The Hurricanes, the first team in this year’s edition of my captaincy speculation, have had quite a bit of upheaval in recent years as far as captains go. The 2017/18 season saw Jordan Staal and Justin Faulk named co-captains. Staal scored 19 points (9G, 10A) in 36 games with the “C,” while Faulk had 14 points (3, 11A) in 45 points with the “C.” Overall, Staal had 46 points (19G, 27A) in 79 games while Faulk had 31 points (8G, 23A) in 76 games that season. In one of his earliest decisions as coach, Rod Brind’Amour removed both from the captaincy in favour of Justin Williams. Williams scored 53 points (23G, 30A) in 82 games as captain as the Hurricanes returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
If Williams doesn’t return to the Hurricanes, there aren’t really any strong picks for captain. Staal and Faulk remain with the team, and even had a short spell as co-captains, but if either of them were going to be named captain, it could be argued that it would have happened already.
If Staal is picked as captain, it would be based on what are now years of solid, if unspectacular two-way all-around play. The 30-year-old’s play style is one typically associated with leadership qualities. In addition, Staal, as mentioned in past years, is the brother, and for a time Hurricanes teammate, of Eric Staal, who spent the first half and change of the 2010s as the Canes’ captain.
Technically, the Hurricanes don’t have a captain as Williams is an unrestricted free agent. Williams’ situation is what makes the Hurricanes unique among teams with up-in-the-air captain situations. As mentioned above, Williams spent the last season as captain and scored 53 points as he led the Canes back to the postseason. Who the Canes choose as captain, and possibly whether they even choose a captain, hinges largely on whether Williams retires. It would seem strange at first that someone who is 37 coming off a 50-point season and an important part of leading his old team back to the playoffs would retire. After all, he’s making a multi-faceted impact on the ice, many players continue playing past 37 despite doing less than Williams did, and the going is just getting good in Carolina. Regardless of why he should or shouldn’t, he’s been strongly considering retirement. If he retires, then the Hurricanes will likely take a year to name a captain. If he re-signs, Williams will still be the captain.
Faulk has averaged at least 22 minutes per night each season of his career, and at age 27, the 2010 second-rounder can be considered the elder statesman of Carolina’s very solid top-four on defence. On the surface it would seem that he’s a very good pick for a captain. However, he has been stuck in the low-30s in his offensive production for the past couple of seasons and just had the second- and third-lowest TOI averages of his career the past two seasons. Overall, Faulk has some strong points in his favour, but also some trends in his career that may have the Hurricanes wanting to look elsewhere. The past couple of seasons have seen his name come up in trade rumours as well, and that would be the main reason if he never wears the “C” again.
I’ve been not-so-subtly alluding to who I think will be captain this season for Carolina. It’s going to be Justin Williams. I respect his decision to retire if he does so, but I don’t think it makes sense this year. Williams is still playing quality hockey and remains a key cog for the Hurricanes. Even though he is 37, there have been players who have kept their careers going for longer despite doing less than Williams is. And with things beginning to look up for the Hurricanes, it just doesn’t make sense that Williams wouldn’t stick around for at least one year.