While it pains me to start off this post with a reference to he-who-shall-not-be-named (until-retirement, at least), I believe it’s fair to say that our previous captain’s departure last season affected the club more than management expected. Losing him to the Red Wings left a void that nobody on the team seemed to be able to fill, in particular newly anointed captain Jason Spezza. Unfortunately, now it’s beginning to sound like Spezza may not be around next year, despite the fact that the team could likely use his skills and some continuity in the leadership sense. I and others here at S7S have already speculated about who he might be traded for; this post is more about potential candidates for the captaincy should he moved, and the Sens are forced to name a second captain in as many years.
Last year, once it was clear a new captain would be needed, I felt Chris Phillips, not Spezza, should have been named the captain. This was simply due to the fact that he was the most experienced member of the group, with over 1,000 NHL games under his belt; also, while his minutes have been reduced in recent years, he still plays a role on the penalty kill and in helping younger defensemen develop. As he will likely retire a Senator in the near future, this would have been a good way to allow some of the younger players, who are becoming team leaders but not necessarily experienced enough to become team captain, to be fully ready when the time came in a couple of years.
Unfortunately, despite his contract extension, given the decline in his play over the past season, it doesn’t seem like a good idea to give the captaincy to someone who may have his ice time reduced even further moving forward. Therefore, I don’t feel he is the right person for the "C" anymore.
I know "ChrisNeilforCaptain" will disagree with me on my next point, but while Chris Neil has also been with the team for a long time and is generally seen as a team leader, I don’t feel that anyone wearing a letter on their sweater should be leading the way to the penalty box. Neil is someone that every GM would want on their team come playoff time due to his toughness and compete level, but that doesn’t mean that he’s fit for the captaincy, particularly given the large number of penalties he takes. So this rules him out as well. Spezza, Phillips and Neil are all that is left of the "old guard" on the team, so this means the official change from the old era to a new era would then be taking place.
I believe our team has a number of possible future captains…but not players ready to step into the role quite yet. Personally, I am not a fan of putting players who are still developing into the role of captain, as this takes their focus away from improving their play and "completing their game" to trying to support and lead their teammates. As the Sens have a young team, I feel this is the main issue here, as some players clearly have potential, but are still figuring themselves out.
This "future leadership" group includes a number of players. There is Eric Karlsson, who yet again led the league’s defensemen in scoring. There is Kyle Turris, who took a major step forward this year, improving his overall point production while playing a strong two-way game. Last but not least, there is Bobby Ryan, who was looking like he could be in the top tier of the league in scoring, until tapering off due to playing through an injury for most of the season. However, personally, I do not feel any of them are ready to lead the team yet. Turris only 24 and just completed his first full season with the club; Karlsson, while an elite player, still has room to improve his play in his own end and could afford to focus on that for a year or two; and Ryan has only been with the team for one year. Therefore I feel they are all good candidates for an "A"….but not the "C."
One of the things that made our previous captain effective was the fact that he always seemed to be able to produce points under pressure and come up with a big goal if the team needed it. So, if it isn’t going to be one of the team’s main point producers leading the way as captain, then who’s it going to be? This is where things become tough, because the aforementioned players are basically our best players, and there aren’t many left to take the reigns.
There are two more issues to consider when addressing team captaincy:
1. Years with the team: In general, I feel it is inappropriate to make someone captain who just joined a team. Unless a player is a perennial all-star veteran, or has obviously seized the room and is looked up to by the entire team in a very short period of time, I feel it is hard for a player to lead a team he doesn’t really know yet.
2. Contract status: If a player only has one year left on his contract and it is not clear if management wants to, or will be able to, bring them back with a contract extension, there is the possibility the captaincy could continue rotating constantly.
Clarke MacArthur, who fit in perfectly beside Turris in his first year in the city, doesn’t quite fall into the "young and developing" category, and exhibited many of the traits desired in a captain. However, both of the issues above come in to play when thinking about having him as captain. If he is not signed to an extension, he would be another "one and done" captain. He has also only played one year with the team.
To me, although he also currently only has one year left on his contract, this leaves one (mostly) logical choice: Marc Methot.
From what I’ve seen in the media, Methot seems to be one of the most vocal leaders in the dressing room, although not being in the dressing room I can’t completely confirm this. He seems to be well respected by his teammates, opponents, and other people around the league, and does not take a lot of penalties. He’s also one of the more fan and media-savvy members of the group, active on Twitter and personable to the media and fans (I have two friends that have met him, and both said he was very friendly and outgoing). At 28, he still has a few good years in front of him, and the only person on the ice more often than him is Eric Karlsson. Last but not least, he’s a local boy- personally, I feel it would be great to have someone actually from Ottawa leading the Senators.
Of course, this is all dependant on Murray re-signing him in the near future, but looking at the current roster, he seems to fit the bill for captain quite well. If Spezza is moved, what I’d like to see is Methot re-signed and designated captain, with Phillips and Turris as assistants. Then, when Phillips moves on, either Karlsson or MacArthur replaces him, and then, further on down the road, one of the two (or Turris) becomes captain. This would allow our best players to focus on scoring points and refining their play, while also preparing to take on more leadership responsibility in the future.
I’ve been mulling this over since hearing Spezza’s likeness has been removed from future advertising, and would be curious to see what the rest of you think- let me know in the comments!
Until next time, cheers!