Montreal Canadiens Search for a 28th Captain

Matt EichelSenior Writer ISeptember 7, 2009

UNIONDALE, NY - APRIL 02: Andrei MArkov #79 (L) and Saku Koivu #11 (R) of the Montreal Canadiens celebrate a second period goal against the New York Islanders on April 2, 2009 at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. The Canadiens defeated the Islanders 5-1. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Leadership is a funny thing in Montreal.

You can be either a raving success and the love of the city or you can be the scapegoat and have your skates booed off of the ice shift after every shift.

It's a teetering tight-rope balance that some have managed to walk across without getting burned, while others were simply not up to the fans' expectations.

When you ask a Montreal fan about Saku Koivu, you may get an answer such as, "Saku did great things for the city" or "He was the heart and soul of the Canadiens for years."

Yet something vital is missing.

Saku Koivu never won a Stanley Cup with that legendary captaincy letter on his left shoulder. As the longest-serving captain, along with the great Jean Beliveau with nine seasons as the leader, Koivu never once made it to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Fans in Montreal expect a leader to lead their team to greatness and nothing else. At least that's what was the case in the 1950's, 60's, 70's, and to a lesser extent 80's and 90's.

Have Montreal fans gone soft on their captains?

No. They simply have not had a great leader in a while and Koivu embodied that "heart of a warrior" mentality that accompanies the Canadiens' captaincy.

To have a great leader, he must be confident and supported well by a cast that is able to aid the team along in the quest for a championship.

Through nine seasons in Montreal, the best the Canadiens could find for Koivu went from Brian Savage, to Martin Rucinsky, to Michael Ryder, to Alex Kovalev.

All were flashes in the pan in the sense of their careers as Canadiens (with the exception, at times, of Kovalev).

Unlike Koivu, other Canadiens' captains had a great supporting cast. 

Rocket Richard had Henri Richard, Boom Boom Geoffrion, Doug Harvey, and Jacques Plante. 

Jean Beliveau had Dickie Moore, Gump Worsley, and Jacques Laperriere.

Yvan Cournoyer had Ken Dryden, Larry Robinson, Serge Savard, and Guy Lafleur.

In this day and age in the NHL, having a supporting cast can make or break a team. If the team gels, the season can go well. If injuries hit and the team does not gel, a season can go south.

Yet as the first search for a captain begins, Canadiens fans can only hope and pray that a repeat of the mid-1990's constant captain change will not happen again, when the Canadiens traded five of their captains in six seasons.

On the current roster, Andrei Markov has been mentioned as a strong contender for the vacant captaincy. Montreal Gazette's Red Fisher agrees that Markov does not merely inherit the captaincy, but deserves it.

Pressure? Of course, especially since Markov would be the second European captain in franchise history. 

But as the offseason winds down and training camp is just around the corner, fans have to start asking themselves, who is our leader?

Never before has there been so much debate about who will take over the reigns as the Canadiens' captain. There has always been a leader that succeeded the last.

Canadiens' legend Henri Richard commented that everyone on the ice should be a captain and the letter is merely a symbolic gesture.

Perhaps Richard, who once wore the letter, is right. But as Beliveau succeeded Richard, Cournoyer succeeded Beliveau, and Savard and Gainey succeeded Cournoyer, the Canadiens' captaincy is one of the ultimate leadership positions in professional sports.

And the Canadiens are not taking this decision lightly.