The changing value of the 'C'
How the NHL salary cap has altered the value, role of the team captain
On the first day of the 2013-14 NHL season, both the Buffalo Sabres and Tampa Bay Lightning named new team captains who fit the traditional mold of older, veteran players who will be expected to provide leadership roles for their teammates both on and off the ice (in the case of the Sabres, it was a pair of veterans).
In contrast, 24-year-old Jamie Benn was named the sixth captain of the Dallas Stars since they moved to Texas from Minnesota, filling the void left when the team traded Brenden Morrow at last March's trade deadline, making him the 2nd youngest "C" in Stars history (behind Derian Hatcher). However, when Tampa opted to give the captaincy to future Hall-of-Famer Martin St. Louis instead of its own young superstar Steven Stamkos, it was the Bolts, and not Dallas, that were bucking an emerging NHL trend, as young players now dominate the NHL team captaincy ranks.
Before getting into a discussion on the reasons behind this shift in the demographics of NHL captaincy and its impact on the future, some facts:
I compared the captains of all 30 teams in the 2003-04 season (the last season prior to the implementation of a salary cap) with those at the start of the 2013-14 season (historical captains records were sourced via hockey-reference.com). I looked at the ages of these captains at the start of each season noted above, and also the age at which they were originally named the captain of their respective team.
For the 2003-04 season, there were three teams (Buffalo, Minnesota and San Jose) that appeared to employ a rotating captaincy, and I therefore used their captains from the preceding 2002-03 season (excluding Minnesota, who seemed to enjoy rotating their captaincy that season as well). With Dallas, Calgary, Edmonton, Buffalo and Tampa Bay all filling their vacant captaincies this training camp, there is currently only one NHL team (Columbus) that remains without a designated "C."
It is clear that the current NHL, under a salary cap system, has a captain's club that is markedly younger than it's non-cap forefather. The average age of an NHL captain is now south of 30 years old. Prior to the salary cap, three out of four NHL captains were at least 30 years old. That number has dropped to below 50 percent.
Perhaps more telling, almost half of all current NHL captains were bestowed the honor prior to their 25th birthday, with almost one fifth of the current NHL captains unaware that Mike Tyson was ever married to Robin Givens. The 2003-04 season saw 40-somethings Ron Francis, Mark Messier, Dave Andreychuk and Al MacInnis captaining their respective teams at the end of their (Andreychuk-excepted) Hall-of-Fame careers. With all due respect to St. Louis, the days of the salty skipper seem to be over in the NHL wheelhouse.
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