During their visit with us last week in New York for the NHL’s Player Tour, it was quite evident that Max Pacioretty and P.K. Subban very much desired the chance to be the next captain of the Montreal Canadiens.
There is no "C" with more history in hockey, after all. It’s an honor that both young stars on the Habs dearly yearn for.
With departing captain Brian Gionta in Buffalo via free agency, and veterans Josh Gorges and Daniel Briere traded in the offseason, there’s definitely a leadership void to be filled in Montreal, and Pacioretty and Subban feel up to the task.
They may still get the captain’s call a year from now, but for now, alternating wearing "A" on their jersey will have to suffice.
For two weeks, all the talk in Montreal was about who would wear the "C."
I still feel that naming Plekanec captain would have been the safe choice, one that nobody would have argued and a way to bridge the gap to the next generation of leaders in Subban, Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher, among others.
Of course, I think many of us are in agreement that the No. 1 leader on this team is Carey Price, but given the Roberto Luongo experiment in Vancouver years back, the Habs aren’t going to put a "C" on their goalie, despite the fact no other voice carries as much weight as his in that Montreal dressing room.
So for this year, four alternates and no captain, a decision not particularly well received by some Habs observers Monday, many of whom felt it was avoiding a tough decision.
"It’s like there’s no clear-cut guy that’s ready to come out and take on the role, that’s the perception this decision gives," former Habs captain Vincent Damphousse told ESPN.com on Monday.
"Maybe they still have question marks about Subban or Pacioretty about their leadership role. I don’t like the fact the Montreal Canadiens, an historic franchise, doesn’t have a captain. I was a captain for this team, I remember how proud I was to get it. It’s important to have a captain. It’s weird not to have a captain, that’s just my opinion. But I will say this: [GM] Marc Bergevin and [head coach] Michel Therrien haven’t been scared to make tough decisions that haven’t been popular with the fans and media, but they’ve worked out well for them. They’ve had good success so far."
In Plekanec’s case, there’s also this to consider: What if he becomes trade bait later this season? I’m not saying that’s going to be the case, but eventually Alex Galchenyuk will need to move to center and I don’t see Lars Eller or David Desharnais going anywhere. Just food for thought on Plekanec, a very dependable two-way center who has two years left on his deal at $5 million a season.
Either way, I do think putting a "C" on a young player who’s not ready yet actually does more harm than anything else. Particularly in the crazy, frying-pan market that is Montreal.
In fact, the Habs may not be alone in this kind of decision this season. Just down the highway in Ottawa, the Senators are mulling the exact same situation after trading captain Jason Spezza to Dallas this summer.
"That’s the thing we’ve talked about a lot so far," veteran Senators GM Bryan Murray told ESPN.com on Monday. "We’ll [go] through a big part of training camp anyway before we decide. But our thought certainly has been that we’ve got two alternates right now in Chris Phillips and Chris Neil, and probably just add a third 'A,' not sure who it will be yet, rather than name a captain.
"But that’s not final yet. We may still decide at the end of the day a captain is necessary. We’ll see. We’ve got young guys like Erik Karlsson and Kyle Turris who are certainly coming [leadership-wise]. Having three A’s is a not bad thing, though."
Karlsson, one would think, will be captain of this team one day. But he’s probably not yet ready for that responsibility. So the Sens need a bridge decision here too.
"You got to make sure people are ripe and ready for it," Blue Jackets head coach Todd Richards told ESPN.com on Monday. "It’s a huge responsibility. You don’t want to get that decision wrong, because then I think it creates more of a problem. The merits of [not naming a captain], sometimes when someone is wearing a 'C,' and I know this isn’t true everywhere, but sometimes players are held back a little because they’re waiting for that guy [the captain] to take the ball, whether that’s his play on the ice or needing to say something in the locker room. Maybe other players don’t want to step on his toes, and sometimes that can hold back what needs to be said or needs to be done."
Colleague Aaron Portzline of The Columbus Dispatch believes young Jackets forward Boone Jenner is a strong candidate to eventually become captain in Columbus, but he’s just not ready yet.
So for now, there’s no "C" in Columbus.
"We’ve done it for two years in a row and it’s worked for us," said Richards. "It doesn’t mean we don’t do it one day; you just have to figure out what’s right. The history and the tradition of our game is that you always had a captain, and I think at times teams feel they just have to put a 'C' on somebody. But if you don’t get it right, it can create a problem."
It’s not ideal, but I don’t think the Habs made a terrible decision here.