There's a lot to look forward to in the new hockey season, especially now that the Carey Price Two Step has wrapped up, to the satisfaction of all but a few disgruntled fanatics who think he's desperately overpaid. With that settled, the new question up for debate is who will be the next captain? The consensus is that it will almost certainly be one of Markov, Cammalleri, Gionta or Gorges, with Gionta probably in the lead and Gorges a sentimental favourite. Regardless of which man Jacques Martin chooses to wear the "C," however, that man needs to have a plan. He's not only got to take the team under his leadership, but he's got to get a handle on the outside forces that affect the Canadiens as well.
Everybody knows the general obsession with the Habs has led to a level of media exposure and public scrutiny...in two languages...very few pro hockey players experience. That's what makes the captain's role in Montreal different from that in any other NHL city. In Montreal, the captain of the Canadiens is a celebrity with a great deal of responsibility.
That's why whoever gets appointed captain needs to be very direct and firm in his dealing with the media. The first thing he needs to do is be very forthright about the language issue. As ridiculous as many people regard making an issue of the language a hockey player speaks, there's an element among Montreal fans and media that will constantly harp on the fact that the new captain doesn't speak French. And, unless the captain is Maxim Lapierre, that will inevitably be the case. So, the new captain can't politely sidestep the issue like Saku Koivu did. He needs to come right out, before he's even asked about it, and tell people he either has already learned or plans to soon learn enough French to make himself understood, as a sign of respect. It would be even better, though, if he hired himself a translator until he's ready to speak French himself. Bring in an eager student from McGill or Concordia and pay him or her $30 an hour to stand beside the captain after practices and games and translate for the French media. That would eliminate the French issue right from the start.
The second thing that needs to be addressed is the media dissection of the team in the form of rumours or innuendo. It's not the captain's place to address damaging media stories about teammates' outside behaviour unless he knows for a fact they're false. But he can certainly make it clear that falsehood and rumour-mongering won't be tolerated by the players. The ideal thing for him to do would be to serve notice immediately by holding a press conference and announcing that any reporter who makes up anything to hurt the team would be persona non grata in the dressing room. The captain can't prevent the team's PR people from allowing the press in, but he can influence who he'll talk to and who he'll advise his teammates to talk to. In fact, he can even take it a step further. If the media is riding, say, Carey Price, in a way the captain feels is unfair, he can tell the offending reporters that Price will no longer be speaking to them. They'll have to go through the captain instead.
It would be a nice stamp of ownership of the captaincy for the new guy to do something of his own for the community as well. The players may contribute to big charities on their own, and they're obliged to take part in certain team-arranged events. It would be a fine gesture, though, if the captain were to be the head of a small, local effort supported by just his teammates. Maybe something like sponsoring a minor hockey team at whose practices the captain shows up to offer tips once in a while. It would be a way to get a little more personal with the community.
It's also important for the new captain to make sure his teammates know he's got their backs first. He'll be appointed by management, and in that kind of situation there has to be at least some level of wondering in the room about whether he's the team's guy or the coach's guy. The captain needs to be there for his teammates first, and he needs to let them know it right away.
A new captain could certainly earn himself some points and some valuable tips by calling up Jean Beliveau, Yvan Cournoyer, Serge Savard, Guy Carbonneau and Bob Gainey and inviting them to lunch...a sort of captain's round table. Those guys know better than anyone how to succeed as a captain in Montreal and it could only be a good thing to talk to them about it.
None of those ideas are difficult or all that time-consuming to implement, but they're the kinds of things the new captain should be willing to try. The year without anybody wearing the "C" has effectively laid to rest the ghost of Saku Koivu for most fans. It's no longer a crime for someone to be the captain, as it would have seemed last year. Now that there will certainly be a captain, he needs to put his own stamp on the position and take control. If the Canadiens are going to be serious about winning, they need to have a no-BS captain who's willing to speak his mind in public as well as behind the dressing room door.
It's exciting to not only look forward to a new captain, but to see how he develops his own identity in that role as well. Whoever it is, let's hope he's got a plan.