The New Jersey Devils could play next season without a captain according to GM Ray Shero. While that’s unusual I don’t think it makes much difference on-ice not just for the New Jersey Devils but in the NHL overall.
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Wearing the “C” on your sweater as a player is an honor. While that is undeniable, what about the players without letters? Does a player really need a letter to be considered a leader on-ice and in the locker room?
What the New Jersey Devils are possibly doing isn’t unheard of either. The Buffalo Sabres essentially had co-captains in the 2013-14 season when Steve Ott and Thomas Vanek split home and road duties. And when Brian Gionta left in free agency to those same Sabres, the Montreal Canadiens named extra assistant captains, starting last season without a “C” on a sweater. THE MONTREAL CANADIENS DID THAT.
If the most storied franchise in all the NHL can do it the New Jersey Devils sure can. The NHL rulebook explicitly allows it on page 19 of last seasons rulebook. In terms of role during the game, the captain needs to figure out what the referee is talking about with rule interpretations and, more recently, goal reviews.
What would change if more teams followed the New Jersey Devils lead and didn’t name captains? It’s not as if thirty jobs would open up when players like Ryan Getzlaf, Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews just walked out over losing the letter.
No, these players would still be among the games best leaders because that’s how they are wired. Captains lead by example on and off the ice. It’s consistency in work ethic and setting a tone in the locker room as a veteran player. They are natural leaders, the same type of personality in any team setting. Some people lead from the front vocally, others by example.
The New Jersey Devils won’t need a letter on a sweater to know who their leaders are. Players like Patrik Elias and Travis Zajac whom wore letters last season and Cory Schneider whom can’t be a captain per NHL rules. Leadership isn’t depending on position. Roberto Luongo wasn’t any less of a leader after giving up the captaincy in Vancouver (he never wore the letter because of NHL rules).
At this point the role of captain is less about on-ice function and more honoring tradition. The NHL has a long tradition of upholding tradition, doing things the way it’s always been just because. But the game is changing. We have the shootout and 3-on-3 overtime now after much discussion. Don’t get me started about the stupid trapezoid. And how much longer will reducing goalie equipment be talked about?
Bottom line is the game is willing to make changes to its rules to improve the game. The league doesn’t need rule changes to end captains. But the New Jersey Devils don’t need to name one. If they never do it’s not going to impact the on-ice results. Good for you, New Jersey Devils. Competition for roster spots and pride in competing for the Stanley Cup every year is enough motivation.
Ok, maybe no Stanley Cup this year. The New Jersey Devils might be very bad this year. It won’t be because they haven’t named a captain. Just the same as the Chicago Blackhawks haven’t won half of the last six Stanley Cups because Toews wears the letter. It may be an honor but in my opinion it has no impact on whether a team is celebrating in late June.
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