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The Next Canuck Captain

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Five weeks from now training camp begins (and four weeks from now prospect camp will have already begun). I am willing to assume we can soon embrace a post-Sundin life and, secondly, assume that Gillis will strike out in the trade market and this team will - barring any Mason Raymond-like training camp auditions - take to the ice against Calgary in October in an "as is" status.

And for the first time in eight years (since Mark f'ing Messier also left Vancouver for New York...puke) the team won't have a captain. I don't know if there is a traditionally good time to name the captain, but let's start the ball rolling anyway, shall we?

First off, officially speaking, the NHL rulebook defines the following as a team captain:

6.1 Captain - One Captain shall be appointed by each team, and he alone shall have the privilege of discussing with the Referee any questions relating to interpretation of rules which may arise during the progress of a game. He shall wear the letter "C," approximately three inches (3'') in height and in contrasting color, in a conspicuous position on the front of his sweater. No co-Captains are permitted. Either one Captain and no more than two Alternate Captains, or no Captain an no more than three Alternate Captains are permitted (see 6.2).

Only the Captain, when invited to do so by the Referee, shall have the privilege of discussing any point relating to the interpretation of rules. Any Captain, Alternate Captain or any player or goalkeeper who
comes off the bench and makes any protest or intervention with the officials for any purpose shall be assessed a minor penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct under Rule 40 – Abuse of Officials. Should
this protest continue, he may be assessed a misconduct penalty, and if it further continues, a game misconduct penalty shall be warranted.

...No playing Coach or playing Manager or goalkeeper shall be permitted to act as Captain or Alternate Captain.

I asked earlier today over at Waiting For Stanley why a goalie can't be captain but it makes a lot of sense to not have the goalie leaving his crease over and over again to debate calls.

Anyway, let's take a look around the league at the current captains (ignoring the vacancies in Toronto, Florida, Atlanta, Los Angeles, the New York Rangers, Philadelphia, Tampa, Colorado with Sakic on the fence and Vancouver as well as teams that rotate for which I will use the last guy in that rotation):

# of Captains who are right wings: 8 (Pominville, Iginla, Doan, Alfredsson, Guerin, Langenbrunner, Gaborik and Clark)
# of Captains who are left wings: 3 (Nash, Moreau and Morrow)
# of Captains who are centers: 6 (Brind'Amour, Toews, Marleau, Crosby, Arnott and Koivu)
# of Captains who are defensemen: 4 (Pronger, Chara, Lidstrom and Brewer)

Interesting the strength of right wingers in there. In fact if you add back in Sundin and Sakic and assume they captain their teams, it's clear that RW or C is the position to be in for captain.

As for Vancouver, their history very much matches what the trends are now. Before Naslund's (LW/RW) eight years, Messier (C) had three, Linden (C) had six and briefly in 1991 the Canucks rotated through three: Linden, Lidster (D) and Quinn (C). Before that, the great Smyl (RW) ran his captaincy eight years. So if you're a D man or a LW, history isn't on your side.

Let's be honest: stats aside, it's a bit up in the air what makes a great captain. You could look at statistics, locker room leadership, being the public face of the franchise, an ambassador to the local community, representing the rest of the players interests/concerns to management, organizer of social functions, leader of the post-season-eliminated team's noble efforts on the golf course, all of these, a few of these, who knows.

Now let's present the cast of characters Vancouver gets to pick from:

RW - Steve Bernier, Alexandre Burrows, Pavol Demitra, Mason Raymond
LW - Jeff Cowan, Darcy Hordichuk, Matt Pettinger, Taylor Pyatt, Daniel Sedin
C - Ryan Johnson, Ryan Kesler, Henrik Sedin, Kyle Wellwood
D - Nolan Baumgartner, Kevin Bieksa, Rob Davison, Alexander Edler, Lukas Krajicek, Willie Mitchell, Mattias Ohlund, Sami Salo

First, let's remember one of the huge criticisms against Naslund was the double whammy of his declining production level and the lack of a strong voice/character to inspire those around him (so the theory goes). Are we then to assume the team's two big names on offense - Daniel & Henrik - who could lead with their play will also still perhaps lack the voice/character component that Naslund, too, lacked? Maybe, but I'd be equally nervous to have the "C" feel like an anchor around their neck and pull their production down (again, so the theory goes). So let's go ahead and eliminate them.

Next up on offense in terms of production: the new guy Demitra. He was part of the Wild rotating captaincy during late 2007, but do you want to tap a new veteran on a team he doesn't know to be the leader? Shit, right, we did that with Messier. Fine, let's put him in the maybe pile.

The rest of the forward ranks, as the critics are fond of saying, get pretty thin from here on out. No one in the RW crew fits the mold and, aside from Pyatt, no one at LW is either. Pyatt should be considered for point production I suppose, but something about him doesn't strike me as captain material.

The only other guy in the forward ranks to consider would be Kesler. He's got the story: great collegiate record in Ohio, first round pick in 2003, MVP of the Moose in 2004-05 and emerged last year as the team's best shutdown center, constantly playing against the opposition's best players no matter the Boulerice cross checks and Pronger stomps that came his way). I don't know what his role will be this year - either slotted on the shutdown line again or thrust into a more offensive-minded role maybe on the second line - but he's probably the best young candidate on the team to become the next captain.

On defense the other viable options I see would be Ohlund and Mitchell (if Salo was routinely healthy, he'd be in there). Ohlund is now the longest-serving Canuck, is the franchise leader in goals by a defenseman (and 22 points behind holding the franchise record in points for a defenseman) and is the only true complete package on defense who can score, shutdown the big guys on the other team and drop the gloves if need be.

Mitchell is the best shutdown guy on the blueline. He cut his teeth in that trade while a member of the Wild for five years (and also a rotating captain for them back in 2005 before being traded to Dallas) and was the key free agent acquisition brought in after the Crawford era to help stabalize the team's defense in front of the then newly-acquired Luongo. Like Ohlund he can drop the gloves and make life hellish for anyone in front of the crease; hell, on occasion, he'll actually be the goalie.

So my thoroughly unscientific approach to all this leaves Demitra, Kesler, Ohlund and Mitchell as the best choices to lead this team on the ice and off this season. Looking at their contracts, they are all signed through the end of 2010 except for Ohlund who is a UFA at the end of the coming season. Hedging the bet that he may not return or be asked to (Gillis isn't that crazy is he?), let's drop him off the list.

Between Demitra, Kesler and Mitchell, Demitra just feels the odd man out. It could be how close he resembles Naslund, it could be he's never been a captain before or it could be the fact I just don't know him at all, but I'm dropping him anyway (sorry Jes!).

I don't feel you could go really that wrong with either Kesler or Mitchell as the captain, but between the two, Kesler is too just too "green" in comparison. You could argue Kesler really only has one good season in the books and I do think Kesler will one day be a NHL captain (hell, same for Bieksa I suppose) but not just yet.

Willie Mitchell has enough experience, he has that warrior component that Naslund certainly never had and he's a BC guy. He would appear to have that vocal leadership component that the team needs and the younger players will rely on. He was brought to Vancouver by Nonis, in part, to usher in that new sense of change and no reason to stop that trend now. Need an added bonus? OK, he's suing the Wild. Need another one? OK, with Brind'Amour on the list of current captains, Mitchell won't be the ugliest either.

So my vote falls on #8, but that's just one guy's opinion. What say you?

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