Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What You Talkin' 'Bout, Jacques?

Okay, colour me shocked. Jacques Martin says he and Bob Gainey will name a Habs captain before the end of camp. I can think of so many things wrong with this scenario it's not funny, but here are the top ten:

10. The ghosts. Okay, this is facetious in a way, but when you're dealing with a team with the Canadiens' history, there are some pretty impressive names on the captain's roll. The longest-serving is still sitting directly behind the bench and the retired numbers of half a dozen others are hanging over the ice surface, including that of the boss. That has to be a little bit intimidating for most players.

9. The language issue. This has been beaten to death, resurrected and beaten to death again so many times it doesn't really need explanation. But unless Gainey and Martin appoint one of Lapierre, Latendresse or Laraque as captain, the new guy (Scott Gomez and his French lessons notwithstanding) is going to get as much flack as Saku Koivu ever did. And Koivu gave everything he had to the team and the city, a role it would take any current player years to duplicate.

8. The "look." When I think "captain," I think "Messier." Or "Richard." Or "Yzerman." The guy wearing the "C" has to be able to call out his teammates when warranted, even if it's just by giving them the kind of lazer stare that tells them they're not doing enough and they need to pick it up NOW. It's great to have a guy who leads on the ice, but a captain has to have that extra level of intensity and a degree of respect that commands people to follow him. I don't know any returning Hab who has both the ability to do that and the experience he needs to pull it off. And the new guys are still too new to have the respect they need to manage it.

7. History. The Canadiens have traditionally had the players vote for their captain. Most of the time, that's how it's been. In one notable example, Bob Gainey was appointed by coach Bob Berry instead of being elected by the team. It took a long time for his teammates to overcome the resentment they felt at having the decision taken out of their hands, and it made Gainey's ascension to the captaincy much rougher than it needed to be. It surprises me that Gainey doesn't remember the difficulty his own appointment caused for him when he talks about doing the same to a current player.

6. The room. It's a fragile cameraderie these guys are dealing with right now. Imposing a captain on it before the players have found their own places in the room can kill it before it ever takes root. There's no sense in appointing a captain if it turns out the room decides to follow someone else, and resentment will follow.

5. The timing. Gainey and Martin might think they've seen enough at camp to justify the selection of a captain. But players show their true mettle when facing adversity. There's no adversity in camp, so it would be better to wait until the team has been battle-tested before choosing someone for leadership. After all, what's the rush?

4. The impression. Management's picking a captain implies the captain is management's man. That's enough to make his teammates be wary about trusting him completely.

3. The blame factor. Appointing a captain now means someone in the room must be the guy who stands up and takes public responsibility for the team's play. On a team that's still largely an unknown quantity, it focuses attention on one player...win or lose. Unfortunately, if the team ends up needing some extra time to come together and starts off the season on a losing streak, it's much too easy for the other players to duck responsibility and look to the captain to solve their problems and answer the tough questions. Not that I necessarily think this group would duck responsibility, but the temptation is there.

2. The pressure. This is a team on the rebound. Just about every player has something to prove: Latendresse that he can be a real power forward, Lapierre that he can maintain the intensity he showed in the second half last year, Gomez that he can put up more than 16 goals a year, Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn that they can come back from sub-par seasons, Gionta and Cammalleri that they can justify fat, long-term contracts, and the list goes on. Adding the burden of the captaincy in Montreal, with its responsibility and scrutiny, to the pressure a player already feels to prove himself on the ice is asking an awful lot.

And the number one reason why it's not a good idea...at all...for Gainey and Martin to pick a captain at the end of training camp is:

1. The wrong guy. If Gainey and Martin appoint Andrei Markov, for example, and Markov's play falls off because he's uncomfortable with the attention, the cost on the ice is too great to justify the decision. If they pick Scott Gomez or Mike Cammalleri and they fail to produce offensively, it will bring ridicule and scorn down on them. They'll be embarrassed and unhappy. Likewise, if management picks a guy like Lapierre, there has to be some concern that he'll fall back into the inconsistency that had him in the minors two years ago and the pressbox last season. Then what? The worst thing that could happen is to pick a player who's already got questions to answer, and have all his attention and concern poured into answering questions about why he's the captain when he's struggling so badly. The player looks bad because he's not just a struggling player, but a struggling captain and management looks bad for picking the wrong man for the job.

There's nothing wrong with waiting before choosing a captain. In fact, I can't think of any reason why Gainey and Martin would want to rush this decision. There are just too many pitfalls and very few rewards. I question this move, and in a season we're already entering with so many questions, I think there doesn't need to be any more.


Rovell said...

Honestly, they shouldn't name a captain to start the season. Maybe at the mid-year mark, allow the players to name their captain as history and tradition have dictated in the past. Until then, go with alternate captains. There's no rush. Manufacturing one due to the remaining centennial celebrations would be a mistake.

J.T. said...

@Rovell: If it's a Centennial captain they need, they should have kept Koivu. I wish the damned Centennial was over already!

pfhabs said...


-in Martin & Gainey you are talking about 2 v stubborn individuals. they'll do what they want regardless

-as for Gainey's captaincy I read an article recently where Larry Robinson said the team was pissed when Barry and management decided to name a captain instead of letting the players vote...the only saving grace from Larry's perspective was that Gainey would have been a possible choice for the players

-listening to quotes today from Martin on why he'll name the captain focussed on traits he wants the captain to have. all can be summed up with "he has to be on board" with the coach, coach's strategy, tactics and decisions...ok if you are winning but in a losing environment getting the coach's messages repeated by a teammate can really grate

-letting them vote when no one really knows everyone is also filled with issues

-an interesting delemna if you decide to name one soon..on the other hand the answer would be easy if Komisarek was still employed for the CH :)

J.T. said...

@pfhabs: I know about the Larry Robinson article...I wrote it!

As for that other traitor, he's dead to me.

Shan said...

They probably shouldn't name a captain now, but I think the whole captaincy issue is one that people tend to make a bigger deal than it really is because it's an immeasurable emotional thing. At the end of the day, it IS just a letter on a jersey and I think it's the fans that pay more attention to it than the players. I read the Larry Robinson article, but maybe the problem was really with Robinson (and the other players who were upset about it) and not management or Gainey. I don't know. I think whoever is named captain, the other players need to look at that and consider that maybe the management is seeing something more than they are and just get behind that player and support him. When I play hockey, on both ends, I see no need to question who was named captain, nor do I see any reason for people to question who I've named captain on the teams that I run. Whether the right to choose is mine or not isn't important and whether that guy has all the "qualities" isn't even important. What's important is for everyone in the room to behave maturely and respect one another regardless of what their role is.

24 Cups said...

All of this indecision about who should be captain naturally leads to the conclusion that there really isn't a worthy candidate at the present time.

All of those who want to be captain please take a step forward:-)

pfhabs said...


-glad to see you are pissed at Gainey for failing to come up with $250,000 per season for a guy he mused as the next possible captain and put behind the bench for 5 games because of the respect his team mates had for him

-a D-man with that kind of belligerence we haven't seen since Chelios...yep Bob's move was traitoress...and stupid in my book

-knew the Robinson article came from a credible source :)

NailaJ said...

Maybe they'll name... NO captain!

And say they're simply going to assign several "A"s for now. That would be my pick!

Unknown said...

@J.T.: You're absolutely right. I had to think about your post that tells the story about BG being named C by the management and the reactions of the teammates. BG should know it better. The team must choose the captain, only then he'll be totally accepted.

BTW: As an german habsfan far away from the scene I really appreciate your in-depth analysis of the habs. IMO by far the best blog about the canadiens! Just started my own blog in german language on http://habsblog.de and trying to get as good as you are :-)!

J.T. said...

@tb79: Thanks for the kind words, and good luck with your blog! It always impresses me when people are literate and articulate in more than one language.

Christopher Sama said...

At the same time, it might be a good idea for Jacques and Gainer to keep a short leash on this team. By naming a C right away, they might help the team settle down sooner rather than later.

With such a new group of guys, the locker room might get split by Christmas - and that would be bad news.

Maybe it was hard for BG when he was appointed, but that was a really different situation. Different time, different core.

And JT, you ignore the fact that in the end, turned out to be a pretty good decision management made, right?