As Pittsburgh Penguins fans know, Sidney Crosby will be the captain of the Penguins until he leaves the team or retires. Since Crosby’s spot is secure for at least three more years, he will need a good crew of fellow leaders behind him.
Here are five Penguins players who, in my opinion, are strong choices to serve as alternate captains for the 2010-2011 season.
This article does not consider who was an alternate captain at any point last year. The choices were made based on each player’s contributions to the team in the time they have been in Pittsburgh.
Cooke, an unrestricted free agent after the 2009-2010 season, was re-signed to a three-year contract during the offseason.
He is a veteran of over 700 NHL games. Prior to coming to the Penguins, he spent the majority of his career with the Vancouver Canucks and played a brief stint with the Washington Capitals in 2007-2008 after being traded from Vancouver.
In the last two seasons, Cooke has posted 61 points in 155 games. He has also compiled 207 penalty minutes and is one of the Penguins’ top heavyweights.
Last year, he set career highs for postseason goals (four) and regular season goals (15). He was also a key part of a line with Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy.
Cooke will be a good choice for alternate captain because he is not afraid to stick up for his teammates. He has also spoken about how dedicated he is to the Penguins franchise for both personal and professional reasons.
Kunitz was traded to the Penguins from the Anaheim Ducks in 2009 as the Pens struggled to start fresh and make a playoff push in the middle of the season. He had an almost instant impact, scoring 18 points in 20 games and 14 points in 24 playoff games.
This year, he had 32 points in 50 games and 11 points in 13 playoff games. He scores nearly a point per game and is a two-time Stanley Cup Champion (with the Ducks in 2007 and the Penguins in 2009). Although he had an injury-shortened season, those are still respectable numbers.
Kunitz is a strong defensive forward and has only posted a negative plus/minus rating once in his career. He is under contract with Pittsburgh for two more years. He may not be the top scorer on the team, but he can always be counted on to provide points where needed.
Rupp is entering the second year of a two-year contract with the Penguins.
Prior to coming to Pittsburgh, Rupp spent several years with the New Jersey Devils, where he won a Stanley Cup in 2003. In his last three years in New Jersey, he had posted just 27 points in 212 games.
However, in his first year in a Penguins uniform, he posted 19 points in 81 games, almost topping his total from 2006-2009. He also scored his first career hat trick in a November victory against the New York Rangers and was second on the Penguins with 198 hits.
Rupp does not have longevity on his side like Kunitz and Cooke have, but that should not be an obstacle in making him an alternate captain. He can be a hero when he needs to be, as evidenced when he scored three points in Game Seven of the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals.
I believe Brooks Orpik should definitely have an “A” on his uniform this year.
Orpik has been improving his point total every year for the last three years. This year, he had a career high 25 points. He played for Team USA in his first Olympic tournament and was part of a Cinderella squad that earned a silver medal.
Orpik is most famous among Penguins fans for dishing out “Free Candy” when he delivers hits to opposing players. His 255 hits were ranked sixth in the NHL and first among Penguins players. He was also ranked second among postseason participants with 47 hits.
Aside from his physical play, Orpik is not afraid to be honest. He gained a reputation for being candid in his press conferences when the team played poorly. Some fans felt he was going too far, but in my mind, it is always refreshing to hear someone tell it like it is.
And if it makes the Penguins better, who can really complain?
Staal has posted back-to-back 40-point seasons, finishing both the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 seasons with 49 points. He also improved his plus/minus rating, going from a plus-five in 2008-2009 to a plus-19 this year.
He was injured early in the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Montreal Canadiens but came back after missing only two games. He finished the postseason with five points in 11 games.
He was also nominated for the Selke Trophy but lost to Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings, who claimed the award for the third straight year.
Staal will miss the beginning of the season due to a setback from the foot injury he suffered in the playoffs.
However, if Dan Bylsma plans on rotating alternate captains, he should keep Staal in mind. His dedication to the team and his willingness to play through pain was a great example for his teammates even though he wasn’t even wearing a letter at the time.
Pascal Dupuis: Dupuis came to the Penguins in 2008 in a trade with the Atlanta Thrashers. He has improved his point total since his trade and is one of the team’s most underrated players.
Paul Martin: Martin signed a five-year contract with the Penguins this offseason. He played alongside Mike Rupp in New Jersey and is a consistent 20-30 point scorer.