-- For the first time in their 100-year existence, the Montreal Canadiens
are without a captain.
It seems strange actually.
Here is the most heralded NHL franchise -- which earlier this month celebrated its centennial of excellence by honoring such greats as Jean Beliveau
, Guy Lafleur
and Patrick Roy
-- extending open auditions to current players on the team in hopes of unveiling the next face of the franchise.
Don't hold your breath, Montreal fans. General Manager Bob Gainey and head coach Jacques Martin are no closer to naming a captain now than they were at the start of the season.
"We have a group of individuals who have done a good job," Martin said. "After training camp, we decided we would name three alternates and Brian Gionta
, Hal Gill
and Andrei Markov
were the three and then Mike Cammalleri
, Scott Gomez
and Roman Hamrlik
were also put into that leadership group -- they've all done a good job."
The players have also been pleased with the leadership group's composition and function.
"I think, we still have a lot of leaders on this team," Gill said. "That was one of the things in the offseason they focused on -- getting guys who could step up and be leaders. I think that's part of what makes a team good is the fact we have a lot of guys who can step up into the leadership role."
Despite losing Markov to a leg laceration in the season opener and then Gionta to a broken foot last month, Martin has still been pleased with his core group of leaders.
Still, you get the sense naming a full-time captain in Montreal is not a high priority at this stage in the season.
"We'll see how it goes," Martin said. "Right now, we haven't made any changes and we'll probably continue that way for a while."
Of the candidates, Gill is just coming off a Stanley Cup championship with the Pittsburgh Penguins
, but Cammalleri has also impressed in his first season. Markov, who has started skating with the team once again and should return after the holidays, is an experienced blue liner.
But, judging by the ovations emanating from Bell Centre these days, perhaps Cammalleri possesses that zeal and appeal of a player ready to emerge as the 28th captain in franchise history.
Cammalleri, who signed a five-year contract with the Canadiens in July, is certainly living up to expectations as he leads the team with 18 goals, 114 shots, 4 game-winners and a plus-10 rating through 34 games.
"I like his contributions, not only on the ice but off the ice," Martin said. "I think his attitude has been great and I like the way he's approaches the game in Montreal. He cherishes playing in a market that's really passionate for the game and I think that's helped his game and I think it's helped him become one of our better players since the start of the season."
Not only does Cammalleri have the support of those rabid Canadiens fans, but all those legends honored on Dec. 4 prior to Montreal's match with the Boston Bruins
. Cammalleri was one of the few current Canadiens' to visit the locker room prior to the celebration to talk shop and congratulate every old-timer.
"As I was going around the room I felt like a kid in a candy shop," Cammalleri said. "Roy, (Ken) Dryden, both Mahovlichs (Frank and Pete), Lafleur, obviously the list goes on and on. Shaking these guys' hands and getting to say 'Hi' to them, it was pretty cool. I had this big smile on my face and it was pretty inspiring."
So inspired was Cammalleri that he posted his second hat trick of the season on the day the team was founded back in 1909 in leading Montreal to a 5-1 victory against Boston.
"That's something I'll never forget, hearing that kind of roar," Cammalleri said.