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Making the Case for Goaltender Captaincy in NHL

Making the Case for Goaltender Captaincy in NHL
Bill Durnan of the Montreal Canadiens was the last goalie to officially wear the captain's 'C' on his jersey. (Photo courtesy hockeygoalies.org)

Bill Durnan of the Montreal Canadiens was the last goalie to officially wear the captain’s ‘C’ on his jersey. (Photo courtesy hockeygoalies.org)

As training camp approaches for NHL teams, many questions need to be answered. One of the slightly less important questions, but one that many fans are interested in, is who will the captain and alternate captains be?

The real importance of naming a captain can be argued, but the fact remains – teams have leaders, and leaders have been distinguished in the NHL by wearing a ‘C’ since as long as most can remember. Most players take pride in being named captain by their peers.

Why Not Goalies?

In the beginning, goaltenders were commonly seen as leaders and were given the captain’s ‘C’ on six occasions between 1924 and 1948.

Prior to the 1948–49 season, the NHL changed the rules. Goaltenders could no longer be named captain, thanks to Bill Durnan – the last goalie to officially wear the ‘C’ on his jersey.

The “Durnan Rule” came into effect because the Montreal Canadiens’ goalie would argue so many calls, teams started to complain that it was like he was giving his team extra unauthorized timeouts.

Goalies were banned from becoming captains in the NHL from that day forward because of two simple words added to rule 6.1 in the rule book:

“No playing Coach or playing Manager or goalkeeper shall be permitted to act as Captain or Alternate Captain.”

That didn’t stop the Vancouver Canucks from naming Roberto Luongo their team captain in 2008 – albeit, unofficially.

He held no on-ice distinction, other than the ‘C’ that he had painted on the chin of his mask. Although he had no official power, he had many off-ice duties, and it signified that he was a strong leader of a core group that would eventually reach the Stanley Cup final in 2010-2011.

There is one other rule that needs to be brought up when discussing if goaltenders can be named captain, and that is rule 27.6 in the NHL rule book:

“…during stoppages of play in the game, [a goaltender] must not proceed to his players’ bench for the purpose of receiving a replacement stick or equipment or repairs thereto, or due to an injury, or to receive instructions, without first obtaining permission to do so from the Referee. Otherwise, he must be replaced by the substitute goalkeeper immediately (without any delay) or be assessed a bench minor penalty for delay of game.”

Technically, a goaltender needs to be given permission to leave the crease during a stoppage of play. How often is that enforced? Goalies routinely skate to the bench for equipment repair, or simply skate to the corner to stay loose.

Does every single NHL goalie ask for permission every single time? By definition, they are in violation of rule 27.6 each time they do it without asking. Heck, goalies even leave the crease to join altercations. That’s supposed to be a minor penalty and a $200 fine!

The rule is not heavily enforced. Even if they start enforcing it, it can be simply amended to say that a goaltender that is team captain can skate directly to the referee circle for an explanation, and to the bench to relay the information. It’s what a player captain has to do anyway!

Will it take too long, delaying the game? In an age where two, three, sometimes four minute long video reviews are commonplace, it’s unlikely that a ten second skate from the bench back to the crease will even be noticeable.

How many goalies can say that they have never faked a strap coming loose on their pad to buy an extra minute before a faceoff? None. Players, and goalies specifically, will always find a way to delay the game.

The rule was put in place because of a goaltender that took advantage of the situation and argued calls when he should not have been arguing calls. The rule that they instituted should have limited the amount of instances a captain is able to argue, not ban all goalies from being named captain.

It was a knee-jerk reaction at the time, and it should be corrected.

The Case for Carey

Goalie Fight Thomas vs. Price

Carey Price, pictured here fighting Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins, is the true leader of the Montreal Canadians. Due to a rule created in 1948, he’s ineligible to be named captain. (Photo by Scott Slingsby)

Two Canadian teams, Montreal and Ottawa, are heading into the season with vacant captain positions. While Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner are fine goaltenders, they are not seen as major leaders in the Senators’ dressing room. In Montreal, a strong case could be made for Carey Price to become the next captain of the Canadiens.

Many are arguing that nobody is quite ready to take on the ‘C’ in Montreal, but when you add Carey Price into the mix, it makes a lot of sense. He’s a leader by example and is the team’s franchise player. It makes perfect sense for Price to be the captain in Montreal, but he’s ineligible.

Josh Gorges was seen as a future captain, but he followed former captain Brian Gionta to Buffalo. Instead, the Canadians will be forced to go with inexperienced leaders like P.K. Subban, Max Pacioretty, or Andrei Markov as their captain, or go with three alternate captains instead.

The archaic rule is blocking the Canadiens from having their real leader wear the ‘C.’

Time For Change

Brodeur Devils Mask 2011-2012

Martin Brodeur was the face of the New Jersey Devils for over a decade, but was never recognized as team captain due to rule 27.6. (Photo by Scott Slingsby)

Martin Brodeur has been the face of the New Jersey Devils since the mid-90s. Although he will likely be suiting up for a new team this season, if at all, there’s no doubt that he would have been the captain in New Jersey for many years. Henrik Lundqvist could be used as a more recent example of a goaltender becoming the clear leader of his team.

The list of goaltenders that were leaders throughout history is endless, but none were able to be officially named as the captain of their team – at least not since 1948. It is a shame that some of the NHL’s best leaders over the years were never recognized by being named captain.

The NCAA has no restriction on goaltenders being captains. Goalkeeper captains are very common in Soccer, just like it should be in hockey.

It is time for the NHL to correct one of the most outdated rules in the rule book, starting now.

Lift the restriction on goaltender captaincy and let Carey Price lead his team while proudly wearing the ‘C’ on his jersey.

About The Author

Greg Balloch

Greg Balloch is a Vancouver-based writer for InGoal Magazine, broadcaster for Sportsnet 650, and goaltending coach. His career began in Hamilton, Ontario as the voice of the Junior 'A' Hamilton Red Wings, before moving to Vancouver to cover the Canucks on the radio. A lifelong goaltender, he has been teaching the position for over a decade.

3 Comments

  1. Joe Feeney

    WHile the rules states and Officials will not allow goalkeepers to act as captains, it does not prevent any team from naming a goalkeeper captain or them from wearing the “C” on their jersey. Any alternate can then act as captain rule 27.6 not withstanding.

    Reply
  2. paul ipolito

    That Luongo experiment really worked out well, didn’t it? As they say in New York- Fugeddaboudit!

    Reply
    • Greg Balloch

      Hey, as everyone here in Vancouver knows, Lu is one of a kind! Not every case will turn out like his.

      Reply

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