Colorado Avalanche: Assuming Adam Foote Retires, Who Will Be the Next Captain?

Kevin GoffContributor IMarch 24, 2011

Colorado Avalanche: Assuming Adam Foote Retires, Who Will Be the Next Captain?

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    Adam Foote may be one of the most under appreciated defensemen in the history of the game.  He has always been one of the top defensemen on his respective teams, charged with going out against his opponent's best players and shutting them down, something he's absolutely excelled at.

    He's a physical, hard-nosed, smooth-skating defenseman.  He doesn't put up big numbers because that's not his job, but he does still chip in offensively in key moments.

    Now, it seems that at the end of his 19th year as an NHL player, and second as captain of the Colorado Avalanche, Adam Foote plans to retire at the end of this season. 

    This marks the end of a stellar career that includes two Stanley Cups, an Olympic Gold Medal and a Hockey World Cup Championship.

    His numbers are not gaudy, but still good.  He has played in 1,153 games, scored 66 goals, tallied 242 assists and racked up 1,534 penalty minutes. 

    Foote's career plus-99 rating is an all too telling stat that shows how truly effective he has been as a shutdown defenseman. For 19 years in the league, that is unbelievably good.

    With Foote seemingly set on retiring, it now begs the question, who will be the next captain of the Colorado Avalanche?  Let's have a look at some of the possibilities.

Paul Stastny

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    Paul Stastny has worn an "A" on his sweater for the last couple seasons and would make a great choice as a captain. 

    Stastny is a leader on the team and one of the best offensive producers the Avalanche has.  He is also the guy they go to whenever they need a faceoff win.  He has taken far more faceoffs than anybody on the team, which shows how much faith the coaching staff has in him.

    Also, during the first 10-game losing streak the Avalanche went through, Stastny brought the whole team together during a practice to address them.  He gave the team a "we're all in this together, and the only way we're going to get out of this is together" speech. 

    Yes, Stastny's father, Peter Stastny of the Quebec Nordiques, has made some loaded statements that were very critical of the Avalanche front office, but this is still the NHL.  Paul Stastny is the only Stastny that matters to the Avalanche, and he has never done anything but play his guts out for the Avalanche, win or lose.  He's a professional and he might be the next captain for the Avalanche.

Milan Hejduk

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    Milan Hejduk has worn the other "A" on his sweater for the whole year and makes a very good case for captaincy.

    Hejduk just played in his 900th NHL game, all with the Avalanche, and has demonstrated time and again how committed he is to this organization.  He very easily could have waived his no-trade clause this year so that he could help a contender get over the top, but he wants to be in Denver.

    Hejduk already leads in a similar manner to Joe Sakic.  Sakic was never a vocal guy, he just went about his business in a professional manner and it rubbed off on all of his teammates.  Hejduk is definitely not vocal, but has that same type of feeling.  Players know that they can count on Hejduk to be there and to do what is necessary for the team.

    In the end, I don't think that Hejduk really wants to be captain.  I think if it was given to him he would accept it with humility, but I think he's comfortable in the role that he has right now.

John-Michael Liles

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    Liles is another guy who has never played a game for any other club other than the Colorado Avalanche.  He's only a little less than 400 games behind Hejduk in the games played category, but he's definitely a tried and true veteran.

    Liles is definitely another lead-by-example style of player.  He goes about his business and never complains about anything.  This has been evident about Liles from day one of his time with the Avalanche, but came to the forefront in the last two years.

    Last season, Liles spent a lot of time in the Joe Sacco doghouse, being a healthy scratch in several games.  Liles could have gotten upset, quit on the team, made critical comments about the coach, etc...  Liles never did anything other than say, "I know what I need to do to get back into the lineup, and it's up to me to do what is necessary."  He never made excuses, he just did what needed to be done.

    This year, Liles has been a huge leader on the team, even wearing an "A" for a couple of games earlier in the season.  Liles is actually Adrian Dater's (Avalanche Beat-Writer for the Denver Post) pick to be the next captain for the Avalanche, especially given how he handled the trade deadline drama of this past year.

Matt Duchene

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    Duchene is currently leading the Avalanche in goals scored (25) and points (58).  When Duchene is on his game, he is like lightning in a bottle and can strike at any time.

    During the course of the year, Duchene has been the catalyst for a lot of very positive things.  Duchene was scoring left and right during the six-game win streak earlier in the year and has been fairly consistent this year.

    The Avalanche organization is most likely grooming him to be captain of this team at some point, but many might believe that next year could be too soon, though he has handled himself very well under the great expectations he brought with him.

    Matt Duchene will be the captain at some point, but will it be next year?  We shall see.

David Jones

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    David Jones has FINALLY been able to get a full season under his belt this year, and what a great season he has had.  Despite the lack of success of the team as a whole, Jones has really come out and shown his ability to be an elite power forward in this league.

    The most telling moment of Jones' year came after an embarrassing home loss and Jones showed his frustration for the first time.  Avalanche fans saw a guy who was tired of losing and wanted to know when the rest of the team was going to get tired of losing, too.  He called out everybody, including himself, saying that they all needed to step up and play like they cared and not just give up after a couple of goals against.  This is what a leader does: Tell it like it is.

    Jones' 24 goals is second on the team, and, depending on how the last few games of the year goes, it is still conceivable that he breaks the 30-goal mark. 

    Jones will be a leader as this team goes along, but will he be captain?

Ryan O'Byrne

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    O'Byrne represents something that the Avalanche want to posses as a whole: Toughness and grit.  The Avalanche want to be a big team that people don't want to go into the corners against, and O'Byrne has been showing that ever since he was acquired from Montreal earlier this year.

    O'Byrne wore an "A" a couple of games ago when both Stastny and Hejduk were out with injuries.  He earned that by showing all kinds of leadership and consistency throughout the year.

    O'Byrne has easily been the most consistent defenseman on the team this year and has always gone about his business in a no nonsense matter. 

    He's also shown his toughness throughout the season.  Nothing can better show this than when he took a skate to the face from Taylor Hall and finished his shift while he was gushing blood from his face.  That took over 100 stitches to close, by the way.

    O'Byrne is definitely a leader on the blue line, but will he be the leader of the Avalanche?

Erik Johnson

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    Since being acquired from St. Louis, Erik Johnson has arguably been the best player on the team.  He has been solid defensively and very active offensively.

    Johnson also found an "A" on his sweater during Hejduk and Stastny's injuries.  Having been on the team for such a short time, that says a considerable amount about what the team thinks of him and his leadership abilities.

    The Avalanche have said that they are planning to make Johnson a cornerstone of this franchise for years to come, and his talents have shown that he is somebody a franchise can build around.  It is possible that this kind of statement can lead to a captaincy, but is 20 some games really enough to give somebody the "C"?

Cody McLeod

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    Yeah, I know, but I put McLeod on this list because he was given an "A" in the last week when Stastny and Hejduk were injured. 

    True, the Highlander's primary function on the team is not really to be a big time leader. But rather than go knock the daylights out of somebody, he has shown leadership. 

    McLeod does have some offensive ability, though he rarely gets to show it.  His value isn't about his offense, his value comes from his ability to provide his team with energy in moments where energy is a necessity.

    When a big hit needs to happen, McLeod is the guy to go do it.  When somebody needs to stand up for their teammate, McLeod is the guy to do it.  McLeod is frequently on a line that is providing the most energy for his team, and that is not a coincidence. 

    Obviously, it is incredibly unlikely that McLeod will be named the next captain, but he is still a valuable player on the team.

So Who's It Going to Be?

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    In the end, I believe that the "C" will go to John-Michael Liles.  He comes to play every single night and does absolutely every single thing that is asked of him without complaint.  He knows his role on the team and plays it very well.

    He provides his team with energy and never makes excuses for anything that happens. 

    He's humble, self-depricating at times and leads by example. 

    He is respected in the locker room and loved in the community.  There was a huge movement on Twitter during the trade deadline where people tagged every single one of their tweets with "#DontTradeLiles."

    Liles would represent the organization very well, continue to do his job just like he always does, lead by example and serve the Avalanche players and fans very well as the next captain of the team.