This was an offseason full of speculation in New Jersey.
With Jacques Lemaire retiring, who would be the new head coach? Would star forward Zach Parise be healthy this season after missing most of the 2010-11 campaign to injury? Who would wear the coveted “C” as Devils captain after the departure of Jamie Langenbrunner to Dallas?
By the time preseason got underway last week with a 2-1 Devils overtime win over the Rangers, two of those questions had already been answered.
GM Lou Lamoriello hired former Panthers head coach Pete DeBoer on July 19, and Parise is back on the ice, showing no signs that the torn meniscus he suffered last season is affecting his play.
That leaves only one piece of unfinished business.
There have been several names floating around that are said to be candidates to become the ninth captain in Devils history, although coach DeBoer and GM Lamoriello won’t comment on the situation.
The candidates are believed to be Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise, and Patrik Elias. A credible case could be made for all three of these players, but only one is the clear choice.
In addition to being the Devils longest-tenured skater, Patrik Elias holds multiple Devils records, including career points and points in a season. Additionally, he comes into the 2011-2012 season needing only 13 goals to become the franchise’s all time goals leader. Elias also serves as an alternate captain for the Devils.
This impressive resume, along with the fact that Elias got the assist on one of the most historic goals in Devils history, makes Elias the logical choice, right?
Elias probably won’t be the next captain because he’s already worn the “C” on his jersey during the 2006-2007 season, until then-head coach Brent Sutter stripped the title from him and awarded it to Jamie Langenbrunner. It was an upsetting experience for Elias and he has said he’s not interested in the job.
Ilya Kovalchuk was signed to a megadeal before last season and got off to a horrendous start (as did the entire team) before he and the Devils made a miraculous turnaround in the second half.
Although Kovalchuk is one of the game’s purest scorers and serves as an alternate captain, he lacks the longevity with the organization to take the captain’s role so soon.
This leaves Zach Parise, also an alternate captain. He’s been a scorer, a playmaker, and has several years with the organization behind him.Parise has emerged as a leader on and off the ice, and he’s seen by most as the front runner.
Looming over this decision, however, is the fact that Parise will be a free agent at the end of the 2011-2012 season. Would naming Parise captain help keep him in Newark?
One certainty is that Pete DeBoer has an important decision to make. Despite it’s magnitude, it’s a "problem" many NHL coaches would be glad to have.