Think NHL captains are younger than they used to be? Think again

While today’s NHLers are growing up fast and starring at a younger age, team captains are as grey as ever. Even moreso.

We were ruminating about the role of the captain in the office the other day and how our NHL team leaders are becoming increasingly youthful. Gabriel Landeskog, John Tavares, Jamie Benn – all young men who are closer to their 20th birthday than their 30th. There was a time, we agreed, when virtually all captains were thirtysomethings, respected veterans who earned their ‘C’ with long years of service to one or maybe two teams. Then we did the research.

Today’s captains averaged 30 years of age at the start of the season. A bit older than anticipated, but not ancient. We then reached back 20 years, to 1993-94, when Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Ray Bourque and Mark Messier were the superstar, emblematic leaders. That year’s group averaged 28.2, 1.8 years younger. Umm, an anomaly? So we tested 1983-84, when Bobby Clarke, Lanny McDonald and Denis Potvin were the icons. That season’s average was even greener at 26.4. Conclusions? A) Don’t jump to them; B) Don’t rely on memory/perception when you can use data; and C) Our captains ain’t getting any younger. Literally. It also supports our other hypothesis – that there is a difference between experience and leadership. Not all old men are wise, not all youngsters are juvenile. Time can build maturity, but it’s not the sole determining factor. A captain’s success in the role depends on a tapestry of factors, including: the example he sets with his tone; his ability to find solutions instead of lay blame in times of turmoil; his rapport with the media; his capacity to stay grounded and relatively humble; his patience with younger teammates; his performance. The wearing of the ‘C’, meantime, is one of hockey’s great traditions and is treated by NHL clubs with a certain amount of reverence. Consider that the Columbus Blue Jackets haven’t had a captain since they traded Rick Nash in the summer of 2012 because they’re waiting for Mr. Right. The team’s past two captains, Nash and Adam Foote, requested in-season trades and president of hockey operations John Davidson is concerned about the affect on morale if they name Mr. Wrong. Below are the 29 team captains listed alphabetically by team and with their age as of the start of the season. Martin St-Louis is the gramps of the group at 38 while Landeskog is the baby at 20.
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