I came across my favorite take on the chemistry between Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez about a year ago while reading one of Elliotte Friedman’s quality columns at CBC.ca.
“One is always serious, and one never is,” was the answer Friedman got from the insider he spoke to.
Chicago’s precocious Jonathan Toews has already earned the nickname ‘Captain Serious,’ so I guess the ample Montreal media will have to scramble to come up with something else for Gionta, now that it’s been confirmed he’ll wear the ‘C’ in that city.
(By the way, doesn’t the opinion offered on the Gionta-Gomez dynamic sound a lot like how you’d expect the relationship between Toews and Patrick Kane to be explained?)
Jaroslav Halak rightly got most of the credit for Montreal’s run to the East final last year, but one often overlooked aspect of that surprising spring was the character demonstrated by the vast majority of the team’s players, whether it was winning 1-on-1 battles or simply staying in the lineup when bruised and broken bodies were begging for a reprieve.
Montreal, which played without a captain last year, isn’t a high-end team talent-wise, but doesn’t lack for leaders and, basically, Gionta represents an amalgamation of the best qualities each of those frontrunners has to offer.
Josh Gorges is a heart-and-soul defender who is as respected as anybody in the dressing room, but he’s not a skill player. Andrei Markov, conversely, is the team’s best skater and by most accounts is more vocal with his teammates behind closed doors than you might think, yet he’s obviously not the ideal candidate to meet the daily – and sometimes more frequent – media swarm.
Mike Cammalleri sets the bar high with his work ethic and goal scoring ability, but does that cocksure attitude – no question, a fun and compelling part of his DNA – always rub everyone the right way?
Gionta, who captained Boston College to an NCAA championship in 2001, covers all the bases in terms of being able to lead by example, while also having the street cred to openly and directly address microphones and teammates.
When he tells a teammate he’s not doing enough to help the squad win, the source of the commentary is a Cup winner who should be lauded simply for making the league with his 5-foot-7 frame.
Aside from going off for 48 goals in 2005-06 with the Devils, Gionta has never tallied more than 28 times in a season. Half the reason the Habs are paying him $5 million per year through 2013-14 is for his leadership abilities. Over the past 15 years or so, the Devils made a habit of incorporating former Habs into their organization with the belief they knew a thing or two about winning. The plan worked well and things came full circle when Montreal went out and made former Devils Gomez and Gionta focal points on its team.
Both played with the likes of Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer and Martin Brodeur. Everything Gionta soaked up from those days makes him more than qualified to not just captain the Habs, but any NHL club, really.
Strong as his character is, every aspect of it will be put to the test leading a team that will be extremely hard pressed to meet the lofty/delusional expectations of fans who were treated to a deep post-season excursion just a few short months ago.
My colleague Ryan Kennedy just wrote a story examining the importance of the captaincy for the most recent issue of The Hockey News. In it, former Hab and current Buffalo captain Craig Rivet gave his take on the man who last wore the ‘C’ in Montreal, Saku Koivu.
“It was an extremely difficult position and he handled himself well,” Rivet said. “There were very few guys who wanted to stay in the room (to face the media) and he was there every day.”
More than one Montrealer is qualified to be that guy now, but none on more levels than the guy who now holds one of hockey’s most prestigious and demanding posts.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Tuesday and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesday.
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