The Search for a New Captain (Eastern Conference)
With a little more than a month to go before the 2013-2014 NHL season, teams are making final preparations to try and ensure that everything goes as smoothly as possible when they hit the ice. For many teams this includes identifying their captain for the upcoming campaign, an incredibly important process. Lacking a player who wears the “C” almost certainly indicates that the team in question is not a contender.
Earlier this week I looked at Western teams without a captain and now it is fitting that the East must also be examined. The Eastern Conference has two more teams lacking a leader thanks to the fact that the Jackets have brought their captainless squad from the West. They are joined by the Senators, Islanders, Lightning and Sabres.
While all three captainless teams in the West traded their former captain within the last 12 months only two did so in the East.
The Buffalo Sabres dealt Jason Pominville to the Minnesota Wild in the climax of a supposed firesale that never really happened. They are left with a pile of assets that seem destined to move in the near future.
One of those assets is Thomas Vanek and the fact that he will probably find a new home within the season leaves him out of the captaincy discussion. From here things get pretty thin as only one other player is a fit as Sabres captain. That would be Drew Stafford, who struggled during the shortened season, but has been a loyal and consistent performer for the team. He is also probably the least likely of the Sabres elite to be dealt in the near future.
The Columbus Blue Jackets, who have a whole new feel to their squad having recently joined the Eastern Conference, have the most difficult captaincy selection to make. As a team in transition many of their players lack the credentials generally needed to assume the role. Marian Gaborik is their best player but would not make a particularly good captain if reputation and effort are considered.
Other names up for consideration when observing captaincy factors are Brandon Dubinsky and James Wisniewksi. However, the man who truly deserves to wear the “C” in Columbus is defenceman Jack Johnson. As a stud American defenseman it makes sense for the marketing department and all things considered Johnson should be with the team for a long time. Perhaps providing him with the extra inspiration will help him realize more of his once expansive potential.
The New York Islanders on the other hand, the other team who saw their Captain dealt this past season as Mark Streit is now a Philadelphia Flyer, have one of the easiest choices of the eight NHL teams in need of new captains. On a young team that have very few veterans, they make up for it in boundless potential the face of the franchise is obvious. The Islanders are John Tavares’ team and they might as well make it visible on his uniform.
At only 23 he is young, but it is less of a factor for him than it might be for some of the other players in his age demographic. It only makes sense that he, the first to have realized his potential, should lead a team of players who could be a contender for many years should they realize theirs. Tavares was a Hart Trophy candidate and it was his impressive perfomance this season that finally helped the Islanders end their long playoff drought. He’s no longer the youngster with potential, he’s become one of the best best players in the NHL, and there is no other choice as face of the Islanders franchise.
Furthermore, contrary to the other four teams, The Ottawa Senators did not expect to find themselves in this position at all this season. Once Alfredsson announced that he was returning for another year the questions of captaincy seemed answered. But with Alfredsson inexplicably gone, the Senators must make a decision that they hoped they wouldn’t have to for another year.
Ottawa really is an intriguing case as there are many names that could be nominated. Jason Spezza has been with the team since he was drafted and when healthy can be considered among the league’s elite. The problem is he is rarely so, and each injury seems to push him that much closer to retirement.
Marc Methot and Chris Phillips are both veteran defenders who certainly possess strong leadership qualities and therefore will get some consideration. On the other end of the spectrum, a wildcard Captain selection could be Kyle Turris who seemed to mature to the immense degree that last season’s circumstances required.
However, like John Tavares there is one true face of this franchise and no good reason why he shouldn’t be given the “C”; Karlsson looks like a veteran in almost every facet of his play and appears to have the wisdom beyond his years required to lead this team forward. Add the Swedish factor to this one, which makes players appear two years older in character and two years younger in ability.
Finally, the last Eastern Conference team who have yet to name a Captain are the Tampa Bay Lightning. For Tampa it is essentially a two-horse race, with either option being almost as good as the other. The first option is giving the “C” to the superstar Steven Stamkos. It is almost certain that stammer will eventually inherit the position anyway.
However, it is Martin St. Louis that should be given the captaincy for the time being. This is nothing against Stamkos, who deserves the position in every regard but more a tribute to what St. Louis has brought to this Tampa team. St. Louis may end up removing himself from consideration so that the torch is passed straight to Stamkos and this is exactly why he deserves to have the “C” himself.
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