Zach Parise Named Captain of Team USA, but Was He the Best Choice?

Dave LozoNHL National Lead WriterJanuary 31, 2014

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Minnesota Wild left wing and chocolate milk enthusiast Zach Parise was named captain of the U.S. men's Olympic hockey team Friday. It brought an end to a monthlong saga in which…well, no one really cared who would wear the "C" for Team USA.

General manager David Poile bestowed alternate captain status to Kings forward Dustin Brown and Wild defenseman Ryan Suter. However, unlike in olden times, it doesn't mean they committed adultery. 

Parise told Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune he was honored to be named captain.

"I was pretty thrilled the other day to get that call from Coach (Dan) Bylsma," Parise said. "I was lucky enough to join an elite list of players who has captained Team USA.

"I don't think our team is going to be lacking in leadership at all. There are plenty of guys who wear letters with their teams. Hopefully we can put on another good show like we did in Vancouver."

Poile referenced the ever-popular hockey phrase "leadership group" when mentioning Parise, Brown, Suter, Ryan Callahan of the Rangers and David Backes of the Blues. That's a coach or manager's fancy way of saying, "Look, we've got a lot of guys in this locker room who have great leadership qualities so it doesn't matter who gets the ceremonial letters on their sweaters."

Sometimes it's lip service, but in this case of Team USA, it really doesn't matter that Parise will serve as captain. We're not talking about the captain of an NHL team; but the captain of a two-week all-star team that has no shortage of players who have served as leaders for their club teams.

But since we in the media only serve our purpose when casting judgment on sports teams and their players, was Parise the right choice for Team USA? Absolutely not.

The five players Poile mentioned—Parise, Brown, Suter, Callahan and Backes—were the top candidates, but a quick look at their captain qualities show the general manager chose the least deserving of the group.

Sports Leadership Statistical Consortium

Many people believe advanced statistics can only quantify what happens on the ice, but that's not true. Those numbers from the Sports Leadership Statistical Consortium (an entirely real and legitimate company) show who is strongest in each of the four most important categories for any captain. 

As we can plainly see, Backes is the strongest leader of the five, yet won't wear a letter. Everyone else is very close in those intangible categories of grit and heart, but clearly Parise's love and endorsement of chocolate milk was the deciding factor in him being named captain.

Poile's choices to wear the "C" and "A" are quite strange even if you ignore the statistical "data." Parise and Suter are Wild teammates and neither is captain of their team. Giving Brown the "A" is fine, as he has been Kings captain since 2008, but wouldn't Backes have been the better choice to have an "A" or even a "C" on his jersey?

Backes has been the captain of the Blues since 2011 and proved during the run-up to the 2010 Olympics that he's willing to punch Canadians in the face. It's that type of leadership, along with his outstanding skill as a forward, that seemed to make him a favorite to be captain. He commands respect on and off the ice, yet Poile didn't feel the same way.

If Backes had gotten on board with the powerful chocolate milk lobby, would that have helped his chances? Perhaps.

In all seriousness, Parise being named captain won't have any bearing on whether Team USA wins gold or fails to medal. The Americans will be highly motivated after losing the gold-medal game to Canada four years ago, and a quiet leader like Parise is all the team needs. Team USA will have a self-policing locker room that won't require a fiery leader. 

Having five fine leaders from which to choose is a problem almost every other country at the Olympics wishes it had.


Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveLozo.