Remembering Saku Koivu and the Search for the Canadiens' New Captain

James SheehyCorrespondent IJuly 7, 2009

SUNRISE, FL - DECEMBER 28:  Saku Koivu #11 of the Montreal Canadiens talks with teammate Josh Gorges #26 just before a face-off against the Florida Panthers at Bank Atlantic Center December 28, 2007 in Sunrise, Florida. The Canadiens defeated the Panthers 5-1.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

I woke up on July 1 with an empty feeling. That morning brought with it a drastic change—the realization that Saku Koivu would no longer be a part of the Montreal Canadiens.

I'm only 23 years old, so while I have watched tape of the legends like Richard, Beliveau, and Dryden, nearly all of my defining moments with the Habs have been with Saku.

Being named the first European captain of the Canadiens in 1999. The deafening ovation he received upon his return from cancer in 2002, and then leading the upset of the No. 1 seeded Bruins. Upsetting the Bruins again in 2004. Nearly being blinded in 2006. Scoring the shootout winner against the Rangers in 2008 to cement the greatest comeback in team history.

Throughout his tenure, Koivu was criticized by certain groups for nearly everything, ranging from his play to his tentativeness to speak French. Fortunately for most fans, actions speak louder than words. Koivu's courage, dedication to the CH, and contributions to the community will never be forgotten. 

As I mentally prepare myself for the first season without Saku since my childhood, all I can say is thank you, merci, and kiitos.

Losing Saku Koivu has been but one of the many stories in Montreal. As any Canadiens fan can tell you, this past month or so has been tumultuous to say the least. 

Acquiring Scott Gomez for Chris Higgins was the trigger that set off the avalanche of changes in La Belle Province. In the frenzied blur that was the beginning of free agency, the Habs were revamped seemingly overnight. 

Leaving with Koivu is the super-talented Alex Kovalev and Alex Tanguay, ordained future captain Mike Komisarek, the surprising Robert Lang, fan favorite Tom Kostopoulos, and half the defence with Mathieu Schneider, Mathieu Dandenault, Francois Bouillon, and Patrice Brisebois. 

Joining Gomez will be heralded sniper Mike Cammalleri, undersized Brian Gionta, over sized Hal Gill, and offensive-minded Jaroslav Spacek.

As I've had time to digest the changes, I'm happy with the way the team is looking. I believe the additions will work well in Jacques Martin's system.

Many fans were screaming for change after the meltdown of the centennial season, and change is exactly what they got. However, most were unprepared for the level of change that transpired.

The old saying goes, "If it isn't broken, don't fix it." Well, Bob Gainey looked at the team and decided—if it is broken, fix it completely.

I wasn't an advocate for major change, but I agree with the idea that if change is to occur, it's better to change completely rather than half heartedly. 

My level of optimism for the upcoming season is met only by the depth of uncertainty regarding the team's leadership going forward. Andrei Markov is the only returning player who wore a letter regularly, and the three players who had been discussed as possible captains after Koivu are no longer with the team: Alex Kovalev, Mike Komisarek, and Chris Higgins. 

Who will be the next captain of the Montreal Canadiens?

The obvious suggestion is Andrei Markov. He's worn the A, and is the club's best player. But it isn't known whether he would accept it.

Naturally soft-spoken and linguistically limited, Markov is more of a lead-by-example type of player. That isn't a bad thing, but the captain should be someone vocal enough to address any issues that arise.

Another popular suggestion has been newcomer Scott Gomez. He's worn the A with the New York Rangers and before that the New Jersey Devils, with whom he won two Stanley Cups.

But even New York isn't like the fishbowl that is Montreal. Considering the amount of pressure on Gomez—partly due to his contract—to immediately step in and perform, it might be unfair to throw on the additional stress of replacing the second longest serving captain in team history. 

A candidate that should be receiving more discussion is Josh Gorges. Though he has only been with the team for two-and-a-half seasons, Gorges has been one of the Canadiens' most improved players each year.

He played his best hockey with the added pressure of first line duty with Markov when Komisarek went down with injuries, he was second on the team in plus minus this past season, put up 23 points, and is solid in his own end. 

But more important than his skills are the intangibles that he brings. He is articulate and witty in his interviews, he never makes excuses, and he seems to be well liked within the locker-room, (the guys "sacrificing" his stick to end his goal drought is one example for those that remember). Not the best fighter, he's still willing to stand up for his teammates. 

Additionally, you can tell he's willing to sacrifice to win games. He never quits on the play while constantly battling larger players. Gorges may get knocked down, but gets back up and goes right back after the guy.

One moment that stands out for me, and many Habs fans may remember, was in the last 15 or so games of the season (the exact game escapes me at the moment). On the penalty kill, Gorges blocked two shots in succession, and limping over to the loose puck, managed to clear the zone. That's the kind of play I expect a captain to make.

Luckily for us, none of our opinions have any impact. The players will vote on who becomes captain, and as Jacques Martin has said, if no one proves themselves, he has no problem starting the season without a declared captain until one emerges. 

So as we anticipate and guess who will be the next captain, all we can do is sit and wait, and spend hours on articles that will only be read by a few. Thanks for taking the time.