LAVAL-SUR-LE-LAC –There will be no shortage of leadership inside the Canadiens’ locker room in 2014-15.
On Monday, the Habs’ brass kicked off the club’s annual golf tournament at Club de golf Laval-sur-le-Lac by naming four alternate captains for the upcoming season, assigning coveted A’s to veterans Andrei Markov and Tomas Plekanec, and young guns Max Pacioretty and P.K. Subban.
Markov and Plekanec will sport a letter on their jerseys for the duration of the season, while Subban and Pacioretty will alternate wearing letters at home and on the road throughout the year, switching duties at the 41-game mark in January.
The move marked another critical step in the transition general manager Marc Bergevin first expanded upon last June after the Canadiens’ deepest postseason run since 1993 came to a close in the Eastern Conference Final.
“We see the move as a transition in our leadership group. We want to give players an opportunity to express themselves more. What I saw over the course of my first two seasons in Montreal is young guys pushing to up their roles and take on more responsibility,” offered Bergevin, who addressed the media adjacent to the 18th green immediately following the announcement. “When Michel [Therrien] and I sat down to talk about it, we decided that with the group we have, this was the best course of action. More and more of these decisions are being left to the organization and to management. That’s what we decided to do.”
Confident in the decision to not go the conventional route by naming a captain and two assistants, Bergevin is adamant that each of the players given added responsibilities is up to the challenge, and brings a variety of intangibles to the table that made them top notch candidates for the job.
“Older veterans like Marky and Pleky have their own way of leading. P.K. and Max are young guys with a lot of energy. We see that the team belongs to that group now, and we’ll see where it will take us. I’m comfortable with the decision,” stressed Bergevin, indicating that the move was a one-year decision that ultimately would be re-evaluated next summer. “Andrei has been here for long time. He already has a letter on his jersey. He’s a guy who leads by example. For his part, Plekanec is very mature. Those guys bring structure. In two seasons, I’ve also seen P.K. grow in maturity. It’s the same thing for Pacioretty.”
Like Bergevin, Therrien has no concerns about the choice to move ahead with his new leadership structure, one that according to the Habs’ bench boss, extends well-beyond the four players singled out on Monday.
“We talked about it a lot and came to the conclusion that there were a lot of good candidates. We believe that the young corps of veterans should be given an opportunity to show their leadership capabilities. We’re going to focus on that. They’re well-surrounded with guys like Markov and Plekanec, and we can’t forget about Carey Price. He’s a part of that young leadership group. If the league would’ve allowed us to give him a letter, he would’ve been considered. We have some veteran guys like Manny Malhotra, too. He’s a good leader. So, when it comes to leadership, I’m not worried at all. It’s a transition. We’re going to work with those guys. That’s going to be our focus,” offered Therrien, who stressed the importance of making the announcement publically prior to the start of training camp in order to avoid inevitable distractions.
“I also don’t see this move as an audition [for the role of captain]. I see it more as they’re ready to take on more responsibility. We don’t want to put pressure on anyone’s shoulders,” added Therrien. “Our young leaders have made big strides over the last two years. We want to make sure that they continue to make those strides.”
Fresh off signing a lucrative long-term deal back in early August that will keep him in bleu-blanc-rouge through the 2021-22 season, Subban was pleased to be given the tap on the shoulder heading into his fifth full NHL season. The 25-year-old rearguard insists he’s excited to assume a mentorship role for the bevy of young guns steadily making their way up the Canadiens’ depth chart, and he doesn’t plan on going about things any differently in the process.
“We have young guys like Beaulieu, Tinordi, Galchenyuk and Gallagher on our team that are going to have to look up to somebody. I’m happy to be a part of that group. I’m happy to provide those guys with some experience and some knowledge of being in the league for a little bit. At the end of the day, I want to be the best teammate I can be,” offered Subban, who also singled out the likes of Mike Weaver, Travis Moen, Lars Eller and Dale Weise as important pieces to the leadership puzzle. “To be put in a leadership position gives you that opportunity to also be that type of figure in terms of a teacher. But, having a letter on your jersey shouldn’t change your outlook on things. It just means that there’s more of an expectation for you and more responsibility. It holds a player accountable and makes them better.”
Pacioretty shared similar thoughts on Monday, stressing the importance of staying true to the values that earned him a letter for a period of time last season, and again on a more permanent basis this year.
“I want to be myself. I think it’s a step in the right direction for me. They’re giving this opportunity to me for a reason. I’ll only change a few small things, but I want to stay myself,” explained Pacioretty, who doesn’t plan on putting any additional pressure on himself in his new role. “The guys will look to me a little bit more on the ice and off it, too. When the time is right, I’ll assume my role. I only have to do things a little bit better, without changing too much.”
If young guns like Subban and Pacioretty weren’t feeling any added weight on their shoulders following their appointments, neither were their veteran counterparts.
“I don’t feel any additional pressure. I’ve spent nine years with the organization, and I’m the same guy I was when I arrived here all those years ago. I just have a little bit more experience. I think our team has excellent chemistry,” confided Markov, who has served as the Canadiens’ assistant captain for years. “Every player on the team has to show their leadership capabilities if we want to have success. Every player has to give their best for the team. That’s how I see it.”
That’s how Plekanec sees things, too.
“You shouldn’t really make a big deal out of the fact that there’s no captain. There are so many leaders in the room. There are young guys who will be there when we need them,” offered the 31-year-old pivot, who, like Pacioretty, sported a letter for the Canadiens at times last season, and served as captain for his native Czech Republic at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. “I think with all the changes that took place this summer, it’s an excellent decision on the part of the organization. We’re comfortable with it.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
Under the spotlight
To hell and back