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Let’s “C” What Happens: A Look At Potential New Captains.

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There are currently a handful of NHL teams that don’t have a captain. While the importance of a designated captain is a minor point of debate these days, it’s one of those traditions I don’t mind keeping around. In any case, it’s always fun to speculate who will be the next player for their team to receive this literal badge of honour.

Winnipeg Jets v Dallas Stars Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

For each team, I’ll summarize each team’s most recent three captaincies, to give an idea of the legacy the candidates would be inheriting, and three players I deem most likely to become the next captain, with an explanation.

Carolina Hurricanes

Recent Captains

Now-GM Ron Francis was drafted by the Hurricanes when they were the Hartford Whalers. He spent the 1980s in Hartford and spent much of the 1990s in Pittsburgh following a blockbuster trade. He returned in 1998/99, their second year in Carolina. The following season, Francis was given back the captaincy. While wearing the “C”, Francis scored 302 points in 390 games, won a Lady Byng, and led the Hurricanes to two playoff appearances and the 2002 Stanley Cup Final before being traded at the 2004 deadline to Toronto, where he finished the season before retiring.

Now-assistant coach Rod Brind’Amour joined the team in a January 2000 trade from Philadelphia and was named captain for the 2005/06 season. He scored 265 points in 342 games, won two Selkes, and led the Hurricanes to two playoff appearances, winning the 2006 Stanley Cup, before resigning the captaincy in January 2010, before his retirement the following summer.

Eric Staal joined the Hurricanes immediately after they drafted him second overall in the 2003 Draft, and was named captain in January 2010 after Brind’Amour’s resignation. As captain, Staal scored 384 points in 464 games, being named to one All-Star Game, though sadly not making the playoffs once with the “C”, and declining each year, before being traded to the Rangers just ahead of the 2016 Trade Deadline. He is currently signed with the Minnesota Wild.

Jordan Staal

Staal joined the Hurricanes in a blockbuster trade from Pittsburgh during the 2012 offseason. While he had a career year that season, and was thus expected to carry that over in Carolina, he has somewhat disappointed with the Canes. To date, his best season with the Canes was the lockout-shortened 2012/13 season, when he scored at a pro-rated 53-point pace. He hasn’t reached 50 points since joining the Canes. Despite underwhelming from an offensive standpoint, he is a good, and relatively young, two-way centre with Cup-winning experience. Defensively-responsible players with a “winning pedigree” are often looked at as captain material.

Justin Faulk

If the Canes decide that they want a fresher perspective on their leadership and don’t mind going really young, then their no.1 defenceman would be a good option. He broke out in 2014/15 with a 49-point season in 2014/15, and had a comparable season in 2015/16 shortened by injuries. Handling some of the Canes’ toughest assignments and thriving, Faulk would definitely lead with his on-ice play. While there’s always trepidation when a young player is put in a leadership role, generally stemming from whether someone so young can win over the locker room, there’s something to be said for following the team’s best player, and I’d argue that’s Faulk.

Jeff Skinner

I don’t have much of an argument for Skinner being named captain. It boils down to him having 267 points in 418 career games, including two 30+goal and three 50+point seasons. Skinner is the probably the best combination among Carolina’s forwards of scoring ability and veteran experience, though Skinner’s never been discussed as a potential captain, and regardless, the Hurricanes would probably not give the captaincy to someone they’ve shopped for trades, regardless of his leadership credentials.

Edmonton Oilers

Recent Captains

The Oilers named veteran checking forward Ethan Moreau captain for the 2007/08 season. While he did make a respectable impact in his younger days, by the time he got the “C”, he was averaging fewer than 16 minutes per game. He scored 53 points in 178 games as captain, winning a King Clancy Trophy but missing the playoffs each year, before being claimed off waivers by Columbus following the 2009/10 season. He was buried in the minors by Los Angeles early in 2011/12 and retired after sitting the rest of the season out for injury reasons.

Shawn Horcoff was named captain for 2010/11, and wore the “C” until his stint with the Oilers ended. While Horcoff had previously topped the 70-point mark and even played in an All-Star Game, Horcoff was in decline by the team he got the “C”. Across three seasons as captain, Horcoff scored 73 points in 159 games, continuing the Oilers’ trend of missing the playoffs. As he was an overpaid third-liner in his time as captain, he was fairly unpopular with Oilers fans and the team let him go once he hit free agency, at which point he signed with Dallas. He is an available free agent after a lacklustre season in Anaheim marred by a PED suspension.

Andrew Ference was named captain right after signing with the Oilers following the 2012/13 season. While he had had some good possession seasons and even a smattering points elsewhere, he struggled as Oilers’ captain, scoring 32 points in 141 games as captain, winning a King Clancy, but missing the playoffs in both years. In the final game of 2013/14, in which Ference didn’t play, longtime Oiler Ryan Smyth wore the “C” for his final game, a zero-point game, before retiring. After his second year as captain, Ference, due to his diminishing impact, resigned as captain, just in time to miss all but six games of the season due to either injuries or healthy scratches. The team went with a group of alternates.

Connor McDavid

It seems pretty obvious that McDavid will be named the Oilers’ captain at some point. He’s already established himself as the Oilers’ best player, and he’s saying the right things, like how he’d be honoured to be the captain. There’s even a precedent for NHL sophomores being named team captain, with Chicago’s Jonathan Toews in 2008 and Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog in 2012 being the standout examples. There’s a couple of things complicating matters. Firstly, the Oilers are much worse than either of the above teams were when they made those two players captains, and it could be a negative thing putting McDavid in charge of leading such a bad situation. Secondly, McDavid barely has any NHL experience under his belt. Toews had 64 games in his rookie season, and Landeskog had 82 in his. McDavid played only 45 games. While he scored 48 points in that time, that’s barely a half a regular season. The consensus is that he’s still too green.

Jordan Eberle

If the Oilers want to go with a veteran who has plenty of experience with the Oilers, then Eberle would be the way to go. Back in 2012 when the writing was on the wall for Horcoff, I would have picked Eberle to be the next captain, and though Taylor Hall overshadowed Eberle in each of the following seasons and became the clear option, he was traded this summer and is no longer an option. And so Eberle, who has 331 points in 425 games for Edmonton, once again becomes a suitable option. I’m not sure how much longer the Oilers will want to keep Eberle, or even how long he cares to stay, but if we’re talking about this coming season specifically, then Eberle is the best option.

Milan Lucic

Lucic was a bit of a controversial add. The Oilers had traded Taylor Hall for an underwhelming return, and Lucic isn’t a 1:1 replacement. He’s older, less disciplined, and worse then Hall, and several seasons in decline. Why then am I listing him as a potential captain? He’s a veteran player, seems set to get plenty of playing time with McDavid, and plenty of hockey people like a player who will “protect his teammates”, even as much as the evidence suggests it doesn’t really help anything.

Florida Panthers

Recent Captains

Defenceman Bryan McCabe joined the Panthers for the 2008/09 season, and was named team captain the following season. His stint as captain was uneventful, coming before the Dale Tallon-led Renaissance the franchise underwent in the 2010s. He scored 65 points in 130 games, not making the playoffs once, before being traded to the Rangers, where he spent the remainder of the season. He retired in February 2012 after being unable to find another contract.

During the 2011/12 season, in lieu of a full captain, the Panthers went with a handful of alternate captains, among them Ed Jovanovski, who had previously played for them in the 1990s after being drafted first overall in 1994. Despite a weak performance and rumours of dischord in the locker room, Jovanovski was named captain for 2012/13. In his time with the captaincy, Jovanovski scored six points in 43 games, with no awards or playoff appearances, missing the vast majority of his stint with a hip injury. He was bought out following the 2013/14 season, ultimately retiring after sitting out the 2014/15 season, though I don’t recall an official announcement ever coming.

Willie Mitchell, who had had success with the Los Angeles Kings, but whom the Kings had decided not to retain, was signed for the 2014/15 season and immediately named captain. Mitchell only scored 15 points in 112 games, and though the Panthers made the playoffs in his second year as captain, he had been out since late January with an upper-body injury, making his impact questionable. Having a poor possession performance since he left the Kings, coupled with his absence, Mitchell wasn’t retained by the Panthers. He is currently a free agent, but may opt to retire.

Jaromir Jagr

Jagr is the oldest active player in the NHL, so it goes without saying that he has plenty of experience, but he wouldn’t be on any potential captain list if he wasn’t making an impact. Since being acquired from New Jersey during the 2014/15 season, Jagr has 84 points in 99 games. The 44-year-old is coming off a 66-point season an All-Star performance, way more than could be said about many players at 34 years.

Aaron Ekblad

The 2015 Calder Trophy winner has had a strong two seasons. He scored at a slower clip in 2015/16 than he did the year before, but it was such a negligible difference - 0.02 fewer points per game - that it can’t really be called a sophomore slump. Ekblad was second in Panthers TOI only to Brian Campbell last season, and if he’s named captain, he will certainly hold the role for a long time. If the Panthers want to name a young player captain and they choose a defenceman, it will be Ekblad.

Aleksander Barkov

Barkov improved tremendously from a 36-point season in 2014/15 with 59 points in 2015/16. While that is really good on its own, it’s important to note how many games Barkov didn’t play due to injury, 16 games. Had he played the whole year, scoring at the rate he did, he would have scored 34 goals and 73 points. The latter would have taken him from third on the team to first, while the former would have made his lead of the team even larger. If the Panthers want to name a young player captain and they choose a forward, it will be Barkov.

Nashville Predators

Recent Captains

Former 10th-round pick Kimmo Timonen spent the early-to-mid 2000s with the Predators. The defenceman joined via trade in 1998 and was named captain for the 2006/07 season. He tied his career-high of 13 goals and set new bests of 42 assists and 55 points in 80 games, being named to the All-Star Game and leading the Predators to the playoffs. His tenure was brief however, as he was traded the following summer to Philadelphia. He retired in 2015 after winning a Stanley Cup with Chicago.

Power centre Jason Arnott, who had joined Nashville the year of Timonen’s captaincy following successful stints in New Jersey and Dallas, was named captain after the Timonen trade. Arnott scored 175 points in 207 games as captain, playing in one All-Star Game and making the playoffs in two of his three seasons. Declining in each of his years as captain, he was let go in free agency. After brief stints across two seasons with New Jersey, Washington, and St. Louis, he sat out the 2012/13 season. He tried signing with the Rangers for 2013/14, but failed his physical and opted to retire.

Arnott was quickly replaced as captain by star defenceman Shea Weber. Weber had a solid offensive run with the Predators, scoring 277 points in 443 games, participating in four All-Star Games, winning a Mark Messier Leadership Award, and leading the Predators to four playoff appearances. While on the surface, it seems like a great run, holes began to appear in his game after his original defence partner Ryan Suter left in 2012. He struggled from a possession standpoint in the years since, though he had decent chemistry with Roman Josi. With Josi carrying Weber and Weber’s own heavy slap shot and decent offensive game getting points, Weber’s decline was mitigated some. The Predators traded Weber to Montreal following the 2015/16 season.

Roman Josi

Josi has had a fairly quick rise to prominence. In 2010/11, he had a strong AHL rookie season. In 2011/12, he made the Predators roster full time. In 2012/13, he scored at a 31-point pace and began playing on the Preds’ top-pair. In 2013/14, he scored 40 points. In 2014/15, he topped 50. In 2015/16, he topped 60. He has become one of the NHL’s top defencemen, at least when one doesn’t consider puck possession numbers (but since when do hockey people consider that?). Josi will play one of the biggest roles on the team, inheriting the no.1 defenceman position from Weber, so it would make sense that Josi also inherits the captaincy.

Filip Forsberg

After dropping out of the 2015 Calder race with a slow finish, Forsberg had stronger 2015/16, scoring 33 goals and 64 points. If the Predators want to name a forward captain, maybe Forsberg will be the best option. He is almost certainly the forward the Predators are building around, so he’d make a long-term captain. In the coming seasons, Forsberg will become even more dominant offensively. The best offensive forward would make a good option for captain.

Mike Fisher

Some teams have a longtime veteran player who isn’t the team captain. Nashville is one of those players, with 36-year-old Fisher having been around since he was acquired from Ottawa in 2011. Much of his offence has eroded, with him most recently scoring 23 points in 70 games, but he’s been a source of leadership for a long time. If the Predators are undecided on whether Josi or Forsberg get the “C”, or if someone else gets it, they could name Fisher captain for the transition.

St. Louis Blues

Recent Captains

The Blues named veteran Dallas Drake captain coming out of the lockout. In the pre-lockout days, Drake played as a checking line forward and penalty killer, though he could also produce. After the lockout, his results diminished, and then his on-ice role, with 38 points in 122 games. Following the 2006/07 season, he signed as a free agent with Detroit. He retired after the 2007/08 season.

The Blues didn’t name a replacement for Drake right away, ultimately giving the honour to defenceman Eric Brewer in February 2008. As captain, he scored 37 points in 160 games, leading the Blues to one playoff appearance. His already low offensive output decreasing further after he was named captain, along with the Blues’ inability to make the playoffs during the late 2000s, resulted in Brewer being traded to Tampa Bay during the 2010/11 season. After trades during the 2014/15 season to Anaheim and Toronto, Brewer was allowed to enter free agency. Though he didn’t have a pro contract in 2015/16, Brewer is still technically active, as he has neither announced his retirement nor been hired in an off-ice capacity by a team or TV network.

David Backes was named Brewer’s successor as captain for the 2011/12 season. The defensively-inclined power forward received the “C” as the Blues were on the cusp of a transition into a more offensive team, though ironically his own production declined. He hasn’t scored 30 goals or 60 points since 2011. However, as I mentioned, he’s defensive and physical, which made him a solid pick for captain. As captain, Backes scored 242 points in 363 games and led the Blues to five consecutive playoff appearances, including a Conference Final appearance in 2016. The Blues were unable to agree to terms with Backes, and he was signed by the Boston Bruins.

Alex Pietrangelo

One of the top picks of the 2008 Draft, Pietrangelo became a full-time Blue in 2010/11. He had 51 points in both the pre- and post-lockout seasons, though his production and possession numbers have since declined. On the one hand, Pietrangelo’s been required to play tougher assignments, though on the other, he’s not necessarily killing it against those tougher assignments. In any case, he’s being trusted with more responsibility these days, and the Blues are happy with his performance. At age 26, he’s at the point where he is both old enough to be legitimately considered a veteran leader and young enough that he’d be a long-term captain if he received the honour.

Alexander Steen

Steen has been a fixture in St. Louis’ top-six since he began on a 33-goal 62-point season in 2013/14, though he’s been an established two-way forward for longer. Having been around since 2008, Steen is also one of the longest-tenured current Blues. If the Blues don’t go with Pietrangelo as their choice of captain, then Steen, as a defensively-responsible veteran, would be the next natural choice.

Vladimir Tarasenko

St. Louis’ captaincy seems like a two-horse race between Pietrangelo and Steen, though there’s always consideration for the offensive leader of a team. Coming off 40 goals and 74 points, Tarasenko as captain would lead with his play.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Recent Captains

After trading Wendel Clark to Quebec in the summer of 1994, the Leafs made Doug Gilmour captain. Though Gilmour had had his best offensive seasons, deepest playoff runs, and All-Star Games prior to his captaincy, he didn’t have quite as a good a run with the “C”, scoring 165 points in 186 games, with two playoff appearances. He was traded to New Jersey during the 1996/97 season, with later stints in Chicago, Buffalo, Montreal, and a single-game return to Toronto before retiring in 2003.

The fall after Gilmour’s departure, at the start of the 1997/98 season, centre Mats Sundin was named captain. As captain, Sundin scored 763 points in 776 games, played in six All-Star Games, and winning a Mark Messier Leadership Award, and led the Leafs to six playoff appearances, including runs to the 1999 and 2002 Conference Finals. In all, despite the lack of Stanley Cups, Sundin’s tenure as captain was one of Toronto’s most successful periods in a long time, and he is still beloved by Leafs fans. Sundin left the Leafs in free agency following the 2007/08 season, signing in the middle of the following year with Vancouver before retiring in 2009.

The Leafs didn’t name a successor to Sundin until the summer before the 2010/11 season, when they gave the honour to defenceman Dion Phaneuf, who had been acquired from Calgary in December 2009. As captain, Phaneuf scored 186 points in 397 games, played in three All-Star Games, and led the Leafs to one playoff appearance. An unpopular pick as captain when it happened, Phaneuf had a reputation with Toronto as a bad leader and poor defensive player. The Leafs’ continued playoff drought, their anomalous 2013 playoff notwithstanding, was also blamed on Phaneuf. He was traded to Ottawa during the 2015/16 season and remains with them going into next season.

James van Riemsdyk

I think if the Leafs pick a captain, van Riemsdyk is the obvious choice. With 178 points in 250 games, including two 50+point seasons and a 30-goal 61-point season, van Riemsdyk is Toronto’s offensive leader. With a trio of first-round picked centres (William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews) on the cusp of making the team full time, physical and productive van Riemsdyk, who has three playoff runs and a Cup Final appearance with Philadelphia on his pre-Toronto resumé, would be a good pick to mentor them. Having only recently turned 27, he would also be a part of the core the Leafs are building, so he’d be more than just a short-term captain to ride out the lean years with.

Morgan Rielly

The young defenceman led the Leafs in TOI this season, averaging over 23 minutes a game. At age 22, he may be too young and inexperienced to be named captain, though he’s already playing a big role on the team. He’d be a longer-term captain option than van Riemsdyk. He posted weak possession numbers this past season, though he’s had to carry Matt Hunwick. That’s another reason he’d make a decent option for captain.

Joffrey Lupul

A few seasons ago, after another missed postseason, I remember reading a lot of people suggesting Phaneuf be stripped of the captaincy. It never got particularly serious, and I never thought it would happen, but a name that came up in those discussions was to name Lupul captain. At that time, Lupul was a more than point-per-game player in his tenure with the Leafs, and didn’t have the same stigma Phil Kessel had. He’s always been injury-prone, and it’s made him a far less effective player in recent years. He has two years left on his contract, and I seriously doubt the Leafs will keep him any longer than that. It’s more likely they try to dump him on another team in the meantime. He’s worn the “A” of an alternate captain for a while though, and there are few skilled options if the Leafs decide they want a veteran captain.

Winnipeg Jets

Recent Captains

After helping the then-Atlanta Thrashers make the playoffs, veteran two-way centre Bobby Holik was named team captain for the 2007/08 season. In his season as captain, Holik scored 34 points in 82 games and the Thrashers missed the playoffs. While it was an improvement over the previous season, Holik hadn’t lived up to his three-year post-lockout contract, and was let go when it expired, returning to New Jersey for one more forgettable season before retiring.

The Thrashers went with a rotating bunch of alternate captains until January 2009, when superstar winger Ilya Kovalchuk got the “C”. As captain, Kovalchuk scored 106 points in 85 games and played in one All-Star Game, missing the only postseason that came while he was Thrashers captain. He was traded in February 2010 to New Jersey, where he played several strong, though less standout seasons, until he retired in 2013 to play in Russia free of NHL contractual demands.

The Thrashers once again began the following season with a group of alternates, until they named summer acquisition Andrew Ladd captain in November. Ladd’s captaincy carried over through the Thrashers’ 2011 relocation to become the Winnipeg Jets, and in that time, he scored 287 points in 410 games, leading the Jets to one playoff appearance. He broke out as an effective scorer in Winnipeg, where there weren’t enough high-end forwards to make Ladd a third-liner like on his Cup teams. Unable to agree to terms and struggling to make the playoffs, Winnipeg traded him to Chicago late in the 2015/16 season, and he has since signed with the New York Islanders.

Blake Wheeler

I find it very unlikely that anyone other than Wheeler will be named captain. Not only has he eclipsed 60 points in four of his five seasons with the Jets, five if one counts his prorated 2012/13 numbers, but he also most recently finished sixth in NHL scoring. Even before Ladd was traded, Wheeler had become one of Winnipeg’s core leaders. A big reason he should be named captain is because of the crop of young forwards to mentor. Mark Scheifele will play his fourth season, Nikolaj Ehlers his second, and Patrik Laine his first this season, and it’s also possible Kyle Connor will make the team. Scheifele and either Ehlers and Laine will be playing on Wheeler’s line, and Wheeler’s leadership will be important. It makes sense to make it official with a “C”.

Dustin Byfuglien

If the Jets don’t pick Wheeler to be their captain, then the next natural pick is Byfuglien. Byfuglien essentially does for the Jets’ defence what Wheeler does for the forwards: scores lots of points, plays the most minutes, provides the physical edge, and generally plays the leadership role. As Byfuglien is a veteran who leads the team in average TOI, he would make a good alternative option for captain.

Mark Scheifele

Scheifele, in only his third NHL season, finished with 29 goals and 61 points in 71 games last season. He became the Jets’ first-line centre, and though there’s still some doubt as to whether it’s a step in his development or a fluke, I don’t think we’re too far off from when Scheifele will have similarly strong seasons, and thus I don’t think we’re too far off when he will be the team captain. As the current no.1 centre, the Jets’ first post-relocation draft selection, and the Jets’ best blend of youth and experience, he will wear the “C” at some point, though I expect he will be the next to wear it after the next person to be named captain.

Conclusion

Above are my cases for each team’s top options. Below are my predictions for who will become their respective team’s captains.

I think Jordan Staal will be named Carolina’s captain. He is one of the few Hurricanes players with playoff experience, and has been an alternate captain for all of his four seasons with the Canes. Though Justin Faulk will be named captain in the future, Staal is the safer pick in the present.

Edmonton will probably play the year with no captains. If Taylor Hall was still around, he’d be a lock for the “C”, but there aren’t any players who combine consistently strong results, tenure with the franchise, and overall season and playoff experience to make an attractive captain. Connor McDavid, will be the next captain, but he missed too much of his rookie year to get Gabriel Landeskog’d.

Jaromir Jagr will get the captain honour in Florida. With the amount of time he’s spent in the NHL, coupled with the fact that he’s still one of its elite players, he’d make a better captain than the series of defencemen in their golden years that the Panthers have previously looked to. However, Jagr will be a short-term captain, as he’s in his mid-40s, probably a year or two from retirement no matter how good he is now. Barkov or Ekblad will take the captaincy up to a year after Jagr’s retirement.

Roman Josi has become a more dominant defenceman offensively than Shea Weber was, and he will be a main driver of Nashville’s push for a Stanley Cup this season. I don’t see anyone but Josi as Nashville’s captain.

Simply because we can expect him to be around longer with the Blues, I expect Pietrangelo to be the next captain named. He was an alternate captain every year of David Backes’ captaincy.

Though there is a distinct possibility of Toronto not naming a captain this season, I think it’s more likely that James van Riemsdyk gets the nod. He’s a veteran and an important forward, both for his on-ice impact and the mentorship role he will no doubt have to take on for the Leafs’ deluge of rookie centres.

In the waning days of the 2015/16 season, after the Andrew Ladd trade, Blake Wheeler seemed like one of those players who, despite not wearing the “C”, was basically the de facto captain. The Jets could postpone naming a captain under the pretense of seeing in action the candidates’ credentials, but it would just be disrespectful to not give Wheeler the honour right away. After the season he had, it should happen.