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Speculating On Future Captains - Part Three

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As we continue our look at future captains, we arrive at the New York Islanders. Longtime franchise face signed a blockbuster contract with Toronto, leaving more holes on Long Island than just leadership.

NHL: New York Islanders at Calgary Flames Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Up next we arrive at the New York Islanders. Their most recent captains’ runs with the “C” have been unfortunately short-lived. Centre Doug Weight spent the final three seasons of his career with the Isles, being named captain for the second of those years. Already having missed a sizeable chunk of the season before he got the “C,” Weight wound up being limited to scoring three goals and 26 points in 54 games as a captain across two seasons before retiring following he 2010/11 season. Defenceman Mark Streit had had some great offensive seasons with both Montreal and the Isles before being named captain. The Isles showed a lot of faith in Streit by choosing him as their captain despite him having missed the entirety of the 2010/11 season. Streit rewarded the choice by scoring 13 goals and 74 points in 130 games and leading the Islanders to their first playoff appearance since 2007 before signing a big-money deal with Philadelphia. Center and former first-overall pick John Tavares was named captain for the 2013/14 season. Tavares scored 160 goals and 372 points in 378 games across his five seasons as team captain, representing the Isles in the 2015, 2016, and 2017 All-Star Game, with two playoff appearances, before signing a blockbuster contract with Toronto.

No captain

The biggest argument for the Islanders to not make a choice in naming a new captain is the magnitude of their loss. Just as with the departure of Shane Doan from Arizona, the Islanders are losing someone who was practically synonymous with the team, who is far and away better than (almost) everyone else on the team. Why rush into making a decision on another captain after such a tumultuous summer?

D-2-Nick Leddy

Leddy is the best option among Isles defencemen to be named captain. I considered Johnny Boychuk instead, but Leddy’s credentials make the most sense compared with Boychuk’s. Leddy is the more productive offensive played with a career-high of 46 points having been attained by Leddy only two seasons ago with at least 40 points in his last three seasons, while Boychuk has only once reached 30 points. Leddy is a still-relatively-young 27 years old, meaning there are a lot of years to remain with the team, while Boychuk is 34 years old. Boychuk may have won a Stanley Cup, but Leddy has won one too. Leddy makes the most sense if the Isles decide to name a defenceman as the captain.

R-12-Josh Bailey

Another sensible option for the captaincy would forward Josh Bailey. The 28-year-old is the longest-tenured member of the Islanders, even taking into account Tavares and the first tenure with the Isles by the returning Matt Martin. In addition, Bailey has taken a couple levels in his offensive output, jumping from 32 points to 56 and then to 71 across the last three seasons. It remains to be seen whether Bailey can keep up a similar level of offence now that John Tavares is gone, but then again, Bailey wouldn’t be the first player named team captain after an uncharacteristically strong offensive season without his team bothering to check whether it was repeatable (see Foligno, Nick).

C-13-Mathew Barzal

For my third candidate, I debated internally between Andrew Ladd, who has two Stanley Cups, has all the grit people associate with a stereotypical meat-and-potatoes captain but is in steep decline in terms of on-ice impact, and Barzal, ultimately picking Barzal. Barzal won the Calder Trophy this past season with a phenomenal 85 points. There is recent precedent for this kind of thing happening. Connor McDavid didn’t win the Calder Trophy in 2016, on account of injuries robbing him of a full rookie season, but he did well enough to win the Calder had he played the whole year and was named captain as a sophomore. In his first season, Gabriel Landeskog scored a fraction of what Barzal did as a rookie and won the Calder Trophy before his teammate Milan Hejduk relinquished the captaincy voluntarily for Landeskog to get it. Before that, Jonathan Toews neither had an outstanding rookie season nor won the Calder Trophy and still got the captaincy in year two.

In Conclusion

If you were to ask me about the qualities I look for in a captain, you’d know I frown on conversations centering on a player’s intangibles. Leadership develops organically in a locker room, but the captaincy isn’t just about leadership. Captains in other professions that use them are expected to be very good at what they do, and while captaincy of a sports team is much more a ceremonial position than, say, the captaincy of a naval vessel, hockey is no different. Even if there are better pure leaders in the room, the captain needs to be someone his teammates look to as an example with their level of play. Barzal is poised to make more of an on-ice impact than anyone. Ultimately the Isles aren’t going to be building around Leddy, and all the signs point to Bailey returning to much more modest impact this coming season. The worst that happens with Barzal is a sophomore slump on his way to becoming one of the league’s top offensive players and becoming someone worthy of being the face of his franchise.