To the surprise only of people living in caves for the last six months, Brian Gionta has finally been confirmed as the new Canadiens captain. It's a good, solid, safe choice for the organization. Gionta will never be the guy who needs to be walked around Montreal by the GM to get him out of a self-imposed funk. He'll never be the man photographed partying without discretion in Mexico, or stirring up controversy with an ill-advised word to the media.
On the contrary, Gio will always be the man with the politically-correct answer and the quiet, determined demeanor. He will operate with class and dignity off the ice, and he will always give every bit of himself he's capable of giving to his team on it. He'll take French lessons and patiently attend countless public functions as the official player representative. Gionta isn't a quote machine like Scott Gomez or Mike Cammalleri. He's not going to put up as many points as Tomas Plekanec or be an All-Star like Andrei Markov. But any man in the dressing room who can dog it without guilt after watching Gionta isn't likely to be a Hab for long.
If he had a single message today, in his inaugural address to the media as captain, it was that he won't really be holding office on his own. Markov and Gill will be the official alternates, but Gionta repeatedly credited the "leadership group" that emerged last year, particularly during the playoffs, for the role they played then and will continue to play. Coach Jacques Martin later named the members of that Group of Seven. Along with the three men wearing letters, he mentioned Plekanec, Cammalleri, Gomez and Josh Gorges. There's no doubt all seven are on the same page as Gionta and will back him up in the room and in public. A new captain can't have a better chance to succeed.
The first evidence of the leadership by committee approach in this new season has been in their collective defence of Carey Price. Cammalleri told the fans if they're behind the team, then they need to be behind Price because the team is behind him. Markov, in an interview in a Russian paper, told fans and media to lay off Price because the Halak trade wasn't his fault. Gorges said it's unfair to blame Price for goals against when the rest of the team was making such brutal defensive errors. Plekanec pleaded with the fans to give the kid a break. Gomez, in his inimitable way, told CJAD that fans should be booing Jaroslav Spacek instead of Price. They all have made it clear they stand together, in a way most of us don't remember a Canadiens team doing before, in defence of each other and the group. Take a swipe at one of us, they're saying, and you take one at us all.
When Gionta repeated today that his captaincy won't change much about how things worked last year, he meant it. The role of captain is an important one in Montreal, but the man holding it can't do it all alone. Last year, a group of strangers met in October to start a season. They were forged by adversity and low expectations into an entity stronger than the collection of individuals. Gionta was part of that, a newcomer who became a vital part of the playoff machine. He represents the team that emerged from the post-season battle, but he's not above it. He's a part of it, and every one of the men who went through last year's playoffs with him have his back.
Gionta might not be the funniest guy on the team, or the most skilled. He's certainly not the biggest or the most vocal. In the end, he wasn't chosen to represent any of those things. He was picked to represent the team this group of players has become, with their determination to make sacrifices of physical well-being and emotional comfort in an effort to win together. In that regard, there's nobody better for the job.