Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Who will be the next captain of the Montréal Canadiens?

The succession plan for the next Canadiens Captain is murky, we have to admit.  There is no embarrassment of potential candidates as there was in the sixties, seventies and eighties, players who had long toiled and succeeded in bleu blanc rouge.

The selection process is up for question.  I always felt that the Captain should be elected by his peers, but sometimes what a team needs is not a popularity contest but someone who'll kick a few cans.  We saw how the Flyers thought Mike Richards had the support of his teammates but may not have been the right man at the right time for the job, and engineered the coup that installed Chris Pronger in his position.

Also, there's the case of the Canadiens after Bob Gainey served and needed replacing.  A vote by the players was split between Guy Carbonneau and Chris Chelios, so it was decided that they'd be co-captains, and alternate wearing the 'C'.  Apparently all that did was intensify a dressing-room split into two factions, and it eventually contributed to the decision to trade away Chris Chelios.

Then again, appointing a captain is sometimes also not the right move.  Veterans can get miffed if management parachute their Golden Boy in the role.  I can't remember who told this story for certain, but I think it's Guy Lafleur, who was called to a meeting in Irving Grundman's office after Serge Savard retired.  He and Larry Robinson were there in their warmups, not sure what was going on, when in walked Bob Gainey wearing a suit.  They were then told that Bob would serve as the captain.  Larry and Guy looked at each other, since as the veterans they felt they were next in line, and were expecting a vote.  Bob Gainey knew in advance what was going to happen, and it was perfectly awkward and everyone left in silence.  I wonder in retrospect whether that fed into Guy's cynicism and rebelliousness, and whether he might have had a more distinguished end to his career if he'd been voted captain, and had felt compelled to act as such.  Instead, maybe he nihilistically increased his partying and eased off on the conditioning and effort on the ice, wondering what was the use, they'd never win a Cup without Ken Dryden and the Big 3.

So looking at the current roster, there isn't a clear successor, let alone three or four who could fill the role.  Not yet.  In a couple of years we could think that then.  All the likely candidates have holes in their résumés.  So if Brian Gionta doesn't return for next season, as is likely, I think we may go back to the situation we saw post-Saku, when there was a year played with three assistants and no incumbent.  After that time, I would prefer that a vote be held, but as Tom Renney is quoted by Michael Farber in a Sports Illustrated article: "There's an old saying: 'The coach always counts the vote.'"

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