Captain Ryan Getzlaf has piloted the Anaheim Ducks to first place in the NHL and himself into the Hart Trophy conversation. Which is a welcome change from when some in the NHL thought he was in a sudden decline.
The ‘C’ can weigh heavily on a player’s sweater. Granted, the captaincy is a symbolic honor, but it’s also one that means something to a player like Ryan Getzlaf. It’s a responsibility, an honor, an indication that your team sees you as an unquestioned leader, a steady hand at the wheel.
For a while, Getzlaf didn’t know how to handle the ‘C’. He had seen Scott Niedermayer act as the Anaheim Ducks captain deftly, during a run to the Stanley Cup. He inherited the crown from the retired defenseman at age 25; the following season, Getzlaf posted the worst offensive numbers of his career: 11 goals in 82 games, and the first time since 2006-07 in which Getzlaf wasn’t a point-per-game player.
“Sometimes you sit there and worry. ‘I’m the captain: Should I do this or do that?’ Instead of just going out there and having the situations present themselves to you,” Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau told us last season. “He takes the job seriously. Sometimes he overthinks the role. This year, he’s done a great job of leading by example on the ice. That’s probably the best way to be a captain: Lead on the ice, not just talk.
“What the hell happened to Ryan Getzlaf?” stories were written throughout the hockey world, as an elite center was suddenly seen as an offensive liability.
It’s said happiness begins at home; unbeknownst to many, Getzlaf’s mind was elsewhere during that campaign.
"The year I struggled I had my first child," he told NHL.com before this season. "I was newly married and all the other stuff that I dealt with away from the rink and I think that was a part of it. And I was a new captain at that point, and you're dealing with all the stuff you have to learn.
"That season me and my wife had to learn how to have a child and [me] be away," he continued. "I felt a lot of times that I was guilty of being away from my family and not seeing a lot of my son's initial stuff. I remember the first time he walked I watched it on my phone. It was the things that I had to learn to deal with and know that what I was doing was just as important as what she's doing at home."
He began to figure it out last season, getting back to 49 points in 44 games. This season, Getzlaf has embodied the captaincy: 61 points in 51 games, a leader on and off the ice and a player who is very much in the Hart Trophy conversation.
He has 21 even-strength goals, second only to Perry (22) and Alex Ovechkin (24). His 3.38 points per 60 minutes is the best for skaters at even strength (minimum of 40 games).
His down year might have been more about the personal than the professional, but Getzlaf still had to prove his naysayers wrong.
“He’s having fun. He’s really taken on that leadership role. Really embraced it,” said Corey Perry, his star linemate, after the Ducks’ practice in Dodger Stadium.
“He came into this year trying to prove a lot of people wrong, people that were doubting him for the last couple of years.”