Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Ranking the NHL's weird celebrity captains of 1991

The next year will be a big one for NHL milestones. For starters, we’ll see the 100th anniversary of the league itself, dating back to its official formation in 1917. The coming season is also the Maple Leafs’ centennial — one the franchise is celebrating with new uniforms, an outdoor game and a special Hall of Fame exhibit.

If that wasn’t enough, the 1967 expansions teams, including the Kings, Penguins, Flyers and Blues, will all mark their 50th anniversaries. We’ll no doubt see plenty of marketing initiatives in the coming months as the league marks the various occasions.

Here’s hoping they’ve got something good in mind, because the bar has been set high. Twenty-five years ago this summer, in advance of what would be its 75th season, the NHL decided to celebrate the occasion in the very best way it knew how: With a parade of B-list celebrities.

During the 1991 off-season, the league asked all 22 of its teams to name one celebrity captain for the coming season. Some teams rose to the challenge and found a candidate who captured just the right blend of local ties and hockey fandom. Other teams… well, not so much. So today, let’s look back on all 22 of those celebrity captains, as we count them down from worst to best.

No. 22: Montreal Canadiens – Maurice “Rocket” Richard

No. Just… no.

Let’s be clear: Rocket Richard is a legend, one of the greatest wingers of all time, and a defining player of a generation. He inspired children’s books, songs and even the occasional riot. In the world of pro sports, there are superstars, there are Hall-of-Famers, and then there’s that very small group of players who transcend it all to become something even more. Richard is in the group, no question. Rocket Richard ruled.

But asking a franchise to pick a celebrity captain from the entire world of arts, sports and pop culture and then having them come back with one of their own players is the most Montreal Canadiens thing ever. This franchise is so obsessed with its own history that they literally couldn’t think of any other options here. Sorry, Montreal, but that’s too much. Pick a marginally famous folk singer like all the other teams in the country ended up doing.

No. 21: New York Rangers – Marv Albert

This was six years before Albert’s assault trial, so we won’t penalize the Rangers for failing to see into the future. But we will penalize them for a lack of creativity in selecting a “celebrity” from within the sports media world. Albert was best known for his work on NBA games, but he’d worked Rangers games over the years, so this all felt a little too insider-y.

This is New York, after all, home of the world’s biggest stars. With all due respect to Albert, there were probably more famous people wandering by on the street at any given moment. But that would have required the Rangers to actually make it to the street, instead of just wandering down the pressbox hallway and grabbing the first person they recognized.

No. 20: Philadelphia Flyers – Bobby Rydell

Of all 22 captains, this was the toughest one to track down. Most teams were proud of their choices; some had press releases or formal announcements, and everyone else would at least show up in a newspaper article or two. But not the Flyers. Most news coverage just made vague reference to them not getting around to making a pick yet.

As best I can tell, that pick ended up being Rydell, the teen idol pop singer best known for the 1960 hit, Wild One. At least, that’s according to the one line slipped into the end of this article on the Flyers’ opening-night loss to the Capitals. That’s pretty much all the evidence I could find of the Flyers participating in this campaign at all. They just didn’t seem all that in to the whole celebrity captain thing. Which is weird, considering the franchise’s proud history with pop music.

No. 19: Hartford Whalers – Susan Saint James

Saint James might seem like an odd pick, but she was chosen because she’d once attended college in Connecticut. That’s it. The fact that she was married to the president of the NHL’s TV partner was no doubt purely a coincidence.

As a side note, the Whalers appear to have been the only team to name a co-captain, as they snuck in an additional mention of Gordie Howe. Normally, that would fall under the same category as the Habs choosing Richard. But I’m going to give the Whalers a pass, on the assumption that they picked Howe just to troll the Red Wings in hopes of getting them to lose their minds when it came time for their pick.

Spoiler alert: It worked.

No. 18: Calgary Flames – Ian Tyson

When the NHL said “celebrity captain,” half the league’s Canadian teams immediately went “local folk rock singer” and called it a day. Maybe the biggest upset of all here was that, somehow, Stompin’ Tom Connors didn’t get picked by anyone. How is that even possible? I’m assuming he was removed from consideration to make it fair for everyone else, like when you were in a hockey pool in 1984 and nobody was allowed to draft Wayne Gretzky.

Anyway, Calgary’s honour went to Tyson. Personally, I would have gone with then-current WWF intercontinental champion Bret Hart, but let’s be honest, it was the early 90s. The Flames weren’t exactly making great personnel decisions.

No. 17: Toronto Maple Leafs – Gordon Lightfoot

Have I mentioned that the Canadian teams liked singers? They liked singers.

Side note: How much do you think it killed Mike Myers not to get the nod here? He was already a big star on Saturday Night Live by this point, but the Wayne’s World movie hadn’t come out yet so he didn’t quite have that crossover appeal. Then again, given how things turned out when he finally did get to work with the Leafs, that’s probably a good thing.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet


  1. What's with all the weird comments lately?

    1. Just spam slipping through the (usually pretty good) Blogger filter.