The Old Man and The C

Eight hockey sweaters emblazoned with a “C” have become collector’s items while the men who wore them have moved onto other teams. Old loyalties, some of them long-held and seasoned with a few victories and a lot of losses, have been pushed under the new reality. Eight NHL teams, and their millions of fans, head into the new season without a Captain at the helm.

It won’t surprise you to know that the youngest of the displaced Captains is thirty and the oldest of them is forty, with most of them hovering in the middle. In hockey terms, they might well be considered “old soldiers” and this might well be considered a “fade away”.

“Thirty years old isn’t old,” Messier said in an interview with the New York Times in 2000, “Being a 30-year-old hockey player in 1950 or 1960 might have been considered old. But 27 to 32 is the prime of your career now. Chronological age is not a factor if a guy has a willingness to be successful and driven.”

In another interview with the same paper in 2003 he said, “I know I was finished when I came here at 30.” As the writer of the article points out, Messier was being facetious. Of course, we all know that three seasons after he was acquired from the Edmonton Oilers in 1991, he famously made New York  a guarantee and then made good on it by helping the Rangers win their first Stanley Cup since 1940.

Guy had chutzpah, you have to give him that.

And so we come to some other “old guys” who might not be finished, either, but who have moved on from the teams with which they were so closely identified. When one captain leaves, it’s news-worthy in a run-of-the-mill way, in one city or amongst one team’s fans and their media dogs. When this many leave it becomes more like a press bus chasing after Socrates, wanting to know why.

As the lede to an article on Grantland,  Sean McIndoe of Down Goes Brown wrote, “There are now eight NHL teams that find themselves without a captain, an all-time NHL record according to the Department of Facts I Didn’t Bother to Research But Sound Plausible Enough. That means we’ll see as many as eight new captains named before the start of the season. But who?”

To tell the truth, I did try and research that factoid but got nowhere especially useful. It would take reading the captaincy history of each team, creating a timeline grid, slotting the data in and performing an analysis based on time overlap. I am, therefore, going with McIndoe. Sounds plausible to me, too.

While everyone else is quite rightly interested in who will be the new captains of these eight leaderless teams, I’m very interested in the dynamics involved in the vacancies. What causes an unprecedented number of captains to ask to leave and/or teams to deal away their captains? What does that say about the state of the NHL? About the captain’s job itself. How does it affect the players, the fans, the locker room?

The Captain’s Chair

While the captain of an NHL’s team official function is to be the on-ice intermediary between the officials and the team, representing the team in any disputes with the officiating or between players, they are, in fact much more than that.

FACTOIDGoaltenders are not permitted to act as captains during games. This rule was instituted in 1948 after teams complained that it took Montreal Canadiens goaltender Bill Durnan too long to skate to talk with the officials and back to his crease. However, Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo served as captain for two seasons 2008-09 and 2009-10, but because of the NHL rule against goaltender captains, the league did not allow Luongo to serve as captain on-ice. —wikipedia

Jason Spezza of the Ottawa Senators, speculated by many to be the next likely Captain of his team, said in a recent news conference, “I’ve been a leader in the dressing room for a long time. Whether I am Captain or not, I’ll still be a leader.” As G. Nichols over at The 6th Sens says in his recent article “Spezza on The Captaincy Campaign Tour“, Spezza sounds an awful lot like a fellow campaigning for a job.

Having put his finger exactly on the button with the word “leader”, Spezza shows in a way that would take me much longer, that the captaincy and leadership may certainly go together, but are not mutually inclusive or exclusive. A Captain may not, in fact, be a good leader in the locker room while a player who is not Captain may provide this essential role as a function of his personality. Natural leaders versus assigned leaders.

When Captains are selected, as they often are, for their hockey skill or some other perceived “x” factor such as a high public profile, sometimes the marriage is less than happy and the effects less than hoped for. The new trend seems to be that the most high profile “young gun” gets named as the Captain when the first opportunity arises. Three current captains, Jonathon Toews, Sidney Crosby and Gabriel Landeskog, as examples, became the Captains of their teams at a very young age and one wonders exactly how much off-ice “leadership” they are capable of showing. While Landeskog is the Captain of a team out of the playoff race in the last season, both Toews and Crosby came under scrutiny and faced criticism during their respective runs in 2012-2013.

Toews lost his cool and took a series of extremely badly-timed retaliatory penalties in the Blackhawks series against the Redwings and Crosby faced similar criticism over a shouting match with Boston’s Zdeno Chara. While they are both highly respected hockey players and one hears a lot about how they are good captains, they are still very young men who have very high expectations placed upon them. In both Crosby’s and Toew’s cases, they were “calmed down” by the steadying influences of older team members.

My suggestion is that the criteria for a “Captain” is changing, or has already changed, and the need for an acceptable public face, a “name” to rally fans and the general public and high octane performance is more important than “leadership” skills. In effect, there are two, sometimes conflicting, sets of criteria for what makes a good captain.

The first component is locker room leadership. As Spezza points out, leadership behind closed doors, in the locker room, will occur naturally and will come from those equipped by their own personalities to offer it. In the Blackhawks dressing room, for instance, word has it that Brent Seabrook is the go-to guy with Brooks Orpik having something of the same reputation in Pittsburgh.

The other kind of leadership, the kind that Crosby and Toews and Landeskog all bring in spades, is on-ice skill that translates to “leads by example”. They play hard. They work hard. They make big plays and lead the team to victory: the very qualities that may pre-dispose them to being, in fact, bad captains. They take losses more personally than the other players … they are well aware of the burden of expectation under which they exist and sometimes the frustration shows. The “C” acts like a magnifying glass and when teams do well, the captain is lauded and, likewise, when they do poorly, the finger pointing usually starts there.

How NHL teams seem to manage the potential problem of the hot-shot player not being suited, temperamentally, to the locker-room leadership role, is by assigning the “A” or Alternate Captain designations to the players who possess the natural quality of leadership and motivation. What else can they do? Can you imagine, as an example, anyone except Sidney Crosby being the captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins?

FACTOIDYzerman captained the Detroit Redwings for twenty years. Ray Bourque led the Bruins for fifteen seasons. Daniel Alfredson wore the C for the Senators for fourteen years. Jaroma Iglina was the face of the Flames for eleven years. Shane Doan, the last remaining Winnipeg Jets player on the team, has been the captain of the Coyotes for going on eleven years.

Captains have historically tended to do long terms. Teams pick them to be franchise players and they become identified with the team.  Fans have a much harder time letting go of loyalty given to the team captain than any other single player and General Managers tend to select them carefully and invest in them heavily.  In many ways, they engender the team itself. It can become a dilemma when the player ages. Stripping a player of the “C” is a big deal and says a thing, whether it’s true or not, as to the perceived value of that player. It’s not often done for very good public relations and team performance reasons.

Having a former captain on the same team as the current captain must present an added distraction that any sensible coach or manager would want to avoid. Except in a few, rare cases (such as Vincent LeCavalier who is one of the eight being discussed in this article) it has not been done because it creates many problems, both internally and externally.

No wonder there’s eight empty captain’s chairs at the moment. No wonder so many “old men” have become disconnected from the teams with whom they were so closely associated. Not only are they no longer the “hot shots”  or even the “best players” but many of them were connected to teams who need some sort of “kick start”.  Team management groups have, in addition to all the actual hockey problems such as keeping the team motivated, the burden of keeping their fans happy and their team in the black.

Moving the Captain is the best way for a General Manager to signal to the rest of the team, the fan base and the other teams in the league that they’re serious about “changing things up”. What might well be the single largest accolade a player can get might also be the biggest risk they can take.

Let’s have a look at the eight displaced captains and try and establish the conditions in play that led them to leaving the teams on which they wore the “C”, the reaction of the fans to the move and the prognosis for themselves and their former teams without them.

The Cup Chasers

FACTOIDAccording to the SB Nation – Ottawa Senators site, The Silver Sevens, it was the Senators who pioneered the NTC in 1923 when a young player named Frank Clancy insisted on having one as he had a “day job”, lived with his parents and was not interested in playing anywhere other than Ottawa. That player went on to become known as “King” Clancy, more often associated with the Maple Leafs than the Sens. He was ranked by Hockey News as the 52nd greatest player of all time and is the name behind the King Clancy Memorial Trophy which is awarded annually to the NHL player who demonstrates leadership qualities on and off the ice. Ironically, in 2011-2012 it was the Senator’s own Daniel Alfredsson who won this award.

Most franchise players, or players who could be considered “elite” have some form of NTC (No Trade Clause)  or LMC (Limited Movement Clause) built into in their contracts.   Essentially this means they have to approve the very idea of being traded and then, often,  have further approval rights on which teams they will accept a trade to.

This translates to the fans being acutely aware, in this modern day when you can Google the base details of most player contracts, that if the Captain leaves, it was because he wanted to or, at the very least, agreed to leave. This is an interesting form of insurance for the team management who cannot be blamed, on the surface, for “trading away” a fan or team favourite player.

Our first two captains wanted to be traded and made no secret about it. They wanted to win a Stanley Cup before they retired. It was no accident that they both landed on the team most favoured to win it last season.

Brenden Morrow, Dallas Stars

Brenden Morrow was the first player to wear the “C” to pull anchor and leave his team last year. At 34 he had been the Captain of the Dallas Stars for seven years, taking over from Mike Modano in 2006. Holding numerous team records and being very popular with the fanbase, it was a shock to many of them to hear he was being traded to Pittsburgh.

As the Dallas News reported, Morrow, who was entering his last contract year, had to waive his no-trade clause to make the move, so he was willing to be traded. In the absence of evidence to the contrary it would seem fair to assume that he was itching for some personal time with the Stanley Cup. Maybe he even asked for a trade.

Joe Nieuwendyk, General Manager of the Stars said, “My goal was to do the right thing for the franchise and do the right thing for Brenden, and I think this accomplishes both. This gives him a chance to play with some great players, to possibly elevate his game, and enhance his free agent value. I think it’s a great opportunity for him.”

The translation: “Neither of us can get to where we wanted to go as long as we stick together”.

According to Steve Hunt at NHL.com, who interviewed several of his teammates, many players on the team were in a reflective mood about Morrow’s departure. ”It’s hard to see,” Stars defenseman Stephane Robidas said. “He’s a very good teammate, good friend. He was our captain. He led by example. It’s tough to see a guy like that go, a character guy like that. It’s part of the business and we all know it can happen to anybody.”

The translation: “Shit happens and it will probably happen to me, too, someday.”

Proving that fans live in the same “it’s part of the business” world, their responses went from, “I’m not sure how the Stars will bounce back from this” to “Robidas or Benn for new captain?” Many of Morrow’s fans took to Twitter to thank him for his time and wish him well, with a few begging him to return.

Reading between the lines, one can assume that the Stars were looking to infuse their team with some fresh, youthful faces who generally come equipped with fresh, youthful legs. From a cursory survey of the internet-based fan and industry responses, the fans, without any ill-will towards Morrow for a lack of success, seem to be viewing this as a positive step by the team. “Thank you so much for being a great Captain. Go have fun in Pitt,” said one on an NHL board, while a Twitter fan asked if they were ever going to see him again in a Dallas jersey.

Morrow’s reply? “I already sold it”.

Fans grow especially fond of players like Morrow who is second amongst active NHL players with 6 Gordie How Hat Tricks (a goal, an assist and a fight in one game), behind only the next name on the list, Jarome Iginla.  Players like that, “heart and soul” players, ignite strong fan loyalty that extends, very often, beyond their team loyalty. After many years of service to the team,  team fans tend to be accepting of those sorts of players’ desires to head out to greener pastures. The prevailing sense I got at the time of the trade was more “Go get ‘em, tiger” than “How could you leave us?”

The translation: “Sorry to see you go but it’s a shiny new chapter now.”

The Penguins’ fan response was less welcoming. They had no sentimental attachment to Morrow and to them, he was an “old guy” trying to ride their express wave to the top. At the time Morrow came to Pittsburgh they were in the middle of their record breaking winning streak and  the odds-on favourites to win the Stanley Cup and many people wondered why Ray Shero had chosen to add a player like Morrow. As I have said a hundred times, I think Morrow, Thomas Vokoun and Matt Cooke were the only standout players for the Pens in the ECF, but many fans saw the loss to Boston as a direct result of “all the old guys” the Pens had brought in.

One fan’s sentimental hero is another’s scapegoat.

SUMMARY

Former team current status: Dallas is currently without a captain. Loui Eriksson, whose name was often heard in the conversation for who should be Dallas’ next Captain, was traded to Boston as part of the Tyler Seguin deal so it seems that the “revamp” that Dallas is undergoing is more thorough than just the removal of their Captain.

Who left whom: My guess would be that it was a mutual parting of the ways between the Dallas Stars management and their captain. Morrow wanted to win a Stanley Cup and the Stars wanted to revamp. They were in a position to help each other out and did.

Who won? Dallas Stars. They get a chance to start, if not “anew” then certainly “newer”. Morrow did not win a cup and his value on the Free Agency market was probably adversely affected by the Penguins performance in the ECF. He took his big gamble and lost.

What next? I predict Morrow will end up signing for around 2.75 or 3.25 million per year for two years, probably with the Canadiens.

McIndoes’ pick for next captain: Jamie Benn

 Jarome Iginla, Calgary

Jarome Iginla made the move next, walking away from an eleven year captain’s gig with the Calgary Flames. At 36, Iginla, wanted a Stanley Cup and he was very open about this from the beginning.

Jarome Iginla, unlike anyone else on this list, is something of a hockey legend. He is revered in Canada where he assisted in Sidney Crosby’s game winning goal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and was the face of the Calgary Flames for eleven years and a member of it for sixteen.  That’s a lot of years to spend trying to lift up a team that kept insisting on falling. That’s a lot of years that count as “paying dues”.  So, no one was upset, not even Calgary fans who adored their captain, when he went to the Pittsburgh Penguins close to the trade deadline in the 2012-2013 season. Well, no one except the Boston Bruin faithful who felt he had slighted them and, for a brief second, had thought he was coming to their team.

When it was announced that he was going to Pittsburgh, the Canadian hockey loving population, as a mass, had a little moment of nostalgia. It was a reminder of the “Iggy Heard Around The World” moment of which we have become so fond; a moment entrenched in the Canadian psyche. All hockey players seem to have nicknames that their teammates call them, locker room names like Hallsy and Cookie and Flower and Geno and Tanger – but they tend not to become part of the common hockey vernacular except amongst die-hard fans. Iginla’s locker room name is, of course, Iggy.

And we know this because Crosby yelled “Iggy!” with a demanding sort of urgency the second before Iginla made the from-his-knees, under pressure, through traffic pass that hit Crosby’s stick and resulted in the game winning goal. It will be remembered as the single most exciting sports-moment for an entire generation of Canadians. It was big.

FACTOID With a name like Jarome Arthur-Leigh Adekunle Tig Junior Elvis Iginla, the guy just HAS to have it engraved on the Stanley Cup, don’t you think?

Most of Iginla’s fans are Canadian and although you heard the odd rumbling about how he was “selfish” for leaving Calgary, the overwhelming public response seemed to be, “Go get it, Iggy!” In the media circus that surrounded his trade, Iginla managed to play it diplomatically and didn’t insult the team he was leaving or downplay the one he was going to.

Ernest Hemingway’s last major work, The Old Man and The Sea, tells the story of an unlucky fisherman who has become obsessed with catching a marlin. He is considered the most unlucky of all fisherman, save for one young fellow who continues to have faith in the old man.  When the fisherman finally does get within reach of his dream, a swarm of sharks appear, ready to fight with him for the prize. Hemingway writes: “Ay,” he said aloud. There is no translation for this word and perhaps it is just a noise such as a man might make, involuntarily, feeling the nail go through his hands and into the wood.

It is NOT a new story, the aging, experienced human chasing the dream of his youth. Literature and sports is positively rife with them.

Not put too fine a point upon it, but one wonders what was going through Iginla’s mind as his much publicized tenure in Pittsburgh unfolded itself, one discombobulated game after the next. What was to have been a reunion of two talents with the drive and character of winners, a return to glory days for both of them, ended up, instead, being one frustrating empty net after the other. The Penguins weren’t swept away with the glory of the moment, they were just swept away.

Like Morrow, Iggy never even got to get a good whiff of that marlin swimming around inside the Stanley Cup. Like Morrow, he gambled and lost.

Ay.

SUMMARY

Former team current status: Calgary is currently without a captain. Their trade of ironman Jay Bouwmeester and several other moves have left them in a state best described as “in a disarray”. With three picks in the first round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Calgary selected three top-rated forwards including highly regarded Sean Monahan who has publicly stated that he is “NHL ready”.

Who left whom: I believe that the Flames would have kept the C on Iginla’s jersey had he not been traded and I believe they would have kept him on the roster had he said he wanted to stay. I believe it was Iginla’s idea and the Flames went along with it because they were about to enter a massive rebuild phase. Trading Iginla to Pittsburgh had the strange effect of making the Flames look like they were giving their old warhorse an opportunity they wanted him to have. An act of generosity.

Who won?  No one yet. Iginla did not win the cup and damaged his free agency value (his deal with Boston is all icing and no cake) and Calgary did not get the publicity boost his winning would have brought them. From the fans’ perspective, they lost a beloved Captain and got little in return. The Flames did get a first round pick from the Pens in the Iginla trade … only time will tell whether it was a winning pick or a losing one.

What next? Iggy will have to play like a demon to get a contract extension with the Bruins. If they do not win the Cup next year or do not make it to the finals, I predict Iggy will be the new Jagr and be flushed from the team summarily. The Flames will continue to rebuild and, hopefully, get rid of some of the “disarray”.

McIndoes’ pick for next captain: Like the rest of us, he has no idea.

The Victims of Circumstance

These captains, whether by happy agreement or reluctant acquiescence, left teams that were struggling to perform, suffering fan-loss issues or in the middle of build-ups. While Morrow and Iginla both left struggling teams, their tenure was so long and their status in the cities where their teams were based were so well established and positive in nature that they were probably more “in the driver’s seat” than anyone else.

Jason Pominville, Buffalo Sabres

As Kevin Oklobzija of the Democrat and Chronicle said in an April 3,2013 article,  ”Even though Buffalo Sabres general manager Darcy Regier refused to use the word “rebuilding,” Wednesday’s trade of captain Jason Pominville to the Minnesota Wild said it for him.

While I am not entirely sure of the statistical reality, it seems to me that a fired coach has long been “the shot heard around the team” and signals, if nothing else, a determination by management to bring a team up from a bad place. When the Sabres fired long time coach Lindy Ruff earlier in the season, it was a sign of things to come.

As reported by the Buffalo News, “Pominville had spent his entire 11-year pro career in the Sabres’ organization, including the past two seasons as team captain. The right winger has 10 goals and 25 points in 35 games this season. The 30-year-old had 185 goals and 456 points in 578 games with the Sabres.” While this faint praise is damning enough, the lack of enthusiasm the writer had was echoed by the fans who responded, most of them thinking this was a good move by the Sabres.

Although Pominville is not technically an “old man” at thirty, he is reaching the end years of his prime and while he was only captain for two years, he still posed the problem for the organization of not being superstar-ish enough to ignite fan approval and loyalty.

As reported by Buffalo Hockey Beat, Buffalo General Manager Darcy Regier said that he had “no real interest” in trading Pominville, although he wanted to keep his options open.

When Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher said he wanted to focus on Pominville, Regier was surprised. “Honestly,” he said, “when I entered it, Jason Pominville may have been at the bottom of the list of players I wanted to move.”

But, of course, he did.

Because he was only captain for two years and did not have particularly stellar production and he was on a team that was struggling, Pominville never gained, unlike the two captains above, a strong fan following or approval. In fact, from the various things fans have said in response to articles and discussions on the topic, the state of the team was so depressing that few of them would have cared if everyone (except maybe Ryan Miller) was traded away for a completely fresh start.

He was probably the easiest of the trades, from a management perspective, because they did not have to face potential fan backlash by trading away a beloved member of a prosperous team.

SUMMARY

Former team current status: Buffalo is in a state of extreme flux with the future of many of their big-name players up in the air. They won’t miss Pominville’s production with Vanek on the wing.

Who left whom: Despite Regier’s denial, it would seem that Buffalo was the party serving the divorce papers and Pominville was the party signing for them. I doubt he wanted out for any particular reason but Buffalo had every reason to have to have a new captain. Pominville would seem to be a casualty of “someone big has to go”

Who won? On the ice, no-one. Off the ice, Buffalo gets the boost of the “who will be the new captain” interest and the ability to regroup. Pominville does get to leave a team on the fall to go to one on the rise, so I suppose he wins a little, too. He wasn’t captain long enough for it to affect anyone in a huge way.

What next? Pominville will get a role on the Wild’s top six. Buffalo will have a chance to inject some new blood into their own top six.

McIndoes’ pick for next captain: Stafford or Ott

Shawn Horcoff, Edmonton Oilers

At 34, Horcoff was the oldest Edmonton Oiler other than Ryan Smith who is 37 and has been an Oiler on two separate stints (with stops at the Islanders, Avalanche and Kings in between). Although they added hometown boy Andrew Ference, who is the same age as Horcoff during Free Agency, Horcoff was becoming like a sore thumb – starkly out of place amongst the young guns that make up the Oilers’ top lines.

Had he not been the captain, the Oilers would have likely kept him on the team.

Dallas, where he went, pretty much replaced their own departed captain, Brenden Morrow, with a similar style of player with many of the same attributes except the messy situation of the “C”. As the CBC reported, the Stars spoke the correct phrases into the media machine.

“Shawn is a proven leader in this League and helps solidify our group at centre,” Stars general manager Jim Nill said in a statement. “He’s a hard-working, two-way player that can contribute in all situations and our young players will be able to learn from his work ethic and example.”

Horcoff was not quite the producer Morrow was, he only ever had one great season (2005-06 where he racked up 73 points) but at their respective ages, neither of them should be counted upon to put up the big numbers. The Stars were looking for some veteran leadership and some “character players” and Horcoff was a good fit.

This situation is easily the most straightforward. Edmonton has finished with the big rebuild and they are now ready to unveil the Oilers 2.0 (or whatever incarnation they are at) and to do that, they HAVE to hand the team over to one of their young stars.

The Oilers fans reacted with a surprising level of consistency and vigor, posting comments like “Horcoff will be happy to go somewhere else where he can really stand out as an awful player, because he just blended-in as an awful player in Edmonton.”

As Robert Tychkowski  of the Edmonton Sun wrote in an article published July 4th, “Edmonton Oilers fans won’t have Shawn Horcoff to kick around anymore. The club cut ties with the 34-year-old whipping post Thursday night, informing their captain he is being traded to the Dallas Stars in a deal that, barring a colossal last-minute snag, will be finalized Friday morning.”

Unlike the captains in the next category who were traded due to some form of displeasure with their performance (either by the fans or the team management) in relation to their salary, Horcoff was not traded due to poor performance or a problematic cap hit. His performance, never spectacular, was fairly consistent in the last few years and his salary was reasonable.

He was traded because it was time to have a new captain.

SUMMARY

Former team current status: The Oilers are poised to make a leap up the standings and while Horcoff was a respected leader and team mate, the young fellows must be chomping at the bit. The team and its fans probably feel like a weight has been lifted in an “out with the old and in with the new” fashion and are excited to get going into their bright future.

Who left whom: Edmonton management definitely made this decision.

Who won? Not because Horcoff was a liability, because he wasn’t – but the Oilers were the winners in this. Horcoff will still be paid his high salary and get to play on a team where he can be a locker room leader but the Oilers get to complete their rise-of-the-phoenix act. Maybe he wins a little, too – as he will not have to deal with the constant unhappiness and impatience of the Oiler fan base.

What next? Edmonton may get a return to their glory days and Horcuff will get to “just play hockey” until he retires.

McIndoes’ pick for next captain: Taylor Hall (I think it will be Eberle)

The Bang for Buck Problems

These captains simply were too expensive for what they brought to the teams and while each of them are good players, they are no longer performing like marquee players and the teams that dealt them simply needed more bang for their buck.

Vincent LeCavalier, Tampa Bay Lightening

LeCavalier, 33, was simply too expensive. The well regarded Captain spent 15 years in Tampa Bay (his entire career), winning one Stanley Cup with them in 2003-2004. He was the player that started the trend of naming the young hot-shot to the captaincy and was given the C the first time at the end of his second year in the NHL (2000-2001), making him the youngest (at the time) captain in league history.

Several well publicized clashes with coaches and management led to him being stripped of the captaincy before the start of the next season (2001-2002) and he did not get it back until 2008-2009.

In 2008,  LeCavalier signed an eleven-year, $85 million contract extension which was set to begin after the 2008-2009 season and running through until the end of 2019–20 season. A few months later he was renamed Captain.

Without going into a crazy level of detail, this is essentially the sort of contract that caused the last lock-out. It is a cap-circumventing, front loaded monstrosity of a deal that has became, in essence, too difficult to manage inside of the more stringent salary-cap rules.

According to Chris Iorfida of the CBC. LeCavalier himself said, “I think the new CBA [collective bargaining agreement] puts the team in a tough spot and that’s why it’s understandable. It was their decision and I have to respect that.”

In short, they had to buy him out or start selling assets. They bought him out. There were a few media reports that some “funny business” was going on wherein he would be traded to the Maple Leafs who would buy him out and trade him back (or some such nonsense) to which, apparently, the NHL responded by reminding everyone of the letter and spirit of the CBA. Long and short: LeCavalier had to go.

Fans responded, by and large, with variations of “he was too expensive, anyway” as LeCavalier had started to slow down and was not the top producer he had once been. However, not all fans were anxious to see him depart, with one making a case for a clearly beloved sports hero:

“If you knew anything about Vinny you would know he does tons for charity. Including donating a wing to the All Childrens hospital for children suffering from cancer. Its called the Vincent Lecavalier Foundation they provide funding for medical research and care for children with pediatric cancer and blood disorders. He does not just donate money he is an active member in the fundraising and spends lots of time with the kids. Tampa Bay is losing a valuable hero to the community. You want to tell me you wouldn’t take the contract if it were offered to you?”

With Steven Stamkos and Martin St.Louis on the team, he was overshadowed significantly in the points production department and for most fans, it seemed to be more of an inevitable conclusion than a shock.

SUMMARY

Former team current status: It’s status quo for the Lightening. They can replace his production easily and although, by all accounts, he was a good captain, they have plenty of veteran presence in the locker room. They have more cap room, so they’re ahead.

Who left whom: The team made this decision.

Who won? LeCavalier certainly came out richer as he had his buy-out money and then signed a nice deal with a 22.5 million/6 year contract with the Flyers. Everyone knows it was all about the money so he’s not leaving town with his tail between his legs. The Lightning have some cap room to work with. Win. Win.

What next? Same old, same old. LeCavalier will put up decent numbers with the Flyers, collect his paycheque and retire in due course. The Lightning will continue to ride Steven Stamkos onwards and upwards towards the Stanley Cup

McIndoe’s pick for next captain: Martin St. Louis (who will hand it off to Stamkos when he retires in a few years).

 

Rick Nash, Columbus Blue Jackets

Rick Nash, 29, has had his fair share of public scrutiny, much of it along the lines of “will he ever live up to his potential”.

Although technically he did not leave his team last season (he left in the 2011-2012 season), the Blue Jackets are still without a captain so he has been added to this list.

Nash was drafted first overall in the 2002 NHL Entry draft by Columbus  and began playing for the team that drafted him the following season. He was nominated for the Calder as NHL rookie of the year. In only his second NHL season, Nash scored a career-high 41 goals to tie with Iginla and Kovalchuk for the league scoring title. He’s been selected as an All-Star five times. It makes you realize what people expect of first round draft picks and the heavy burden they carry.

He was the Captain of the Blue Jackets from 2008-2009 until he was traded at the end of the 2011-2012 season, leading them once to the playoffs in 2008-2009. In that year, Nash had his best performance since 2003-2004, signed a whopping 8 year $62 million contract in the off-season and everyone in Columbus settled in for all the good things to come.

Which never came. A bad year followed a bad year and  2011-2012 unfolded like a bad dream with Columbus recording a depressing 2–12–1 record.

Nash’s performance was not spectacular in either of the two seasons that followed the 2008-2009 playoff appearance and he bore the brunt of criticism levied against the team. The fact was not lost on him as the  SNYRangersblog reported that he was willing to be traded to help his team:

During the 2011-12 season, the Columbus Blue Jackets were in discussions about trading Rick Nash.

When the deadline passed, former Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson revealed that Rick Nash asked for a trade if it would get the Blue Jackets the necessary pieces to move forward.

Derek Dorsett, who was Nash’s teammate in Columbus at the time and is now a teammate of his with the Rangers, told the NY Times how Nash handled all of the trade rumors with his teammates.

Dorsett that nothing changed in how Nash approached the game, “he showed up for work every day, worked hard and scored big goals for us.”

Much ado has been made of Rick Nash’s failure to produce big every season and with so much attention placed on him in Columbus, a trade was arranged with the New York Rangers. Of course, the scrutiny in Columbus is like a gnat compared to the godzilla that is New York, so it seems Nash went from the frying pan to the fire.

But New Yorkers were happy to welcome the “almost great” player who should be greater, sure that the change of team would spur him onto great things.

The dailyfaceoff posted an article in July of 2012 that included this line: “Furthermore, we might finally get to see Nash’s full potential– one that is universally acknowledged in his international play; Nash has 53 points in 54 games playing with some of his country’s finest skaters.”

In the meanwhile, Columbus played last season without a captain and finished one spot (tied with Minnesota in points and lost on the shoot-out count) out of the playoffs.

SUMMARY

Former team current status: Columbus is still without a captain. They traded the captain before Nash (Foote) after being unable to agree on a contract. It seems they’re feeling a little gun-shy in Columbus at present.

Who left whom: My guess is that the Blue Jackets felt dealing Nash was their best bet both in terms of making fans happy and getting the best return for their asset. It seems likely Nash agreed as much to “help the team” as he said as to help himself. He was obviously not doing well in Columbus and probably felt a little battered by all the criticism. I think this one came down to accounting and Nash provided the best “sellable” commodity they had and they struck while the iron was still, if not hot, at least warm.

Who won? Columbus did no worse without Nash and the Rangers did no better with him. Nash wins this one only because he as a big contract and he isn’t the most pressing concern the Rangers have. The heat is off him a little and without the C he can concentrate solely on playing better hockey.

What next? Nash will probably do well under Alain Vigneault and the Blue Jackets will continue to try and decide how they want to handle the captaincy. I do think they will name a captain for next season.

McIndoe’s pick for next captain: Jack Johnson

 The Free Agents

These two Captains took advantage of their status as Unrestricted Free Agents and dropped the “C” on the front step as they left town. One did it quietly and one did it with something closer to a middle of the night defection that turned into a media storm. But either way, these two guys decided to do things on their own terms.

Mark Streit, New York Islanders

Speaking for what seemed to be the general consensus amongst Islander fans, Andy Graziano from eyeonisles.com wrote, “I, for one, will always credit Streit for signing here during the rebuild years and seeing his contract through with no moans and groans that seem to permeate professional locker rooms in identical situations. But the fact of the matter is his skills have been steadily declining over the past two seasons since the torn labrum he suffered and had surgery on three seasons ago.”

The thirty five year old captain was well liked and well respected by Islanders fan although he did take a lot of public heat for what some people described as “lazy play” against the Penguins in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs of 2012-2013. He had publicly expressed his desire to return to the Islanders and what happened next surprised many fans.

Appointed as captain in September of 2011, in a move that surprised many people as Streit had spent the entire previous season sidelined with a shoulder injury and did not play at all, he had only been with the team since 2009. In his first season as an Islander he scored 56 points and became the first defenseman to lead his team in scoring since 2005.

He had a stellar first season, a completely absent second season and a solid third and fourth season with the Islanders and was earning a little bit under market value at $4.1.

Apparently the Islanders made a reasonable offer of a reported 3 years at 4.75 million per but Streit wasn’t interested and rather than get nothing at all for him, the Islanders traded his negotiating rights to the Flyers in exchange for a furth round pick and young depth forward Shane Harper who is currently assigned to the AHL.

As Arthur Staple of Newsday wrote, “According to a source, the Islanders offered Streit a three-year deal worth about $5 million a season, but Streit is looking for north of $5.5 million per season. With the free-agent market for defensemen very thin, Streit could command $6 million per year and even possibly get a four-year deal.”

He ended up signing with the Flyers at $5.25 million a season for four years. Most Flyers fans seem to feel this was too much to pay a 35 year old defenseman who did not “play to his potential” last season.

He wanted to be paid a certain amount and the “C” did not seem an impediment to his leaving or an incentive for the Islanders to keep him so it would seem that both parties were ready for him not to wear it anymore.

SUMMARY

Former team current status: Streit does not leave a hole behind him, on the ice or in the locker room – at least not one that can’t be filled adequately by either Tavares or Okposo.

Who left whom: This was all Mark Streit and it was all money.

Who won? Streit won because he got what he wanted. The Islanders get a not-bad consolation prize by being able to give the “face” of the franchise, the “C” to go with it.

What next? Streit will play out his contract with the Flyers and retire rich. We won’t hear much more about him. The Islanders will continue on with their impressive, if not speedy, rise through the standings with a new captain and a tremendously excited fan base.

McIndoe’s pick for next captain: John Tavares

Daniel Alfredsson, Ottawa Senators

Last, but certainly not least, we come to Daniel Alfredsson, the long suffering captain of the Ottawa Senators. It was hard to know where to put Alfie because he belongs up there with Morrow and Iginla in terms of having established himself very prominently in the community and being positively beloved by the fans and now wanting to win a cup. But he also belongs here because there was no trade. No mutual decision.

He just walked away.

There is no ability to see this from a team-side and player-side because Alfie made it very clear that he was in the driver’s seat. There was no exchange of assets between General Managers, no season-long, hard decisions by team executives, no late night meetings with accountants or marketing people.

The Senators made it clear that if Alfie wanted to come, he could. Saying so, they settled in for the annual wait while Alfie made up his mind – would he play or not play this season? Meanwhile, the hockey media and general public heaped praise on him for being the loyal soldier he appeared to be. While Iginla and Morrow both suffered a small bit of scorn for their abdications to the Penguins in search of a Stanley Cup, Alfie was held up as the example of what “old school values” meant and why they were important.

Some Sens fans felt a little superior in those “before the Alfie incident” days, lighting up comment boards with derisive remarks about Iginla and Morrow and those who came before such as Ray Bourque who left the Bruins after a very long tenure so he could win a Stanley Cup (which he did two seasons later, with the Avalanche).

That all changed like a splash of cold water on the opening day of Free Agency when it was announced that the Captain of the Ottawa Senators would be signing a short term contract as an Unrestricted Free Agent with the Detroit Redwings. First you could hear a pin drop and then you could hear nothing as the hockey world exploded with speculation, angst and shock.

There has been much written on the subject, summed up quite nicely in this article at the6thsens.com entitled The Daniel Alfredsson Decision and the Three Schools of Thought.

The long and short of it all is that Alfie wants to win a Stanley Cup and he selected a team that he thought he could help win one. Although many would say that the Senators are as likely as the Redwings to win a cup next year, there are nearly as many who say his chances ARE better in Detroit than they would be in Ottawa. Some folks suggest he was offended by the offer the Sens made to him and walked on principle. I don’t think that is the case, I think he wanted the Stanley Cup and lost his faith that the Sens were going to get close in the next year or two.

I think the Pens series took it out of him. They ended it up better than the Pens did next against the Bruins, but there was a sense that “even at our best, we’re not good enough” from Alfie in that famous post-game interview as they headed to Pittsburgh for the game 5 elimination context. It was like he decided he was too tired to lead one more charge. Maybe he wants to be in Detroit because he will be a soldier and not a General.

Who can say?

Much like the Gretzky trade that happened twenty five years ago this very day, Alfie’s defection feels like the thing that makes us all say, “If Alfie could leave the Sens, anything could happen.”

SUMMARY

Former team current status: Alfredsson leaves a hole behind him the size of Lake Superior. While there are a few compelling candidates for the job, it will feel wrong to most of them and now comes with baggage. They are likely demoralized and maybe a little angry.  The youngest team in the league got appreciably younger.

Who left whom: This was all Alfredsson and it was all about Lord Stanley.

Who won? On the surface it seems to be Alfredsson. We’ll have to check back next year to find out. It was defnitiely NOT the Senators.

What next? Alfie will win or lose and Sens fans, for the most part, will root for him from nostalgia and sentimentality. Unless by some quirk they end up getting beaten out of the playoffs by him. Then they will lose the soft spot they have for him very quickly.

McIndoe’s pick for next captain: Spezza

What Does It All Mean

I don’t think it points to anything except maybe a cold, hard reality that we all know but dislike believing. Loyalty is transient. In both directions. It has always been this way. We love the captains when they lead our teams to victory and we love them less in defeat. They love their teams and their fans until they have new teams and new fans and then they transfer their love, like it was a transaction between two accounts at a bank. This is not new.

Which is why the only safe loyalty is to the team. It’s a little like a country – no matter who is running it, whether you hate them or love them, it’s still and always will be your country.

While having so many captains change teams at the same time is certainly unusual, it reads more like a coincidence than a symptom of anything that needs a doctor.

Gary Bettman, the NHL’s reigning “C”, remarked that the Gretzky trade, now a quarter of a century old and still making news, gave the NHL “credibility”.

Although he was speaking more about bringing hockey credibility to non-traditional areas like California and Florida, it also gave the league different sort of credibility. It was like renting a billboard that proclaimed the end of hockey as a “bush league” where dominant teams were put together by people with more money than the other owners, where parity was almost a a dirty word. While it would take more than a decade after the Gretzky trade to settle such issues as revenue sharing and salary caps, the trade was the shot heard around the NHL and alerted everyone from players to fans that a new world order was evolving.

“As you see from looking at how the game’s been played and the playoff races and the regular-season races, we have perhaps the best competitive balance that not only we have ever seen but that any sport has ever seen,” Bettman said. “Every team has a chance of making the playoffs, you see that, and playoffs are incredibly not just entertaining but unpredictable.”

And there is the bottom line. All these captains, whether they left voluntarily under their own steam or were traded by their teams, have been uprooted in the quest for a play-off spot with an eye on the big prize, the Stanley Cup. At the end of the day, it’s about winning and all the pieces on the board, whether they wear skates or ties, are trying to position themselves to win.

Their loyalty is to the Stanley Cup, plain and simple.

When the Edmonton Oilers won their first Gretzky-less Stanley Cup, the trade became less devastating, the loss of their Captain became less painful to fans. They moved on. And so will the eight fan-bases now sitting without anyone wearing the “C”.

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