After months of speculation, the San Jose Sharks finally named their new captain last week: nobody. They won’t have one this year, going with four alternates instead.
That’s going to be a little bit awkward for Joe Thornton, who wore the “C” last year before having it taken away after the Sharks’ painful first-round loss to the Kings, and is still on the roster. And then there’s Patrick Marleau, who was San Jose’s captain for five years until he was stripped back in 2009, and is also still on the roster.
But while the Sharks’ situation was unusual, and probably handled about as poorly as it could have been, it wasn’t unprecedented. In fact, lots of star players have had a “C” taken away over the years,1 and many times the whole thing has been handled quite amicably.
But “quite amicably” is boring. We want some bad blood. So for today’s history lesson, let’s look back at five cases of NHL captains who lost their “C” under less-than-ideal circumstances. You’re not alone, Joe — and some of these guys had it even worse.
Rick Vaive Hits the Snooze Button
Being the captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs during the Harold Ballard era was a tough job. Ballard was essentially every stereotype of a rotten, greedy sports owner brought to life, except worse. He was a miserable crank, not to mention a convicted fraud, and legend has it that he once shut off the Maple Leaf Gardens drinking fountains and cranked up the thermostat on a hot day to force fans to buy soda (on which, it goes without saying, he’d raised the price).
So it was no surprise that Ballard didn’t get along with his captains — or just about anyone, for that matter. In 1979, Ballard and GM Punch Imlach started a feud with Leafs franchise player and captain Darryl Sittler that culminated in the future Hall of Famer slicing the “C” off his own jersey with a pair of scissors. Sittler was eventually given the captaincy back, and wore it for two more years before finally tiring of Ballard’s sideshow for good and requesting a trade.
Vaive took over the Leafs captaincy during the 1981-82 season, the first of a franchise record three straight in which he’d score 50 goals. He held the honor until a Saturday morning in Minnesota in February 1986. Vaive had gone out with former teammate John Anderson for what he called a “late-night bull session” and overslept the next day. He missed a scheduled practice, and Ballard responded by stripping him of the captaincy. He was traded to Chicago a year later.
After the Sittler and Vaive debacles, the Maple Leafs apparently decided that captains were more trouble than they were worth, going without one for three full seasons. That ended with two years of Rob Ramage, which gave way to the beloved Wendel Clark–Doug Gilmour–Mats Sundin era. With Ballard long gone, these days captains are finally treated with some respect in Toronto. (Until the team loses a few games in a row, in which case we ask Sittler if we can borrow his scissors.)