The San Jose Sharks have a decision to make. Though it was more a cap-driven necessity than an outright choice, when Joe Pavelski was allowed to walk as a free agent and signed with the Dallas Stars, the Sharks’ captaincy, which ‘Little Joe’ had held for the past four seasons, became vacant. That means San Jose is looking for a new on-ice leader.
The good news for the Sharks, however, is it’s not as if they’ll be short on options. Up and down their lineup, there are a number of potential captains, from star players and unsung heroes to veteran leaders who are likely to return. For instance, Brent Burns wouldn’t be an out-of-left-field choice, nor would Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Likewise, if Joe Thornton returns for one more go-round, he’d be worthy of slapping the ‘C’ on, even if his last turn as captain didn’t end all that well. Heck, if Patrick Marleau comes back, it’s not even all that wild to suggest he could take on the captaincy as part of his last hurrah.
The odds-on favorite to become captain, though, has to be Logan Couture. Already part of the leadership group, Couture has established himself as the Sharks’ go-to guy and part of the very fabric of the organization. Much like Pavelski, who rose through the lineup to become an integral part of the team, Couture has scored and battled his way into the hearts of San Jose faithful. And if there was anyone who was a clear-cut option to make the transition from an alternate captain into the top job, it’s Couture. The added bonus, of course, is that he’s entering the first season of an eight-year, $64-million deal. He’s going to be around a while, and quite possibly the rest of his career.
But no matter who the Sharks choose, their captaincy decision will only eliminate one of the several vacancies across the NHL. Who fills the other voids?
Throw an asterisk next to this one, because technically the captaincy isn’t vacant and there’s a chance that, by the time you’re reading this, Justin Williams has decided not to retire and instead return to Carolina for at least one more season. That means the Hurricanes get their captain back, and there’s no need to fill the role.
However, if Williams chooses to retire, where does Carolina look? Not all that far, likely, as the choice probably stays within their already established leadership group. Before Williams was named captain, there were those of the belief that when the co-captaincy of Jordan Staal and Justin Faulk was split, it would end up with the ‘C’ stitched to Staal’s sweater. One can’t help but feel that’d be the case here, too.
So, if there is one prime candidate, it’s Staal, with the possibility of a transition to one of the younger stars – Sebastian Aho? Teuvo Teravainen? Jaccob Slavin? Brett Pesce? – in the coming years.
DETROIT RED WINGS
It’s Dylan Larkin. It has to be. As it stands, he is the future of the franchise, and it only helps matters that he’s a local boy who grew up idolizing the Red Wings. It’s a perfect fit. And, frankly, the timing is right to name him the captain this summer.
Though he has been mentioned in connection with the captaincy in the past, even as early as his sophomore season, Larkin has proven over the past two seasons that he can be a game-changer for Detroit and shoulder the load that comes along with being the No. 1 guy for the franchise. He had some lamp-lighting difficulties in his third season in the NHL, but responded with a stellar 32-goal, 73-point season in 2018-19, a campaign that also saw him draw some consideration for the Selke Trophy. He’s the total package, and that package seems likely to be sealed with a ‘C’ at some point soon.
NEW YORK RANGERS
Given the transition the Rangers are going through, it’s not at all far-fetched to believe the Blueshirts will go another season without a captain. They’ve brought in a few fresh faces, including Artemi Panarin, but the star winger hasn’t so much as worn an ‘A’ in the NHL. Major blueline acquisition Jacob Trouba hasn’t been an alternate, either, so it might nix that idea, too. And while, sure, there are members of the leadership group who have been in town for a bit, such as Chris Kreider and Marc Staal, it feels as though New York is preparing to rid itself of those players in the not-too-distant future. That’s not the kind of player you hand the captaincy.
If forced to guess, Mika Zibanejad or Brady Skjei might be the best present-day options. The reality is, though, that New York is going to be thin on options until they start to get settled into the next phase of their rebuild. Don’t hold your breath for a Rangers captain this season, and next season might even be too soon to expect one.
If the Rangers are in no position to name a captain, than the Senators are in an even worse spot. As it stands, Ottawa has only five players on their entire NHL roster – minus those on entry-level contracts – who are signed beyond next season. Those players include Bobby Ryan, Zack Smith, Nikita Zaitsev, Christian Wolanin and goaltender Anders Nilsson, who can’t even wear the ‘C’ in the first place. So, really, the Senators have four veteran options, and those options are a player the team considered buying out, another who was demoted before the start of last season, a recent trade acquisition and a player signed for little more than league minimum.
That said, while we shouldn’t expect them to name a captain this season, it might only be a matter of time before Brady Tkachuk steps into the role. If he at all takes after his older brother, Calgary Flames winger and alternate captain Matthew, or his father, Keith, who captained the original Winnipeg Jets and Phoenix Coyotes, then Brady has the leadership qualities that coaches love.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
OK, so is this the year we can finally stop talking about the Maple Leafs’ captaincy? Toronto hasn’t had a captain since the 2015-16 campaign, which technically makes Vacant the 12th-longest serving captain in the NHL. Congratulations!
Really, though, the timing might be right for the Maple Leafs. If they are going to pull the trigger on Auston Matthews as captain, he just inked a five-year, mega-money extension. If they want to hand it to hometown hero John Tavares, he’s still got six years left on his big-money seven-year deal. Morgan Rielly, too, seems like a more-than-reasonable choice. He’s an excellent defender and a reliable hand who could be the face of the franchise. There are options present. It’s just a matter of choosing one.
There was some talk around the draft that connected Vancouver to then-Colorado Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie, who has since been shipped to the Toronto Maple Leafs. At the time, that chatter had Bo Horvat as a potential trade chip in such a deal. Clearly, nothing ever came to fruition between the Canucks and Avalanche, and that means Horvat remains a top option for the captaincy in Vancouver.
Horvat makes all kinds of sense as a captain, too. Is he the flashiest player in the lineup? Not at all, especially with the emergence of Elias Pettersson and sharpshooter Brock Boeser on the roster. Is he the longest-tenured veteran? Not in a world where Alexander Edler exists. But what Horvat does bring is reliability and the type of lead-by-example play that coaches and GMs love. He’s a consistent offensive player, but more than that, the Canucks can count on him to play in all situations and take on tough minutes. That screams captain.
VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS
It seems as though Vegas has been waiting for their captain to come along, and the hesitancy to stitch the ‘C’ to the jersey of anyone made sense at a time when the organization was taking on odds and sods from the rest of the NHL. As they prepare for their third season, though, the Golden Knights are starting to establish themselves and carve out a team identity. They’re starting to sign players long term and become a destination for free agents. But it’s a player they acquired via trade recently, Mark Stone, who might be the best choice for captain.
Excluding the fact he’s the highest paid player by a considerable amount, ask yourself what more a team could be looking for in a captain? Stone can be an offensive contributor, but more importantly, he’s a defensive wizard. He’s one of the league’s takeaway kings, consistently in the Selke Trophy conversation and he’s got leadership experience. As the old-school would say, “He plays the game the right way.”
Add to it that he wore an ‘A’ in his final two campaigns with the Senators and had one again with Team Canada at the World Championship, and there’s no good reason Stone can’t be the captain now and into the future. If Vegas wants to finally hand out the ‘C’, he’s the right choice.
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