Being an NHL captain used to be a pretty stable job. Once you were handed a “C,” you could expect to hold on to it for a while, maybe even a couple of decades if you were lucky and/or Steve Yzerman. Even the league’s most dysfunctional teams made a change only every few years, so when the time came to pass the torch, it was a big deal.1
These days, some teams change captains roughly as often as Apple updates iTunes. At this time last year, there were an unprecedented eight teams without a captain. Heading into this season, we’re looking at seven openings, including three repeat appearances from last year’s list.
Here’s a look at those seven openings, and our best guesses as to who’ll end up filling them.
The Sabres went into last season without a captain after trading Jason Pominville. They decided to split the honor between Thomas Vanek and Steve Ott, and then ended up trading both of those guys, too.
Those deals came as part of a full-scale rebuild that’s left the team without any longtime Sabres who’d make for an obvious choice. Tyler Myers had a rebound season and could be a possibility. Cody Hodgson might work, too. I suggested Drew Stafford for the job last year, and Sabres fans nearly burned my house down. So let’s stay away from him.
The other option would be a recent acquisition like Matt Moulson or former Habs Josh Gorges or Brian Gionta, the last of whom was captain in Montreal before signing in Buffalo. It’s relatively rare to hand the “C” to a player who just arrived, but it’s not unprecedented. And there might be some appeal in having a division rival’s former captain slide in and take over.
Best bet: It wouldn’t be a shock to see them go without a full-time captain until the rebuilding process stabilizes a bit. But that’s a boring prediction, so let’s go with Gionta, who gets to handle the job for a few years until they’re ready to give it to Connor McDavid.
With Gionta gone, the Habs are looking for someone to take over one of the tougher captaincy jobs in hockey. This sort of thing is a big deal in Montreal, where the list of former captains includes legends like Jean Beliveau, Yvan Cournoyer, and Maurice Richard.
While you could make a case for Brandon Prust and Tomas Plekanec, this one seems like it’s going to end up being a two-man race between defensemen Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban. Markov is the veteran option, having played his entire 13-year career in Montreal, and would make plenty of sense. Subban represents the future, having just signed the biggest contract in franchise history, and would also make plenty of sense.
Best bet: It seems like a sure thing that Subban will be the Habs’ captain soon; the only question is whether they just go ahead and do it now, or give the veteran Markov a short transition run first. Either scenario would work, but let’s go ahead and make Markov the pick.
Subtract the storied history and the Senators find themselves in essentially the same situation as Montreal: a choice between a veteran defenseman who’s been with the team forever, and a younger, better one who may not be ready to lead yet. In this case, those roles would be filled by Chris Phillips and Erik Karlsson, respectively. Chris Neil and Marc Methot may also get some consideration, but the odds are it comes down to a choice between the two blueliners.
Phillips deserves the honor, having spent his entire 16-year career in Ottawa, and he wanted the job a year ago. But his play has dropped off noticeably in recent years, and he was rumored to be a trade target at last season’s deadline. After following up the shocking end of Daniel Alfredsson’s captaincy with Jason Spezza’s one-and-done reign, the team might not want to hand the “C” to another player who’s unlikely to be around much longer.
Best bet: There’s a chance the team might choose to go without a captain altogether (an option their fans seem to support), but my guess is that they just take the plunge with Karlsson now.