Once the regular seasons arrives, everyone in the NHL will be all about Ws and Ls. But before we get there, a handful of teams still have to figure out what to do about their C.
We’ve already seen four teams name new captains this offseason: Blake Wheeler in Winnipeg, Alex Pietrangelo in St. Louis, Anze Kopitar in Los Angeles and Mike Fisher in Nashville. That leaves us with four teams that still don’t have captains yet: Edmonton, Toronto, Carolina and Florida.
But unlike other years, this season’s list doesn’t add up to all that much suspense. The Oilers gave the “C” to Connor McDavid on Wednesday, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Maple Leafs just left the position vacant for another year or two. The Hurricanes could too, although they might turn to Justin Faulk or Jordan Staal. The Panthers are the most interesting call, as they could go with a young franchise player like Aaron Ekblad or Aleksander Barkov, a dependable veteran like Jussi Jokinen, or a certified legend in Jaromir Jagr.
So without much to speculate on for this year, let’s spend some time looking ahead. Who are the NHL’s next next captains? Here are five teams that could have a vacancy in the next year or two, and some best guesses on who could be next in line.
The current captain: Zdeno Chara, who’s held the job since joining the team a decade ago.
Why they may need a new one soon: Chara’s done all you could ask a captain to do, including lifting the Stanley Cup in 2011. But at 39 and with two years left on his contract, the finish line may be in sight.
Who’s next: David Krejci is entering his eleventh NHL season, all with the Bruins, and currently wears an “A” for the team. We probably also need to mention Brad Marchand, since between a massive new contract and his monster performance at the World Cup, he’s already had just about everything go his way over the last month. And there’s always David Backes, the former Blues captain who joined the team as a free agent this year.
But with all due respect to those guys, it would a shock if the honor didn’t go to Patrice Bergeron. He’s one of the most well-respected players in the league, he’s a superstar, and he figures to be in Boston for a long time. He makes for an easy pick here.
The current captain: Shane Doan, who’s held the job since taking over for Teppo Numminen way back in 2003. He’s the longest serving current captain in the NHL.
Why they may need a new one soon: Doan is turning 40 next week, and he’s clearly coming to the end of his NHL career. He signed a one-year deal to return this year, so it’s fair to say that if this isn’t his last season, that day is coming soon.
Who’s next: Like the Bruins, the Coyotes have a superstar who would seem ready to take over the reins. In this case, it’s Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who’s worn an “A” for the two seasons and would seem like the natural choice.
Unlike the Bruins, the Coyotes also have a bunch of very good young players who could warrant consideration. Depending on when exactly Doan hangs them up, somebody like Max Domi or Dylan Strome might be ready to take the job if the team decided to just fast track directly to what seems like a bright future.
Those seem like the best options, since there’s not a lot here in the way of well-established veteran talent. (I’ll pause here so that everyone can make their Chris Pronger and Pavel Datsyuk jokes.) Maybe you look at someone like Martin Hanzal or Alex Goligoski. But that feels like overthinking things, so let’s make Ekman-Larsson the pick.
The current captain: Mikko Koivu, who’s held the job since 2009.
Why they may need a new one soon: Koivu is a veteran, but at 33 years old he’s still got some time left, so this isn’t a Chara or Doan situation. But the Wild have been tight to the salary cap for years, and Koivu’s current deal expires at the end of next season. If the Wild haven’t made their long-awaited leap to contender status by then, it’s not hard to imagine them being ready for a youth moment.
Granted, it would be tough on Koivu if he was squeezed out after so many years as the team’s undisputed leader. Here’s hoping he could find somebody to talk to about that.
Who’s next: The two most obvious candidates would be Ryan Suter and Zach Parise. Neither is much younger than Koivu, but both are signed to super long-term contracts, so they’re not going anywhere. Jason Pominville and Eric Staal will still be around after Koivu’s deal expires. If you’re looking for a veteran, the Wild roster has plenty of possibilities.
The other option would be to go young. Mikael Granlund is slowly but surely developing into a top line player, and he projects as a decent candidate in two years. Nino Niederreiter or Charlie Coyle could be too.
Some of those young names are intriguing. But we’re already going out on a bit of a limb here by even mentioning Koivu and the Wild at all, so let’s play it conservative and make Suter the pick.
Detroit Red Wings
The current captain: Henrik Zetterberg, who took over from Nicklas Lidstrom four years ago.
Why they may need a new one soon: This is a tricky one. On the one hand, Zetterberg will be 36 by the time the season starts. On the other, he’s still signed through 2021 on one of those front-loaded mega-contracts from the previous CBA. That makes it hard to know how much time he has left, although it’s worth pointing out that his salary nosedives after next season.
Who’s next: Whenever the times comes, this will be a tough one. The Red Wings have had three captains in the last 30 years, dating back to Steve Yzerman getting the nod in 1986. So this isn’t just any old captaincy. The spotlight on whoever gets it next will be bright.
So who will it be? Niklas Kronwall wears an “A” today, but he’s only a few months younger than Zetterberg, so he seems unlikely. Fellow defenseman Danny DeKeyser would get some consideration, especially as a hometown boy. And Justin Abdelkader would have a shot – he may not be especially popular outside of Detroit, but Wings fans love him. Besides, Abdelkader was on Team USA at the World Cup, so he could give everyone some valuable pointers on what not to do.
But if Zetterberg sticks around for another few years, then Dylan Larkin may be the pick. In two years he should be established as a legitimate NHL star, and he’d be 22 years old by then – one year older than Yzerman was when he got the honors three decades ago.
This is the hardest pick of the bunch, not least because a year or two is still time for Ken Holland to sign a half dozen more veteran free agents. But let’s swing for the fences and make Larkin the pick.
The current captain: Henrik Sedin, who’s held the job since 2010.
Why they may need a new one soon: The Sedin twins are two of today’s best examples of that weird hockey phenomenon where fans don’t seem to have any idea how old certain players. You could tell a typical fan that they were anywhere from their late-20s to roughly 40 or more and they’d probably buy it. It’s weird. Other players in this category include Duncan Keith, Joe Pavelski and Marc-Andre Fleury.
Anyway, the Sedins are 36 and both have two years left on their current contracts. There’s no guarantee that will be it for them in Vancouver – both are still effective players, and it’s nearly impossible to imagine them playing anywhere else. But it’s at least possible that the Canucks will need a new captain soon.
Who’s next: The team could always opt for another veteran voice. Alex Edler will still be under contract for 2018, and will have just finished his 10th year in Vancouver. The Loui Eriksson contract won’t even be halfway done by then. And while Alexandre Burrows will need a new deal between now and then, you could picture him ending up as a Canucks lifer. And when in doubt, you can never go wrong with a Sutter.
But you’d have to think that the Canucks will be in rebuild mode by then – they have to be, right? – so let’s skip the old-timers. It’s actually not hard to imagine the Canucks going without a captain for a while after the Sedins leave, given how big a void they’ll be leaving after nearly two decades in Vancouver. But if the Canucks want to look to the future, let’s go with Bo Horvat, who’ll be 23 and just entering his prime. Give him a year or two to establish his credentials , and he’s the frontrunner for the job.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008, most recently for ESPN and Grantland. He spends most of his time making jokes on twitter, where you may know him as @downgoesbrown. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.