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Dave Lozo's Bag Skate: How Bad Is It When a Team Doesn't Have a Captain?

Dave Lozo@@davelozoNHL National Lead WriterSeptember 16, 2014

NEWARK, NJ - SEPTEMBER 09: P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens interacts with students during the NHL and NHLPA Future Goals Program Launch at Science Park High School on September 9, 2014 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
Andy Marlin/Getty Images

Ask a player, coach or general manager about a vacant captaincy, and you will likely hear a form of one of these three quotes, if not all of them:

"You don't need a letter on your sweater to be a leader."

"We have a strong leadership group and a lot of guys would make a great captain."

"It would be an honor to wear the 'C,' but we have a lot of leaders in our room."

There are a lot of hockey cliches in the world, some of which are so dangerous that they have the ability to cause a stroke-inducing eye roll if you are not prepared for them. And while these statements have been parroted for years, there is a whole lot of truth in them.

That's what makes the Montreal Canadiens' move to forgo naming a captain for the 2014-15 season and opt to have four alternate captains so smart. Wearing the "C" isn't as important as having leaders, as wearing a "C" is more of a symbol, and just like George Carlin, I will leave symbols for the symbol-minded.

On Monday, the Canadiens announced to reporters that P.K. Subban, Andrei Markov, Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty will wear the "A" this season; Markov and Plekanec will wear an "A" throughout the season while Subban and Pacioretty will split time as the third alternate. With Brian Gionta leaving as a free agent this summer, this has become a leadership transition season, which is a far better season than allergy or flu.

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“It’ll be a transition year as far as leadership,” Bergevin said to the Canadian Press (via Sportsnet). “When Gionta and (Josh) Gorges left, there was a gap and I felt our young players were able to step up."

For Subban, this isn't a slap in the face or a show of disrespect from the organization; it's a show of prudence. This isn't his time.

"We’re confident that we have many leaders, not just one," Subban said. "I think it’s a step forward for the team. And this way, it’s not a distraction."

It's easy to forget that Subban only turned 25 years old in May. He's only played four full seasons and there are still 14 players on the Canadiens roster who are older. It's not uncommon for young players to struggle after signing massive contracts, as they place unnecessary pressure on themselves to do more to live up to a contract when doing exactly what they did to earn that contract is plenty.

Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

There was no need for the Canadiens to add the pressure of wearing the "C" on top of playing in the first year of an eight-year, $72 million contract. It's not as though Pacioretty couldn't be named captain next season, but 11 of 23 current captains are the highest-paid players on their respective teams, so Subban would really have to stumble in the locker room to not get the "C" at some point.

The Canadiens have only done the leader-by-committee approach once in their history—they went without a captain in 2009-10, a season in which they made the playoffs and advanced to the conference finals. That was Gionta's first season in Montreal, and while he was a veteran, allowing him to shoulder the burden along with Hal Gill and Markov didn't deter the Canadiens from having success.

A season without a captain is hardly a reason for a team to falter; the New York Rangers traded captain Ryan Callahan at the deadline last season and reached the Stanley Cup Final, as Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis, Marc Staal and Dan Girardi filled the leadership void. 

Players are aware of the leaders in the locker room; just because Richards wasn't wearing a "C" didn't mean Chris Kreider didn't know he was serving as a bridge between coach and players, helping to steady the room through adversity. It's the same principle in Montreal. 

Since 2005-06, nine teams have gone through a season without a full-time captain. Some teams rotated the captaincy (2007-08 Buffalo Sabres, 2005-09 Minnesota Wild), others named a captain later in the season (2007-08 St. Louis Blues, 2008-09 Atlanta Thrashers) and the Washington Capitals went from Chris Clark to Alex Ovechkin in 2009-10 after Clark was traded.

Eleven teams went the alternate captain route. How did it work out?

NHL Teams without Captains Since 2005-06
YearTeamRecordPlayoffs
2005-06New Jersey Devils46-27-9Finished 3rd in East, lost in round 2
2005-06New York Rangers44-26-12Finished 6th in East, lost in round 1
2006-07Pittsburgh Penguins47-24-11Finished 5th in East, lost in round 1
2007-08Chicago Blackhawks40-34-8Finished 10th in West
2008-09Florida Panthers41-30-11Finished 9th in East
2008-09Toronto Maple Leafs34-35-13Finished 12th in East
2009-10Montreal Canadiens39-33-10Finished 8th in East, lost in round 3
2009-10Toronto Maple Leafs30-38-14Finished 15th in East
2011-12Florida Panthers38-26-18Finished 3rd in East, lost in round 1
2013Columbus Blue Jackets24-17-7Finished 9th in West
2013-14Columbus Blue Jackets43-32-7Finished 7th in East, lost in round 1
Hockey-Reference

Each team had different circumstances that led to them using the "A" method. The Blackhawks and Penguins were transitioning into the eras of Jonathan Toews and Sidney Crosby while the Canadiens were doing the same after Saku Koivu left. The Rangers and Devils lost their captains, Mark Messier and Scott Stevens, during the 2004-05 lockout and waited a season before naming a new one. The Leafs kept the "C" unoccupied in the wake of Mats Sundin's departure. The Blue Jackets haven't had a captain since Rick Nash was traded to the Rangers.

The Florida Panthers went without a captain after Olli Jokinen and Bryan McCabe were no longer part of the team. 

At the end of the day, six of the 11 teams (54.5 percent) that played a season without a captain reached the postseason. Considering every season sees 16 of 30 teams (53.3 percent) reach the postseason, perhaps it's better to not name a captain.

It's rare for a team to do what the Canadiens are doing, but it doesn't speak to a lack of leadership; it's quite the opposite in this case. The Canadiens have leaders for now (Markov and Plekanec) and leaders for the future (Subban and Pacioretty). The last team to win a Stanley Cup without a captain was the Boston Bruins in 1972, but that doesn't preclude it from happening again.

There are quite a few teams—seven in all lack captains with training camps opening this week—that probably wouldn't mind trading places with the captain-less Habs.

THREE LETTERS

(If you'd like to ask a question for the mailbag, you can reach me via email at dave111177@gmail.com or fire your query at me via Twitter at @DaveLozo.)

Dearest Dave,

Mindy Kaling was on the Howard Stern Show today which got me thinking about this hockey question. Both The Office and Seinfeld didn't get off to great starts for NBC. Neither got viewership in their first season, then suddenly blew up in their second. What made those shows tick? Discuss the character development. The story lines. The comedic gold. Oh, as for hockey, what young player that didn't have the most success in his first or second season is primed to be the breakout hit of this season?

With all the pieces of my heart.

Tom

Sitcoms very rarely nail stuff in season one. The first season of Seinfeld, although it is 25 years later, is patently unwatchable. There's an impostor Morty, a weird couch, Kramer still hasn't found himself as a character, the stories seem to be driven by Jerry's stand-up bits and less by Larry David's "nothing" angle. It's bad. It took a while, but they figured it out and it's still the best.

Douglas C. Pizac/Associated Press

The Office was similar, but I think they knew what they were early. It was consistently good for about seven seasons, and while Seinfeld went out on top, The Office had a couple of 40-plus Martin Brodeur seasons at the end that we all wish we didn't watch.

Which NHL players have the chance to have that breakout season three after two meh seasons? Since we're not projecting their entire careers and just talking about this season, I'll say Nick Bjugstad of the Florida Panthers and Eric Gelinas of the New Jersey Devils. It's not as though either of these players were as bad as sappy Pam/Jim episodes, but they haven't been "great" and they have a chance to be just that this year.

Bjugstad should operate as a No. 1 center for the Panthers, while Gelinas will have a tougher road to greatness, as the Devils have invited Mike Komisarek, Tomas Kaberle and the KHL's Renat Mamashev to potentially block Gelinas' path. Still, those are my picks.

And although you didn't ask, the two players who most closely share the trajectories of the shows you mentioned: Seinfeld = Martin St. Louis and The Office = Steve Yzerman.

@DaveLozo this raises questions about hockey and life. https://t.co/9vVWAxiaPX Mainly: HOW? #IsThisRealLife

— AliensArePeopleToo (@Gabe_Wiener) September 15, 2014

Look, I don't pretend to understand the magnificent power of bears. I am aware that they will evolve to a point where they will enslave us, but I can't say for sure when that will happen. Again, I'm not a scientist.

BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 31: Stars of the web series Bear and the Gang, anthem singer Rene Rancourt and mascot Bear of the Boston Bruins pose in the hallway before going out to the ice to sing for the crowd between periods against the New York Islanders at t
Steve Babineau/Getty Images

All I know is the NHL probably isn't ready for bear hockey players, especially if they are Russian bears. I can see it now. Alex Bearvechkin will have 48 goals in 49 games. His team will be playing on NBC and during the first-period intermission, 123-year-old Mike Milbury (the bears should be playing at NHL levels by then) will rail on Bearvechkin about how he was back in his own zone trying to claw through the ice because he thought he saw a salmon.

Also, bears hibernate in the winter, so they will probably only be able to play half the NHL season. There's a lot of holes in bears playing in the NHL, but I hope to live to see the day it happens.

Dave,

How do you think the new 24/7 show on Epix will compare to HBO's version?

Jason

ANN ARBOR, MI - JANUARY 1:  HBO 24-7 films Gustav Nyquist #14 and Joakim Andersson #18 of the Detroit Red Wings taping their sticks before the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on January 1, 2014 at the University of Mich
Dave Reginek/Getty Images

I bet it will be much worse. No Liev Schreiber hurts. They will probably get some fringe celebrity like Kiefer Sutherland or that werewolf guy from True Blood to narrate. I'm also guessing the NHL will have all the editorial control, which means there's more potential for 15-minute segments about players shopping for suits and eating at Red Robin.

There are some great personalities on teams playing outdoor games this season. Hopefully Joe Thornton will not have been excommunicated by the time the Sharks' outdoor games rolls around because he's got a great sense of humor. The Kings are sort of boring and business-like, and Willie Mitchell is no longer with the team, so they probably won't be much fun.

I wouldn't expect much. This way, if it's only average, it will seem that much better.

That's also a good mindset for reading anything I write.

Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @DaveLozo.

The Bag Skate will be back Tuesday, September 30.

All statistics via NHL.com. All contract information via CapGeek.com

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