Does the Captain’s ‘C’ Still Mean Anything in Today’s NHL?
I was a captain once. In a ball hockey league. We won a couple trophies. I was far from the best player. In fact, over a 5 year career I only managed 13 goals (and the team I played on averaged 13 a game). But my teammates decided they liked my work ethic. And it was an honour, even if all it really meant was I wore a letter and was the guy who had to fill out the line-up sheet.
Recently we’ve seen news about captains at the NHL level. Roberto Luongo resigned his captaincy in Vancouver. One-time captain Mike Modano will play his first game for a franchise not named ‘Stars’ when he suits up for the Wings this fall. After 2 seasons without one, the Toronto Maple Leafs named Dion Phaneuf as captain. Ethan Moreau was waived by the Oilers.
I am a traditionalist. I do like that a team has a captain. But, in today’s NHL, I wonder if the captain’s ‘C’ holds meaning any longer.
The days when the players had real input into who wore the ‘C’ are long past. Typically, management figures out who their leading scorer, or best player, or most marketable player is likely to be, and the title is handed to him. And from there on out, it seems the duties of the captain extend to ceremonial face-offs, conveying explanations from referee to coach, and sitting in the middle chair for the team photo. After all, many teams have a number of ‘leaders’, and we’ve heard of instances where the captain is the point getter, but it’s this or that player who is the real leader of the team.
There have been great captains. As I say, I don’t want the ‘C’ to be relegated the way the old division names and games ending in ties were done away with. But I wonder about the relevancy of a captain… the fanfare in naming one… the burden of carrying that mantle… the way more captains seem to be allowed to leave or simply told not to come back. I like to think it’s not simply nostalgia and age that make me think about how Sittler, Cournoyer, Gretzky, Messier, Yzerman, Sakic, Clarke, Clark, Gilmour, Stevens, and even Buchberger, Gare, and others really represented their team, not simply for longevity or point totals, but how they typified the personality of their team. To say there were never locker room cliques would be foolish, but you got the sense that the C and the As were looked to for inspiration and guidance. I won’t say that Sidney Crosby or Roberto Luongo or any of the other current captains can’t or don’t make good captains. But I’d like to see a return to where the players themselves had greater input, and a return to respect for the ‘C’. A return to making the captain the face of the franchise.
It’s sad to see how many franchises in even the last 5 years have released/traded/not resigned their team captain, or rotated the ‘C’ through a number of players, or simply gone without naming a captain for seasons at a time. Maybe in a salary cap era, with so much player movement, the ’C’ just stands for ‘Ceremonial’.