The saddest loss of all the losses by the Habs this season is the quiet, unheralded departure from Montreal of Saku Koivu. Koivu's the kind of guy you'd want to see have a last tour of all the NHL rinks with a nice ovation by opposing fans, and a special night of honour at the Bell Centre to usher him into retirement. This "thanks for your service, and good luck wherever you go" ending to his career as a Hab seems so wrong.
I have so many memories of Koivu in the CH. I remember him as an enthusiastic kid, all full of piss and vinegar and ready to go through walls to win hockey games. I remember the terrible injuries; knee and eye, he suffered and overcame. The devastating announcement of his cancer and his triumphant return from the disease defy description. He's given everything to the team and to his adopted community. He was respectful in the face of disrespect and gracious when faced with disgrace. He was the small man who played bigger than he was, the Finn with the sisu. He has almost always been the most talented player on his team, and made a series of mediocre wingers seem better than they really were. He was the man who got a couple of offers to play elsewhere, but wanted to wait to see what Bob Gainey asked of him before considering them. Now he's gone.
While I'm deeply saddened by the departure of Koivu the man, I accept that Koivu the player is no longer able to be a first-line centre. He's become injury-prone and he has long periods of silence on the scoreboard. I expect he'll have another two or three good years on another team that can provide him with good, supportive wingers. In the meantime, the team he leaves behind has replaced him in his position on the ice, even as it has failed to fill his position in the dressing room.
Two years ago, we thought when Saku rode gracefully off into retirement, one of either Chris Higgins or Mike "The Traitor" Komisarek would replace him as captain. Now that Bob Gainey has executed a complete leadership purge, the question on everyone's lips is who's going to wear the "C" now? I think nobody should.
The Canadiens have always had the players elect their own captain. That's an important tradition because players are much more likely to follow a guy they respect and have chosen themselves than one that's been installed by management and could be seen as management's patsy. Considering the massive turnover of players in the room this summer, I think it's important for the team to play together and the players to take each other's measure before a captain is chosen. So, I think there should be three "A"s and no "C" until the players know enough about each other to elect the right guy.
Andrei Markov must wear an "A" as the senior born-and-bred Hab on the team, as well as its best player. Maxim Lapierre gets one too, because he's the guy who's most likely to go to the wall for the team and who brings his best every night. The third "A" should go to either Tomas Plekanec or Scott Gomez. Plekanec because he'll be asked to step up as a young veteran leader with the departure of Higgins and The Traitor, and the responsibility might help him to overcome his confidence issues. Gomez because he represents the new players and the letter would underline his on-ice role as first-line centre. Then, around Christmas, the players can vote for a captain.
Whoever becomes the twenty-ninth captain in Canadiens history will have a heavy torch to carry, and it will be difficult for him to carry it with dignity of Saku Koivu.