The men that wear the ‘C’ have been on my mind for a couple reasons lately, the first of which being that there seem to be fewer of them these days.
Naturally the first exception comes with Roberto Luongo in Vancouver. King Louie has taken up the mantle of leadership with the Canucks and even put a ‘C’ on his facemask (he can claim it stands for “Canucks,” but isn’t it just a little bit of a coincidence?), but NHL law prohibits the goalie from actually stitching a letter onto his jersey.
The Minnesota Wild is still naming its captain on a monthly basis and given that Mikko Koivu has held the honor for the first two months of the season, let’s hope the team decides to just give it to him permanently. Koivu leads the Wild in points right now by a considerable margin (especially on a defense-first team) and works with younger players such as James Sheppard, imparting his experience like any good leader.
Now I’m not in the dressing room; I don’t know the subtle dynamics of the team. But from an outside perspective, it seems like the permanency of the ‘C’ would embolden Koivu and give his teammates a consistent face to rally around.
Whether by coincidence or design, Toronto, Atlanta and Florida have no captain at all right now and none of those teams are slated to make the playoffs at this juncture.
Yeah, maybe the captaincy is symbolic. Just because you don’t have a letter on your jersey, doesn’t mean you can’t be vocal in the dressing room when things are going pear-shaped. But a look at what even some of the newest captains are doing these days sheds a little light on how symbolism often bleeds over into reality.
Earlier in the week, an unlikely fight occurred in Phoenix when Coyotes young gun Martin Hanzal squared off for the first time in his NHL career with Chicago captain Jonathan Toews. For Toews, it was his first fight ever, according to hockeyfights.com.
The transgression? Hanzal had laid out Blackhawks’ leading scorer (and Toews’ good buddy) Patrick Kane with a jarring hit in the previous period. Would Toews have challenged the 6-foot-5, 210-pound Hanzal last year, before he was given the Chicago captaincy? Perhaps. But he certainly didn’t waste any time proving he was up for a go this season with a ‘C’ on his chest.
Similarly, it was cool to see two captains have it out when newly-minted leader Dustin Brown of the Kings got into a scrap with Dallas counterpart Brenden Morrow recently. Now, granted, the fight was over a dangerous hit by Brown on the Stars’ Mike Ribeiro, but it got me thinking, how many times do you see captains fight each other?
Everyone remembers the tilt Jarome Iginla and Vincent Lecavalier had in the 2004 Stanley Cup final and though there are people who insist fighting is a meaningless activity in the game, there was certainly meaning in that rumble.
With Vinny, a true leader even if he wasn't wearing the 'C' at the time, and Iggy, it was a declaration: I am the representative of both my team and this crest on my jersey and I will not back down. If you want that Cup, you’re going to have to do it the hard way.
Maybe the captaincy doesn’t mean that much to some teams, but it certainly adds a level of pride to the fans when a chosen leader proves his worth on the ice, one way or another.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his features, The Hot List and Prep Watch appears Tuesdays and Thursdays.
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