In team sports, there is a great emphasis put on leadership. One can look at any one of the “Big 4” (MLB, NBA, NFL, and NHL) and find an influential leader among the all-time greats.
The MLB had Derek Jeter. The NBA had Jordan. In the NFL, Ray Lewis is the undisputed greatest leader of all time.
Hockey’s had many, and all of them are up for debate. Names that come to mind are Scott Stevens, Joe Sakic, Ted Lindsay, Nik Lidstrom, and the list goes on. The interesting thing about it is that while all of the aforementioned players are Hall of Famers, you won’t find many people arguing that Sakic was better than Gretzky or Lemieux, that Lidstrom was better than Bobby Orr.
Michael Jordan is widely regarded as the greatest player to ever step on the basketball court, plenty of people see Derek Jeter as the best shortstop to play ever to play the game, and Ray Lewis stands alone as the greatest middle linebacker in NFL history. So why is it that hockey’s best leaders never seem to be in the GOAT conversation?
It could be that their leadership ability stems from being able to do all things well, rather than just one. Sakic never won the Rocket Richard Trophy or the Art Ross, but he finished his career with a +30 rating, despite going a combined -102 in his first three seasons, in which he scored 273 points.
While no one is questioning the leadership ability of the likes of Gretzky and Lemieux, it’s usually the players slightly behind them in terms of skill that are the proverbial generals of the locker room. The guys who everyone looks to when things get tough, because through pain and tribulation, they still bring the fight. At both ends of the ice.
Guys like Mark Stone.
The last year or so has been rough on the Senators organization. They’ve had to deal with crises of ownership, management, coaching, and the locker room. With core talent like Mike Hoffman and Erik Karlsson being shipped out of town, it would have been easy to demand a trade or go through the motions.
Stone has done neither. In fact, he’s stepped up in numerous facets of the game.
He is currently boasting a Corsi rating of 52.37%; the only players with higher ratings than him are Jack Rodewald, Erik Burgdoerfer, and Brady Tkachuk, who have played a combined six games between the three of them. In the last ten days, Stone has more points than anyone else in the NHL, with 10 in his last four games.
While the on-ice production is impressive, it is Mark Stone’s intangibles that are perhaps the greatest testament to his leadership abilities.
A lot of Stone’s points come in big moments, like in last night’s game against the Devils. With Ottawa down early, it was him that evened the score, and turned the tide in Ottawa’s favour.
There’s a lot to be said by his reaction, too.
Of course, scoring goals is exciting, but this type of jubilation is more for his teammates than anything. The guys see this excitement, it’s palpable, and it fires them up to match Stone’s level of intensity.
On the ice, Mark Stone is everything you could ask for in a leader and a captain. Stellar play at both ends of the ice, big production in big moments, and a competitive fire rivalled by few.
But what about off the ice?
Is Mark Stone as much of a leader in the dressing room as he is on the ice?
For an answer to that question, it might best to put a microphone in front of his face.
There have been plenty of moments over the past 367 days, after the Duchene trade, wherein Stone was the guy who stepped up to the plate and faced the media on behalf of his teammates.
When the team’s struggles were becoming apparent last year, it was Stone who spoke candidly and held everyone accountable regarding the Sens’ woes to be caused by “stupidity and frustration”.
When rumours were swirling in mid-September that he was seeking a trade, he quickly put them to rest.
But the one that may be most impressive of all is a moment that transpired just a day ago.
When the whole debacle involving Senators players and an Uber driver, whom undoubtedly had his lunch money taken one too many times, came to light, it was yet another organizational black eye. It was just another kick below the belt for Ottawa and their fans.
The Sens needed someone to face the wolves at the door, and with the courageous Pierre Dorion nowhere in sight, Mark Stone was one of the players to step up and speak on the matter.
Stone said, “It’s disappointing the video got released. We dealt this long before this video was released. As a coaching staff, as management and as players, it was dealt with internally, the way it should be...We’re going to move forward and go from there. We don’t want negative stuff surrounding our team. This is a hiccup, but I think guys have made a great effort to repair relationships. This is only going to make our team stronger moving forward”.
Sure, perhaps he was fed a script by the PR team and thrown in front of the camera. Hockey players are notorious for always saying the right thing, bordering on a robotic recitation of meaningless platitudes, but they don’t always back it up with their play.
Mark Stone had the backs of his teammates and coaches in front of the media, and then went out and had a five-point night to prove it.
There is not a player more valuable to the Ottawa Senators than Mark Stone. He suffers the curse of playing in the nation’s capital, that being that he never gets full credit for the truly phenomenal player that he is.
In the absence of Erik Karlsson, and the nightmare that preceded it, Stone has stood strong. His play has not wavered, his behaviour has remained level, and he’s put his team on his back.
Make no mistake, this is by no means a good Ottawa Senators team. Frankly, it might be one of the worst in the last 10 years. But Mark Stone is lifting them. He’s not the only one, but he’s among the team’s best players night in and night out.
If Pierre Dorion has any sense, and any intention of seeing the Ottawa Senators succeed, he will do everything it takes to get Mark Stone inked long-term. Guy Boucher will put the ‘C’ on his chest, as he should have done the moment Erik Karlsson was traded, and this organization will build around Mark Stone.
He is a force on the ice, a general in the locker room, and he is a sight for a fanbase with very sore eyes.
Mark Stone is the captain of the Ottawa Senators.
It’s time to make that official.