Friday, July 17, 2009

Do The Canadiens Need A Captain?

RDS asked the question, not me.

It's certainly a worthy question. I wondered what people other than Jason Pominville and Guillaume Latndresse might think. I thought you could all chip in here.

As for me, I think there should be a captain. I'll tell you why.

The Canadiens have had a captain for nearly 100 seasons

I'm not usually squeamish about throwing traditions that I think are passe out the window. I think removing the red line was a good thing. I think making players wear helmets was a great idea. I'd be willing to dispatch many others.

The tradition of the Montreal Canadiens dressing a captain, however, is not one of them. Since 1909, the Canadiens have had a team captain and that is the way I think it should continue for the next century.

[The one exception here were the 79 games that Saku Koivu missed while undergoing chemotherapy. That season, no player took Saku's "C" and the team took to the ice with assistant captains alone. This of course represented a very special circumstance, and was meant as an honour to Saku Koivu, not as a slight to the players carrying the team without him.]

For me as a fan, the role of captain represents an honour bestowed on a special player on the team – made even more special when it is a selection by team vote. Neither the fact that it is hard, nor that much of the team has changed should affect this fact at all.

A simple vote

All this debate about who should be named the captain of the Montreal Canadiens is a bit inane considering the players have chosen the captains for donkey's years and should continue to do so this fall.

I think the vote should take place at the very end of training camp so new players have a chance to integrate and all the players have a chance to get to know each other and experience the game dynamic together. Once Septamber 30th comes around, there is no reason why the coach couldn't call all his wards together for a ballot. It shouldn't take longer than a few minutes. And I don't think counting 23 votes or sewing a "C" and two "A"s onto some shirts should really be considered obstacle either.

Alternating captaincy

The vote is great because it gives the players the chance to represent who they feel their leader is, whether off or on the ice. Democracy has been well served in the past with fine leaders chosen over the years. It's the way we got the Carbo-Chelios combination following the exit of Bob Gainey in 1989.

There's nothing wrong with an alternating captaincy in my opinion, but I feel the process should be one step. Rather than asking the players if they want to choose a captain or not in one poll and then naming "C" or just "A"s in a second; I would hold the captain vote. If 2 players end in dead heat, then alternate. If it's three, alternate again. There's no limit.

The reason I see this way as optimal is that it forces people to choose. Given one choice who they feel would lead and represent them.

Andrei Markov

The popular choice for captain these days is Andrei Markov. It's hardly surprising, he's both our best and our longest serving Hab at the moment. Quite rightly, however, people doubt that he would want to be a point-man for the press as well as for the PP. And so – the debate.

A couple of days ago, I put up a poll that asked people to step out of their own skin and think like a quiet Russian would think for a minute. I asked: "If you were a Andrei Markov, who would you nominate to be captain (can't nominate yourself)?". The options I gave to punters were Scott Gomez, Roman Hamrlik, Maxim Lapierre, Georges Laraque, Other or uttering a profanity (presumably about the lack of choice).

The reason I think this question is pertinent is because the captain, if selected at all, will be probably be chosen by a vote among players. All players, new or long-time, young or old will get a chance to nominate and vote.

When I've done this kind of thing in the past on teams I've been on, there have often been players like Andrei Markov. Players that stand out as the clear choice, but ultimately decline the offer to take on the role. What's interesting, though, is that these players are still leaders. More pertinent here is that often the player they nominate to be put up for the vote does very well. This isn't so surprising since players of Markov's kin garner massive respect on a team and their opinion on all debates, captain or not matter.

While the LIW has spoken to now, I think we're better at being ourselves than being a smooth-skating Russian star. I think for example that if there is a vote, Andrei Markov might decline and if he does might have an interest in nominating an alternative. Much as I applaud the effort to step into his shoes, I very much doubt that he will choose Maxim Lapierre. My guess is that he'd lean to a veteran and one with some stature in the NHL. I'd think it'd be down to Hamrlik, Gomez or possibly Gionta in his mind.

French Canadian options

As a frequent participant in the Koivu language debates over the years, it would be foolish to overlook the possibility that RDS is hoping for a French Canadian choice as captain. To be honest, if I was working for an all-French language sports TV channel, I'd be pulling for that possibility myself. I'd want to have proper length interviews with the captain as opposed to those stunted translated affairs where player and reporter are left wanting for time. I'd be hoping that the media face of the players was someone I could interview better than those pesky CJAD guys. It'd give me the edge as a reporter.

But this season of all seasons was the wrong one to be looking for a new captain as far as RDS may be concerned. For one thing, Gainey has just ruthlessly cleaned out all Quebecois vets and has left the team with 3 French-speaking players.

Whereas last season you could have seen Begin, Bouillon, Tanguay or even Dandenault as feasible options. Realistically, this year it's Maxim Lapierre or Guillaume Latendresse. Both are young and very very short on experience at the highest level. It's not inconceivable that they'd be captains, just that the timing doesn't seem right.

Still, I wouldn't totally overlook this important issue. The media is ubiquitous and RDS especially with their exclusive rights can stir it up if they're unhappy. If the chance arises, it might not be a bad idea to see how Lapierre or Latendresse does with an "A". I just don't see the "C" coming their way from a player vote.

As an aside here, wouldn't it be an idea for the Canadiens to try and have their captain whoever it may be to at least start saying Merci and De rien for interviews. If there's one thing I know about Montreal it's that a little effort goes a long way in the PR department.

The rest of the summer

Of course we're all jumping the gun on this issue a bit. What we all forget is that a lot can happen from today until that first evening in October. Players can be signed, players can be traded.

I don't see how we'll end up with Simon Gagne as our captain, but on June 29th no one saw Gomez on the horizon either.

That's why this decision will drag on and that's why we'll debate until that time – starting now.

So, whaddya think? Do the Habs need a captain this season?

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