Wednesday, December 2, 2009

It is Time for the Canadiens and Maple Leafs to Name a Captain...

The new ownership group in Montreal, led by the Molson brothers, officially took control of the Canadiens yesterday after the NHL's Board of Governors approved the sale of the franchise. At a reported price tag of $575 million, one has to wonder if they will want part of their deposit back after last night's lacklustre effort against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

As the Canadiens celebrate their 100th anniversary this week, (well, it has been going on all year but the official birthday is this Friday) and the Habs look back on their history, a major component to their legacy is the long list of great players that have captained the team and lifted the Stanley Cup. The fact that the Maple Leafs, an equally storied franchise, and the Canadiens do not have a captain is a shame and an insult to their history.

The list of captains on the two teams could be a guidebook on a tour of the Hall of Fame: Ted Kennedy, Dave Keon, Darryl Sittler, Wendel Clark, Doug Gilmour and Mats Sundin to name a few Toronto legends. In Montreal the list is even more impressive: Toe Blake, Maurice Richard, Jean Beliveau, Henri Richard, Bob Gainey and Saku Koivu and many other greats that have worn the bleu, blanc et rouge. How can these two teams be at the quarter point of the current season and yet, both teams have players wearing the “A” but no one is wearing a “C”?

Some hockey analysts believe the era of the captain has passed; it is an unnecessary tradition that teams no longer need. As hockey teams try to downplay the importance of a captain, other leagues are embracing the concept and copying the NHL with players wearing the “C” on their uniforms. The Boston Red Sox in the MLB proudly proclaim that Jason Varitek is their captain and it is hard not to notice a “C” on Peyton Manning’s uniform as he takes the snaps for the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts. The NHL continues to question, tweak and discuss the little things, while doing nothing about staged fights, a perceived lack of respect among the players and the growing concussion crisis in the league.

While it is great for the General Managers in Toronto and Montreal to say we have a great group of leaders, we do not need a true “captain”, what does that really say about the current group of players on their rosters? Does no one stand out as a true leader? Montreal lives by the expression of “passing the torch”... so I must ask the question, who is ready to receive the torch passed down so many times in 100 years? Would Montreal’s great Stanley Cup wins be as impressive if several players rotated the “A” and a random assistant received the Cup from the commissioner? Heck no! It is part of the legacy to see Jean Beliveau poised next to the Cup in photographs with a “C” on his sweater.

The 28 other teams in the NHL decided a captain was important to their franchise, a reward for time with the team, being a great playmaker or a heart and soul fourth line guy. Atlanta chose Ilya Kovulchuk to wear the “C” and be the face of the franchise, a reward for his exciting plays and a gesture that says, “This is your team, make us great!” The Washington Capitals went with Chris Clark as their captain, a reward for demonstrating that hard work gets the job done, night after night. Ovechkin is their best player but Chris Clark is their captain and everyone respects his role on the team.

Regardless of how many quality guys are in the room, a franchise needs a captain; a face for the franchise both on and off the ice; someone that is accountable to the fans and media, someone that is willing to say, this is my team and I will make it better. Watching the endless parade of ceremonies in Toronto and Montreal on Hockey Night in Canada every Saturday evening, it is surprising and disappointing to see a parade of different players wearing the “A” taking ceremonial face-offs, standing next to the legends that wore the “C” with pride and humility. Have a great sports day everyone.

Photo by Stephen DesRo on Flickr

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