A True Captain Must Be a Leader with a Voice

One of the greatest leaders in hockey history, Joe Sakic, once said, “You need a lot of leaders, but a hockey team needs a voice, not only in the community, but more importantly between the coaching staff and the players. There are always ups and downs in a season; the captain is the guy players look to in those situations.” With the 2014-15 NHL season almost upon us, The Montreal Canadiens are searching for a new captain to replace the departed Brian Gionta. There has been almost endless debate and speculation recently concerning this hot topic in Montreal. Some of the key names being bantered around for the vacant position are Max Pacioretty, Andrei Markov, Tomas Plekanec, and P.K. Subban. However, while all of these players are decent leaders in their own right, one candidate stands out above all others for the much coveted designation of “Captain” in the hockey mecca of Montreal.

Photo: Len Redkoles, NHLI via Getty Images

Photo: Len Redkoles, NHLI via Getty Images

First, let us examine Max Pacioretty‘s case. Pacioretty’s name was recently thrown into the captaincy mix after the departure of both Brian Gionta (free agency) and Josh Gorges (the former heir-apparent to the captaincy, via trade)–both of whom have landed in division rival Buffalo. Various media sources detailed how Pacioretty and PK Subban “had discussions” over the leadership void left from the loss of Gionta and Gorges. While nothing concrete was leaked to the media, sources did state that Pacioretty would be certainly interested in inheriting the captaincy if the position were offered to him. He later reiterated that sentiment in an interview with TSN. And, most recently, with the release of EA Sports’s NHL 15, which seems to anoint Pacioretty with the “C” on his jersey, it further fueled the notion that “Patches” may indeed be the next captain of the Montreal Canadiens. Why would Pacioretty make an adequate captain? On the surface, it is quite clear that Max has been a life-long Montreal Canadien, since being drafted in the first round (22nd overall in 2007). He has come up through the organization’s system, from Hamilton through Montreal. He has also demonstrated his ability to battle adversity, overcoming a vicious hit from Zdeno Chara in March 2010, whereby he incurred a fracture to the 4th cervical vertebra (C4) and a severe concussion. The very next season, after a long and intensive rehabilitation, Pacioretty finished with a then career high 33 goals and 32 assists in 79 games and won the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy. Last year, Patches cemented himself as the highest goal scorer on the Habs, and one of the top in the NHL itself (39 goals). He also played his way onto the United States hockey team at the 2014 Olympics, an achievement in itself. His scoring prowess, combined with his tenacity and his ability to battle through extreme adversity, make him a solid candidate for the Montreal captaincy; and, last season, Therrien and the coaching staff awarded him with a brief stint as an assistant captain on the team.

Photo: Francois Lacasse, Getty Images

Photo: Francois Lacasse, Getty Images

Second, Andrei Markov must be considered one of the top candidates on the current roster to secure the captaincy. Andrei has been a main-stay on the Montreal blueline since his arrival with the club in 2000-01. After bouncing back and forth for a few years between the Montreal farm team, the Quebec Citadelles, to the Habs themselves, Markov made a lasting impression with his smooth skating, uncanny vision, ability to step up and join the offensive rush, as well as quarterbacking formidable powerplays. Even as the elder statesman on the Montreal blueline, the 35-year old Markov put up impressive numbers (7-36-43) last season, especially for a player who had once been labelled “injury prone” and who had “lost a step,” after missing long stretches of time, almost two years, in fact. Markov is known as “The General” because he is a tremendous leader, on and off the ice, in the NHL, and for Russia in international play as well. He is a fully committed and well-trained athlete who imparts his overall hockey acumen in the weight room, as well as on the ice. How many times have Habs fans witnessed “Markie” talk to PK Subban on the ice or on the bench, reigning in the sometimes unbridled enthusiasm of the Canadiens’s young stallion on defence? Last year’s playoff series against the Boston Bruins showcased that very dynamic. As a result of his performance, Markov was awarded a new 3-year contract. Furthermore, only last month, former Canadien great Guy Lafleur stated that Andrei Markov should be the next captain of the storied franchise… But, a caveat exists with the entire proposition that Markov should take over that role: rumours persist that the veteran Russian does not want the “C.” Originally, those rumours go back a few years to a time when Montreal was attempting to replace the void left by Saku Koivu’s departure from Montreal, and a new captain needed to be anointed. There were whispers that Markov was offered that position, but refused because of his difficulty in communicating with the media frenzy that is ever fervently boiling in hockey mad Montreal. Similar rumours abound today about the very same issue. Thus, even though Andrei is an undisputed leader in the Montreal Canadiens organization, the point of anointing him captain is moot since he does not seem to want the extra pressures, commitments, and responsibilities, that are part and parcel of being an all too “public” figure in the city.

Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

Third, we must assess former captain Brian Gionta’s own recommendation for the vacant captaincy, Tomas Plekanec. Tomas is a multi-talented dynamo whose versatility and durability are unheralded on the club. The 31-year old native of Kladno, Czech Republic, was recently voted the seventh best two-way forward in the NHL (Frank J Selke trophy), but yet is still grossly under-appreciated in that regard because he regularly plays some of the toughest minutes for his team against the toughest centres in the league; not to mention that he plays on both the top penalty kill and the powerplay units. In fact, Tomas has played almost 700 games over a ten year span in Montreal. He has been awarded the “A” several times over the past few seasons as well, to denote his value to the team. In a recent interview with Dave Stubbs at The Montreal Gazette, Plekanec touched on the fact that he is considered a front-runner in acquiring the coveted role. He said: “I haven’t really thought about it […]We’ll see what management and the coaches decide. A lot of leadership is gone with Gionta and (Josh) Gorges and Danny Brière, but young guys are going to step up. They experienced the great (playoff) run we had last year so they will fill out that leadership.” Not only is Plekanec a strong leader in Montreal, but he is also one of the best leaders for his home country, the Czech Republic, where he is considered a local hero, and where he held the prestigious role of captain for their team at the 2014 Olympics. All things being considered equal, then, should Tomas Plekanec be considered the front-runner for the vacant captaincy? I hesitate to say “yes” to that question, mainly due to the fact that his contract expires 2015-16. In 2010, Tomas signed a 6-year, 5 milllion dollar per season contract. With that contract’s expiration on the near horizon, Plekanec’s future in Montreal is not clear at this point. With young talents like Alex Galchenyuk chomping at the bit to cut his teeth as a top centre in Montreal, “Pleky’s” days in Montreal may be numbered. He is a valuable commodity and would fetch a nice ransom on the trade market at this point in his career. Until Montreal management concretely decides what to do about his impending contract negotiations, I cannot see the organization and the players endorsing him as the next captain.

Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

Finally, let us analyze the case of PK Subban. Simply put, Subban should be conferred the new captain of the Montreal Canadiens. The timing is precisely right for him to take over the team and to lead the Habs to a long and successful future under his guidance. Coming off his fresh new contract (8 years/9 million per), Subban is primed to live up to the financial commitment shown to him by Geoff Molson and Marc Bergevin. Those two brilliant hockey minds know exactly what they have in PK Subban–a high-end talent with an incredible resume, who loves to play hockey and thoroughly enjoys the media spotlight in Montreal. First, let us briefly review his recent hockey pedigree: PK played for Canada at the World Juniors in 2008, and 2009, winning gold each time; he also won the James Norris trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman in 2013, and he was a member of Canada’s gold medal winning hockey team at the 2014 Olympics. Every season since arriving with the “big club” in Montreal, PK has been steadily improving both his offensive and defensive games, as his statistics explicitly demonstrate. Even more amazing, however, was Subban’s efforts against the Boston Bruins in last year’s playoffs, where he played better with each successive game, helping the Habs oust the heavily favoured Bruins, culminating with 14 points in 17 playoff games. Perhaps even more remarkable, though, was how well PK dealt with the ignorant, insensitive, and outrageous racial comments and slurs directed toward him by Boston fans and through social media outlets. Showing a calm, poise, and elegance I have rarely witnessed in professional sports, Subban diffused the situation with class and command–two intangible features that one cannot simply teach. His larger-than-life personality, with his charm and wit readily on display in media scrums, make him a multi-media darling in Montreal, and thus posits him as a logical choice for the “face-of-the-franchise.” He impressed many viewers of last year’s NHL’s awards ceremony as they witnessed his media savvy personality at the red carpet interviews. Furthermore, while watching 24CH, it is blatantly obvious that Subban has a very vocal approach to tutoring and motivating his fellow teammates–another central trait of a competent captain–during intermissions, and on the bench during game situations. Moreover, we also witnessed Subban handle his recent arbitration fiasco as a “learning experience” for him, further evincing his new found maturity as a player and as a person. In a recent article from NHL.com, Subban succinctly described how he sees his role on the team: “I embrace responsibility. … I’ve always been a guy who has had to perform for my team. I have always expected that out of myself. It doesn’t change anything for me. The only thing that would change is a letter on my jersey, but in Montreal that means something. That means something to the fanbase. That means something to the team.” Clearly Subban is aware of the multi-tasking and the heavy responsibilities that are required to be a successful captain/leader on and off the ice in Montreal., and he is poised to deliver on his word.

In the end, only the insiders of the Montreal Canadiens organization know who the next captain of the team will be. All four aforementioned players have strong cases, but I believe PK Subban should take over that role. He has matured immensely over the past few seasons, through much hard work and dedication, and he has improved himself as a player and as a person, with his skills and his conduct; and he has certainly proven his worth to the organization, enough for them to commit to him long-term. The great Vince Lombardi once stated, “Leaders aren’t born they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal.” Following PK Subban’s example, the current roster of the Montreal Canadiens can count on two things: they will work hard, and they will thrive under his leadership, if he is indeed deemed worthy of the captaincy in the city where hockey is religion.

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One Response to A True Captain Must Be a Leader with a Voice

  1. Cournoyer said that being the captain is more off ice than on ice.

    zak September 12, 2014 at 8:32 pm Reply

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