Top Shelf: Alfie, Toews and a bad week for NHL leadership

Several years ago the NHL started handing out an award for leadership and they aptly named it after Mark Messier, who was undoubtedly one of the greatest captains his sport has ever seen.

You don't have to be a captain to win the Mark Messier Leadership Award, but it certainly helps. All three finalists for this year's trophy wear the "C" for their respective teams, but recently two of them indulged in behavior unbecoming of a captain.

In fact, Ottawa's Daniel Alfredsson and Chicago's Jonathan Toews displayed such poor leadership qualities that one wonders if Messier, who chooses the finalists and winners himself, would like to hit the reset button and select two new players to join Dustin Brown of the Los Angeles Kings on this year's list.

Of the two lapses in judgement, Toews' seemed to be the more egregious because it involved him making several bad decisions that directly led to his team losing an important game. Alfredsson's blunder, on the other hand, came off- the-ice during his postgame comments but it may have had an even worse effect on his team's psyche.

Although they're tied together by their recent poor decisions, the two players come from different ends of the spectrum.

Alfredsson, the Senators captain since 1999-2000, is a 40-year-old Swede who is currently contemplating retirement, meaning the prospect of him calling it a career without winning a Stanley Cup is a distinct possibility. The Canadian Toews, meanwhile, is only 25 years of age and he not only captained his team to a Stanley Cup title in 2010, he also won the Conn Smythe while doing so.

First to Alfredsson, a man considered to be a borderline Hall of Fame candidate by many, but also a player who has been criticized throughout his career for lacking certain intangibles, particularly in big-game situations. Those critiques of Alfredsson are mostly off-base, but he certainly gave his detractors plenty of ammunition following Wednesday's 7-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The setback gave the top-seeded Penguins a 3-1 edge in the series and there are few people out there who believe the Sens have what it takes to pull out a comeback in this series.

Still, one would think it'd be a safe bet to count Ottawa's captain among the few believers, right?


When asked if Ottawa has a chance to rally and win the series against the loaded Penguins, Alfredsson uttered the worst kind of response.

"Probably not. I mean, with their depth and power play right now, it doesn't look too good for us."

Maybe Alfie was following the old adage that says "honesty is the best policy," but he sure picked an odd time to use it.

And anybody who gives him the benefit of the doubt on this one needs to stop immediately. This was not a clever attempt at reverse psychology, although there will be those who herald it as such should Ottawa actually pull of the monumental comeback. Nope, this was just a rare peek into the actual thought process of an athlete at a down moment and it wasn't pretty.

It will look even worse if Pittsburgh is able to repeat its blowout performance of a few nights ago in Friday's Game 5. What if the Sens lose badly? In light of what Alfredsson said on Wednesday, that would certainly be an unfortunate way to end a standout career.

While Alfredsson's misstep could be explained away as a momentary slip of the brain, Toews' actions in Game 4 were due to a lack of discipline brought about by a high level of frustration.

Although Toews was the MVP of Chicago's impressive championship run in 2010, the valuable two-way centerman has failed to register a single goal in this postseason. Things finally boiled over in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals in Detroit, as Toews was whistled for three penalties -- two hi- sticking infractions and a hook -- over a span of less than six minutes.

One of the penalties led to a power-play goal by Jakub Kindl, who put Detroit ahead 1-0. The seventh-seeded Red Wings went on to win the game by a 2-0 score and grabbed a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

It's not all Toews' fault the Blackhawks, the team with the best record in the NHL this season, are on the brink of elimination but as captain he bears a huge chunk of the blame. Conversely, if Chicago -- a team that opened this season with a 24-game point streak -- can claw its way back into this series and complete the comeback, Toews likely will be the one accepting the laurels.

As far as his actions in Wednesday's loss go, Toews chalked it up to trying too hard.

"Emotions run high in some of these games, and my stick got a little loose there," Toews said. "I was playing hard. Sometimes that happens."

That's an excuse that would've worked better when he was first named Chicago's captain, several months before he was legally allowed to purchase alcohol. Presently, we've come to expect a certain amount of restraint from Toews, but when it was desperately needed on Wednesday, it was nowhere to be found.

It's rare to see such questionable behavior from players who are primarily known for being leaders, but Alfredsson and Toews made an exception this week. Still, even though they've been pushed to the brink of elimination, the good news for both is there is still time for redemption in these playoffs.