Lead the Team
This may seem redundant, but a captain is supposed to lead the team in the locker room and on the ice. This is akin to the role of a project manager in most companies. They lead the team through actions and words, and liaison with ‘upper’ management (aka the coach) They set the tone for everyone else. Captains or project managers do not have to be the best player on the team, but they are usually one of the hardest workers.
Be the Spokesperson
There is an expectation by fans and media alike for the captain to be the go-to guy for quotes pre-game, post-game, and in the middle of July when there’s no news at all. captains are supposed to be candid, critical, supportive, and non-controversial (no, Michael Vick cannot be a captain) all at the same time. Oh, and they should be funny too, but not too funny in an offensive kind of way.
Carry the Team’s Brand
The captain’s values and work ethic should be in line with the teams’. As the leader, he is a main representation of the team’s brand, so this may mean charity work, handing out newspapers, or whatever else the team believes in. The identity of the team should be carried out by the captain.
As you can tell, the latter two roles have almost nothing to do with playing hockey, and from what I can tell, most leaders in hockey today care more about winning hockey games than being politically correct or entertaining a crowd. No other major sports league in North America puts as much emphasis on the captain as the NHL. The NBA usually has its star players as captains, and they say whatever they want. Each NFL team has about 20 captains, but we all know the quarterback is the leader because, well, it’s part of being a quarterback.
The emergence of social media has given players with interesting personalities to reach out to fans, so perhaps it’s time to tone back on the captain’s PR roles because being interesting has nothing to do with being a good leader.
What do you think of the role of captains in hockey (and sports in general) today?
It should be an interesting season for the Sharks. Thornton is maybe the most unassuming superstar in sports. He reminds me of (Stones drummer) Charlie Watts. He has little to no idea of his popularity, he’s just doing his thing. That said, I think San Jose will react to his laid back style unlike they did in Boston when he wore the C. That was a more intense hockey town and Joe was younger and not as savvy. Mark Messier & Steve Yzerman are the captains by which all others are judged over the past 25 years in the NHL. Yzerman quietly led by example and Messier was more of an ‘in your face’ leader, even getting in Coach Mike Keenan’s face during his years with the Rangers. Like I said I’m looking forward to the Sharks season with Joe wearing the C.
Great stuff. Thanks for posting. Stevie Y will always be known as “The Captain ” for the Red Wings. The Red Wings don’t change captains very often. Which I think is great for the players and for the fans. It is a privilege only a select few can say they have been in Detroit.