CALEDON, ONT. - On the eve of the Montreal Canadiens season opener, all the talk surrounded the lack of a captain and the lack of a Kostitsyn.
And the general consensus around the team was that they could live without both of them.
In a move that may very well have Rocket Richard rolling in his grave, the Canadiens have elected to start the season without a captain for what is believed to be the first time in their illustrious history. Meanwhile, winger Sergei Kostitsyn elected to refuse to report to the Hamilton Bulldogs after being assigned to the Canadiens’ American League farm team to start the season.
There was no word on what Kostitsyn’s immediate plans are, but they apparently do not include bolting to the Kontinental League, at least not yet. The younger brother of Canadiens left winger Andrei Kostitsyn has requested a trade from the Canadiens and has been suspended by the team.
Sergei Kostitsyn, 22, is in the last year of an entry-level contract that would pay him $817,000 (U.S.) if he were to play in the NHL and hit all of his performance bonuses, but his salary drops to $65,000 (Cdn.) in the minors. Kostitsyn had not performed well during training camp and the fact he does not have to clear waivers to be sent down made the decision easier for the Canadiens.
“I can’t speak for Sergei,” said Canadiens coach Jacques Martin. “We’ve indicated, as an organization, what our expectations are of him and it’s up to him to make those decisions. (We’re) disappointed, but at the same time it’s his prerogative. As an organization, we believe in certain standards and we believe in discipline and hopefully he’ll make some good decisions.”
As far as the captaincy is concerned, the Canadiens reasoned that with so many new players on the team it would not be a good idea to rush into naming one of them captain. Instead, Martin named Andrei Markov and newcomers Brian Gionta and Hal Gill assistant captains Monday night and will appoint a number of players to a leadership group with which he will consult from time to time on matters involving the team.
There were reports Markov, the only player remaining from last year’s team who had a letter on his sweater, had turned down the captaincy, something Martin vehemently denied.
Neither Martin nor Gainey ruled out the possibility of naming a captain if a clear leader emerges at some point during this season. If they don’t, it would mark the first time in the Canadiens’ 100-year history where they have gone an entire season without a captain. Toe Blake and goalie Bill Durnan shared the duties in 1947-48, as did Guy Carbonneau and Chris Chelios in 1989-90 and Kirk Muller and Mike Keane in 1994-95.
For an organization that has boasted an array of captains that includes Toe Blake, Butch Bouchard, Rocket Richard, Jean Beliveau, Yvan Cournoyer, Guy Carbonneau and Bob Gainey, this represents something of a departure.
But it’s certainly not without precedent, particularly in today’s NHL. In fact, the Canadiens’ opponent in their first game, the Toronto Maple Leafs, also announced they’ll be going with three alternate captains this season.
“The fact that we’re not announcing a captain is no reflection that we’re not happy with the people we have as leaders,” Martin said. “We feel we have several qualified and good individuals who could be captain, but we’ve opted at this point to go with a group that will serve that purpose.”
STOKED TO KICK OFF NEW SEASON
The Montreal Canadiens entered last season with lofty expectations placed upon their shoulders. But with a string of injuries to key members of the team, including Carey Price, Robert Lang and Alex Tanguay, the centennial season did not play out the way the club had hoped.
This summer, the winds of change blew through Montreal and when the dust settled the team looked drastically different.
I caught up with the new-look Habs as they prepared for the beginning of the 2009-10 season.
PRODUCER: Ted Cooper
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear Wednesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.
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