First off are the Arizona Coyotes. Until recently, their captaincy situation has been very stable. Their most recent three captains are Keith Tkachuk, Teppo Numminen, and Shane Doan. Tkachuk had two stints as the team captain. The original Jets named him captain for the 1993/94 on the strength of a decent rookie season, only to be stripped of the captaincy in 1995 for signing an offer sheet. After they relocated to Phoenix in 1996, Tkachuk was named captain again, wearing the “C” until he was traded during 2000/01 to St. Louis. In his two stints as team captain combined, Tkachuk had 242 goals and 466 points in 464 games, representing the Coyotes in the 1997, 1998, and 1999 All-Star Games. Defenceman Teppo Numminen, a member of the franchise since 1989, was handed the captaincy for 2001/02, but it didn’t last long, Numminen being traded to Dallas in 2002/03 after scoring 19 goals and 78 points in 154 games. Right winger Shane Doan was named captain in time for the team’s redesign and move Glendale in 2003/04. Doan scored 287 goals and 689 points in 971 games, won the 2010 King Clancy Award and 2012 Mark Messier Leadership Award, and represented Phoenix in the 2004 and 2009 All-Star Games during his captaincy, before retiring after 2016/17.
The Coyotes are only one season removed from Shane Doan’s departure. Oftentimes, when a team with a longtime captain retires, the next captain gets named if there’s a really good candidate in terms of skill and importance to the team. An example is the Red Wings, whose captain Steve Yzerman retired in 2006 after captaining them to a championship four years prior, and who named Nicklas Lidstrom his successor only two years before he led them to another. Another example is the Senators, who weren’t horrible when Daniel Alfredsson ended his captaincy and stint with the Sens in 2013, and had two great options for his replacement, naming Jason Spezza captain in 2013 and Erik Karlsson in 2014. Another commonality between those two teams is that they were good teams when those long-tenured captains left. Astute observers will notice that the Coyotes are not as good as the 2006 Red Wings or the 2013 Senators. Does it makes sense to name a successor to an iconic captain with a decade-plus tenure when the team isn’t likely to do well?
Hjalmarsson has a lot things a team with a rebuild in progress would want in a captain. Hjalmarsson has all the surface trappings of a classical stay-at-home defenceman, physical and willing to block shots. Underneath the surface, there’s a strong possession game, as he has strong numbers until his previous team, the Blackhawks, started to get bad two seasons ago, gets a lot of minutes in a defensive role on the team, and can produce some offence, including 26 points in 2014 and 24 points in 2016. With experience in a core role on three Stanley Cup championship-winning Blackhawks teams, Hjalmarsson is an easy choice for team captain.
Like I mentioned, I needed to include at least one forward and at least one defenceman, regardless of how strong a case a particular player has. That’s where Stepan comes in. With 56 points last season, Stepan was second in team scoring and one point short of his career-high. With his experience, eight seasons overall and four wearing an alternate captain’s “A” including last season, Stepan got the nod as the team’s token forward captain candidate.
Let’s be real, can you really tell me with a straight face that whenever the Coyotes announce their next captain, it’s going to be someone other than Ekman-Larsson? Not really. Having bounced back from 39 to 42 points last season and scored 55 points in 2016, Ekman-Larsson is one of the game’s more talented offensive defencemen, and is overall the Coyotes’ best all-around defenceman. With All-Star appearances in 2015 and 2018, Ekman-Larsson really keeps the Coyotes relevant. After signing an eight-year contract extension to stay with the Coyotes through 2027, Ekman-Larsson certainly deserves the honour.
I’m not sure if you can tell, but obviously, if I had to make the choice, it would be Ekman-Larsson I would name captain, without hesitation. There isn’t really another option that makes sense for the Coyotes.