Here’s who Dylan Larkin has to live up to as Detroit Red Wings captain

Detroit Free Press

Ryan Ford
| Detroit Free Press

On Wednesday, Dylan Larkin became the 37th Detroit Red Wings captain.

Larkin received the honor from head coach Jeff Blashill and general manager Steve Yzerman, who himself spent 19 seasons wearing the “C” for the Wings from 1986-2006. The Waterford native is entering his sixth season with the franchise after being drafted 15th overall in 2014.

Detroit Red Wings name Dylan Larkin the team’s 37th captain ]

In 389 games with the Wings, Larkin has 107 goals, 159 assists and a minus-53 rating (though much of that is attributable to the lack of talent surrounding him as the Wings under go their rebuild). He finished fifth in Calder Trophy voting in 2016, the same season he made his only All-Star team.

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Larkin, 24, will be the youngest captain of the Wings since Yzerman got the job in 1986. It’s a role that has been filled by Red Wings greats such as Sid Abel, Ted Lindsay, Gordie Howe and Alex Delvecchio, as well as some lesser-known names more recently. Here’s a look at the previous seven players, over the past 40 seasons, who’ve worn the “C” in Detroit:

1979-80: Dale McCourt

The prelude: McCourt almost wasn’t a Wing during this season; after a rookie year with 33 goals and 39 assists (and a fourth-place finish in Calder voting), McCourt, drafted No. 1 overall by the Wings in 1977, was awarded to the Los Angeles Kings by an arbitrator as compensation for the Wings’ free-agent signing of goalie Rogie Vachon. McCourt fought the compensation rule in court and got it overturned early in the 1978 season, making him pretty popular with teammates such as left winger Nick Libett: “It’s the best thing that ever happened to the players of the National Hockey League. I think it’s just great.” In 1978-79, his second season, McCourt had 28 goals and 43 assists as the Wings went with a trio of captains (Libett, Paul Woods, Dennis Hextall).

As captain: McCourt returned to the 30-goal club in his single season as the Wings’ captain, scoring 30 times and adding 51 assists despite having to navigate an “uptight” locker room (in one player’s words) under volatile coach Bobby Kromm, who lasted just 71 games before Lindsay replaced him as coach.

1980-81: Errol Thompson

The prelude: Thompson, who had 126 goals (including a 43-goal campaign in 1975-76) over 365 games with Toronto, was acquired from the Maple Leafs in 1978 when general manager Ted Lindsay dealt then-captain Dan Maloney with 14 games left in the season. As Lindsay told the Freep, “Last year, when I took over, I said that the only untouchable was Dan Maloney. That was last year. … You always say you won’t sell something, but if the price is right, you will always sell something. It can always be sold and it can always be bought.” In 1978-79, his first full season in Detroit, Thompson had 23 goals, 31 assists and a minus-27 rating. He followed that with a 34-goal campaign in 1979-80.

As captain: Lindsay, who’d taken over as coach the previous season, dumped the 24-year-old Dale McCourt in favor of the 30-year-old Thompson as captain. Lindsay lasted 20 games before his was fired and replaced with Wayne Maxner, who’s been in charge of the Wings’ AHL affiliate. Thompson’s tenure as captain lasted just 19 games after that. From the start, Maxner had issues with Thompson’s effort in games; it culminated in Maxner leaving Thompson (and three other vets) in Detroit ahead of a Jan. 8 road game in Boston. A drastic move by Maxner? “Yes, it’s drastic, but Wayne is sticking to his guns,“ Wings GM Jimmy Skinner told the Freep. “If they don’t play well, there’s going to be changes.”

The next day, Thompson — who had 14 goals and 12 assists at the time — told reporters he was done as captain. “I called my mother last night and told her I was quitting as captain and she cried.” Skinner persuaded Thompson to wait a day, at least. Hours later, his trade to the Pittsburgh Penguins (with whom he had 14 points in 34 games) was announced. “I thought things weren’t all that bad then,” Thompson said ahead of reporting to Pittsburgh. “And, boom, two hours later, Jimmy says I’m gone.” Maxner announced a new captain on Jan. 10: Defenseman Reed Larson, in his fifth season with the Wings.

1981-82: Reed Larson

The prelude: Larson was drafted in the second round in 1976, No. 22 overall, and joined the Wings after his junior season at Minnesota, in time to play 14 games in the 1976-77 season. The next season, he had 19 goals and 41 assists, making the Wales Conference All-Star squad and finishing fifth in Calder Trophy voting. He followed that up with 18 goals and 49 assists the next season, and 22 goals and 44 assists in 1979-80 for another All-Star nod (this time at Joe Louis Arena). When Thompson was traded in 1981, Larson had just received his third All-Star berth, as he had 15 goals and 19 assists in 40 games.

As captain: Larson picked up an assist (and five PIMs for fighting) in his first game wearing the “C,” on Jan. 10, 1981. He finished the ’80-81 season with 12 goals and 12 assists in 39 games, though the Wings went only 9-19-10 down the stretch. Larson remained the captain for the ’81-82 season, finishing second on the team in points, with 21 goals and 39 assists. Maxner, the coach who’d made him captain, didn’t have as good a season; he was fired with 11 games remaining in the season with a 18-39-12 record.

1982-86: Danny Gare

The prelude: Gare was in his eighth season with Buffalo — a span which included a third-place finish in Calder voting, a 56-goal season, two All-Star Game berths and two top-10 finishes in Hart Trophy voting — when Wings director of hockey operations Jimmy Skinner acquired him in a blockbuster for McCourt, Mike Foligno and Brent Peterson in December 1981. (The Sabres GM who made the deal? Scotty Bowman.) In 36 games to finish out the 1981-82 season, Gare had a lackluster 13 goals, nine assists and 74 penalty minutes. The wheels of Gare’s promotion started turning on June 22, 1982, when Mike Ilitch purchased the Red Wings. Soon after, Ilitch installed Jimmy Devellano as GM, who then hired coach Nick Polano as part of a “clean sweep” for the organization. Accordingly, Larson resigned as captain, telling the Freep, “They’re changing everything, and there’s some people better qualified than me, really. I’m not a big talker in the dressing room. On the ice I show more intensity, but we’ve got guys like Schoney (Jim Schoenfeld) and (Danny) Gare.” Devellano was suitably impressed: “Reed Larson is a smart guy. … He was perceptive enough to see what we were doing and he said, ‘Let everything be new.’ “


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As captain: The next day, Polano went with the 5-foot-9, 176 pound Gare as captain, citing his success in Buffalo. “I have a lot of respect for Danny Gare. He’s not big, but he has a big heart. He’s the type of player we’d like all the other players to pattern themselves after.” In his first season as captain, Gare settled in as the Wings’ third-best player, notching 26 goals and 35 assists in 79 games. The team was less successful, however, finishing 18th out of 21 teams and nabbing the No. 4 pick in the 1983 draft. (You might already know his name.) The Wings were better the following season, but Gare slipped to 26 points. A bounce-back season in 1984-85 (56 points) was followed by a measly 16 points (in 57 games) in 1985-86, and the Wings released him after the season.

1986-2006: Steve Yzerman

The prelude: That No. 4 pick following Gare’s first season as captain? Yep, it was Stevie Y. Yzerman made the team as an 18-year-old and led the Wings in scoring with 87 points, finishing second in Calder voting (just behind Sabres goalie Tom Barrasso) and nabbing an All-Star Game berth. In his second season, Yzerman improved to 89 points, including a team-high 59 assists that tied Gordie Howe for the second-best single-season total in franchise history. Year 3, was a disaster, however, as a broken collarbone limited the 20-year-old to 51 games and 14 goals.

As captain: On Oct. 7, 1986, Jacques Demers, hired as the Wings’ coach that June, tabbed Yzerman — just 21 — as the new captain, the youngest player to wear the “C” in franchise history. And Yzerman didn’t take long to speak frankly about the team’s failures. After a season-opening 6-1 loss in Quebec two days later, Yzerman was blunt to the media: “We started out very well,” he said. “Then we sort of let up. We just went to sleep. We stopped working, and they were beating us to the puck.” The next game, the Wings’ home opener against Chicago, Yzerman scored the game-winning goal, one of 31 tallies (to go with 59 assists, again) for him that season. The Wings rode Yzerman and a host of young scorers — five of their top six point-getters were 24 or younger — all the way to the conference finals, where they lost to Edmonton in five games. Yzerman would hold the captaincy for 18 additional seasons, scoring 609 goals and dishing out 928 assists while wearing the “C.” Oh, and he won three Stanley Cups.

2006-12: Nicklas Lidstrom

The prelude: Lidstrom was drafted in the third round (53rd overall) in 1989, but stayed in his native Sweden until 1991, when he joined the Wings as a polished 21-year defenseman — he made the NHL’s All-Rookie team and finished second in Calder voting. Over his first 14 seasons, he earned a reputation (and a nickname) as “The Perfect Human” while racking up 806 points in 1,096 games, nabbing eight All-Star Game spots, winning four Norris trophies and becoming the first European to take home the Conn Smythe Trophy (as MVP of the Wings’ 2002 Stanley Cup run). When Yzerman retired in early July 2006, there was little secret who his successor wearing the “C” would be.

As captain: And yet … nothing was official, right up until Lidstrom took the ice against the Vancouver Canucks on Oct. 6. During warmups, he’d worn the same “A” — for alternate captain — he had for years. But after nearly the Wings’ roster was introduced in front of a sellout crowd at Joe Louis Arena, finally, at 7:06 p.m., Lidstrom stepped onto the ice with a fresh “C” on his chest, introduced as the Wings’ 35th captain.

For the season, Lidstrom turned in his usual stellar results, with 13 goals and 49 assists and a fifth Norris. Overall, in six seasons as captain, Lidstrom had 336 points in 468 games, with three Norris wins and three additional top-five finishes. The Wings won the Cup in 2008, making him the first European to captain a Cup-winner; the next season, he fell a game short of becoming the first European to captain back-to-back Cup winners. Finally, he hung up his skates after the ’11-12 season at age 41, having made the playoffs in every season of his career.

2012-18: Henrik Zetterberg

The prelude: Again, a lengthy apprenticeship, as Zetterberg was drafted in the seventh round (No. 210 overall) in 1999, played in Sweden until he joined the Wings at 22 in 2002-03. That year, he scored 22 goals in 79 games, made the All-Rookie team and finished, yep, second in Calder voting (behind St. Louis defenseman Barret Jackman). Over the first nine seasons of his career, he scored 252 goals, had 372 assists in 668 games and won the Conn Smythe during the Wings’ 2008 Cup run. Again, not a terribly difficult choice for head coach Mike Babcock and general manager Ken Holland, even if it did have to wait until a 113-day lockout was settled, pushing back the start of the season to Jan. 19, 2013.

As captain: This time, the Wings didn’t wait until opening night; they made it official at a Jan. 15 news conference, four days before the season opener in St. Louis. Wings past and present, from Yzerman to Pavel Datsyuk, chimed in about how Zetterberg was the perfect choice. Babcock, in his own way, was clear on what he appreciated about the 32-year-old: “He doesn’t mind getting mad at me one bit,” Babcock said. “He’s just not shy about what he thinks. We’ve had a relationship like that, I think, for a long time.”

On the ice, meanwhile, the shortened schedule limited Zetterberg to 11 goals and 37 assists in 46 games (though he received votes for all the major awards). Overall, in six seasons as captain, Zetterberg had 85 goals and 251 assists in 414 games. Perhaps most impressively, he played in all 82 games in each of his final three seasons despite suffering from chronic back issues that became a serious problem at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. His linemate in 2015-16, the first of those 82-game seasons? A rookie out of Waterford and the University of Michigan — Dylan Larkin.

Contact Ryan Ford at Follow him on Twitter @theford.

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