Colorado Avalanche: Who Will Be the Team's Next Captain?
Though they are just starting to realize it, Colorado Avalanche fans have certainly been spoiled over the years. Two Stanley Cups. Two President's Trophies. Eight division championships.
Many other NHL clubs can only dream of that kind of success in a 15-year period.
But there is a common factor in many of the team's accomplishments, and that is her captain.
True, the team is just that—a team made up of many pieces. But when you have a great leader, you have a much greater chance at success.
Let's take a look at the past captains of the Avalanche and who can be expected to take the "C" for the 2011-12 season.
Joe Sakic: 1995-2009
Joe Sakic is quite simply the most famous player ever to play for the Colorado Avalanche.
The team has been graced by the presence of other superstars like Patrick Roy and Peter Forsberg, but Sakic's name will forever be associated with greatness and the Colorado Avalanche.
Sakic was named captain of the Quebec Nordiques in 1992, and he carried that title with him when the team moved to Denver.
His play on the ice was nothing short of spectacular. He consistently broke 100 points per season and was an NHL All-Star 13 times. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1996 and currently sits in eighth place on the all-time NHL scoring list.
Sakic defined the role of a "quiet leader." He was quiet on the ice and in the locker room but always knew how to get a message across to his team. They knew how to follow him and trusted him completely.
He most liked to lead by example, as shown by his level of play over a 20-year career.
Adam Foote: 2009-2011
Although not quite polar opposites, Adam Foote was a different kind of player than Sakic, and it carried over to his leadership traits.
Foote was the epitome of a shutdown defenseman. Never the type to score, opposing teams simply hated to play against him.
Being as though he was 38 when he was named captain, Foote was able to bring a wealth of maturity and knowledge to the team.
He helped mentor the younger players, teaching them not only how to play the game, but how to respond when things were not going right. He also housed young star Matt Duchene in his first couple years with the team, showing him the in's and out's of being a successful hockey player.
His age didn't stop him from playing the way he always had, though. Until his final game with the Avalanche, Foote played his hardest every shift, fighting tooth and nail against the opposition.
He showed the team how to give 100 percent, every shift, every game.
Paul Stastny has had his name thrown around the captain discussion table multiple times over the past few years. When Foote was named captain, Stastny wasn't without his votes. Many hoped the team would name a young star the team's captain, in the mold of Joe Sakic.
But things haven't quite panned out that way over the past couple of years.
Stastny is a very good player, but there have been times where his passion and intensity have been questioned—two things you do not want to be in doubt when it comes to the team's captain.
That being said, Stastny is the eldest of the young stars on the team and has bloodline to boot. (His father, Peter, was captain of the Nordiques from 1985-1990.) Additionally, he has experience serving as the team's alternate captain.
Stanstny's leadership qualities may not be up to par with a couple other players on the team, but he certainly will get a good look when management sits down to discuss who is the next captain.
I would put Stastny's chances at 40-50 percent.
Matt Duchene is the team's most exciting young star.
And who would blame them? Pittsburgh went to the Stanley Cup finals twice in a row—winning once and Chicago won the Cup in 2010. Oh, and it also worked with some guy named Sakic.
The argument against Duchene taking the captaincy is obviously his age. He is 20 years old—one year older than Crosby when he was named captain.
But he has a passion for the game that is contagious, and he grew up a huge fan for the team he currently plays on.
It seems only logical that the next step in his career is to give him a leadership role. But will that be an "A" on the sweater or the "C"?
I would say the chances are about 50/50 that Duchene is named team captain.
Milan Hejduk is the last remaining member of the 2001 Stanley Cup Championship team.
His playoff experience alone would qualify him to be the captain of the Avalanche.
But in a career that is winding down, how much responsibility does Hejduk want to take on?
Hejduk is a player in the mold of Joe Sakic—quiet, calm and smooth on the ice. But he doesn't possess the same leadership traits that made Sakic great. And he doesn't possess the same skills that set Sakic apart from the rest of the NHL.
He has served as an alternate captain for years, so he knows what is required of the captain. But it may be up to him whether or not he wants to take on the role. He would be happy sticking on the wing, playing out his days in an Avalanche uniform in relative peace.
Perhaps, the only situation that would see Hejduk sporting the captain's "C" would be if the team sat him down and explained that they wanted to make Duchene the captain but wanted to give him another year or two to develop before putting him in a leadership role, then asked Hejduk to be the team captain until Duchene was ready.
Being so loyal to the team, he would undoubtedly accept. The only logical choice to act as a captain for a short time-frame (one to two years) would be Hejduk, and he knows that.
However, if Duchene is going to ascend to the captaincy, now is a good a time as any, so I would put the chances of "The Duke" becoming captain at about 20-30 percent.
Ryan O'Reilly was said to have "captain material" written all over him when he was drafted by the Avalanche in the second round of the 2009 draft. He certainly stormed out of the gates when the 2009-2010 season started. O'Reilly led fellow rookie Matt Duchene in scoring months into the season.
His play tapered off, though, and he has been developing like any other 20-year-old forward. That's not to say he hasn't played a key role with the team, though.
Primarily used as a third line center, O'Reilly has developed into a gritty forward, spending time on the penalty kill unit and adding a touch of scoring to his game.
His leadership potential is not as obvious as guys like Duchene or Johnson, though, and that may hinder his chances at having a real shot toward becoming the captain.
I would peg O'Reilly's chances at 10-20 percent.
Erik Johnson is the most ready player on the team to take on the captaincy.
He is a young, stud defenseman whom you build your team around, much like Chris Pronger.
The only problem with Johnson is that he is a relative newcomer to the Avalanche, having only played in 22 games for the burgundy and blue after coming over from St. Louis late last season.
But it cannot be ignored that Johnson is a former No. 1 overall draft pick, and his demeanor shows that. He is a natural born leader, with a fire and pride that will fuel his game for years to come.
Adrian Dater of the Denver Post asked Johnson about potentially being named team captain, and he had this to say: "That would be a big honor, but that's up to the coaching staff and management. But being a leader is definitely something I take pride in, and of course that's something you'd accept with open arms. I just have to go about my business in the right way, and there's plenty of guys on our team who could take that role."
The guy has a confidence about him but also a humility that makes for a great captain.
At age 23, Johnson is in a prime position to undertake the leadership role for the team.
I would put Johnson's odds at 50/50, same as Duchene.
But if I were to put money on one of the two, I would choose Johnson. He is everything you want in your captain, and he is ready and willing to take on the responsibility and lead this team.