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The Captain Conundrum

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks
The Vancouver Canucks went through a metamorphosis of sorts this off-season.

Changes swept from top to bottom, management, coaches and players were all affected as the team closed the book on the 2007-08 season and revamped for the upcoming year.

An air of confidence surrounds this franchise once again as the Canucks head into training camp, general manager Mike Gillis has altered the team's on-ice product and there aren't too many questions left to be answered at this point, most vacancies have been filled with the exception of one.

Who will captain the new look Canucks this season?

The departure of former captain Markus Naslund leaves a void on the team in terms of who wears the C, but assigning a new captain is not to be done hastily, it's an important decision that will have an impact on how the Canucks perform this season.


Ideally, a captain is bursting with leadership. They are confident, enthusiastic, steadfast, cool, calm and collected with the ability to flex some gritty, swarthy muscle in the heat of battle. This analytical thinker puts the needs of the team ahead of his own and is committed to excellence and willing to do whatever it takes to achieve it.

Being captain is as important a role as a player can have on a hockey team and the Canucks have a long and cherished history of captains who have done an exemplary job. From Orland Kurtenbach, Kevin McCarthy and Stan Smyl, to Trevor Linden, Mark Messier and Markus Naslund, 11 players have proudly captained the Canucks into battle throughout the years.

But a new captain will be crowned in Vancouver in the weeks to come and the debate over who that player should be is an interesting one. The Canucks do not lack leadership, it may not be as evident and lionhearted as Linden's was, but it's there.

Take Mattias Ohlund for example. WIth the departure of Naslund and Linden, Ohlund is now the longest serving Canuck having been with the team for the last 10 seasons. He's experienced the good times and the bad and his lead by example style of play - he's the team's all-time leader in goals among defencemen - has made him a threat on the blue line since he first arrived on the west coast. He's not exactly the raw raw in your face type guy, but his quiet confidence has always been contagious in the lockerroom.

Maybe fellow d-man Willie Mitchell would thrive with the C. He's tough as nails and willing to sacrifice himself to get a win, take Vancouver's 4-3 win over Dallas late last season for example. The BC native logged an impressive 30 minutes of ice time, blocked three shots and delivered two hits; in one 20 second shift alone he not only took a Brad Richards shot to the face, but the bloody brute got back on his feet in time to block a Niklas Hagman slapshot with his right foot. The Stars retained possession so Mitchell took it upon himself to intercept a pass and clear the zone before wobbling to the bench. That shift alone proves that Mitchell could shoulder the load of captaincy for the Canucks. Plus he has experience in the role having served as captain for two months while in Minnesota during the 2005-06 season.


The way Mitchell sees it though, it doesn't matter who is appointed captain, the Canucks won't be anywhere near short on leadership.

"There are a lot of returning guys to this team, we have a lot of leaders, and I'm a true believer, I'm really serious when I say this, I don't think you need letters and all that stuff to be on your jersey to be a leader," said Mitchell earlier this summer, adding that the Canucks have a lot of guys who are well respected in the lockerroom.

"I think we've had those obviously with Brendan, Markus and Trevor and I think we have that moving forward with guys like Mattias and Roberto. Where ever the letters go, they go, but I think the guys in the lockerroom who are looked at as leaders will be leaders and I think that's the key to success is having a bunch of leaders on the team and I think we'll have that this year."

Should Henrik and Daniel Sedin be given captain consideration? They've been one-two in Canucks scoring for the past two seasons as the twins have been a big part of Vancouver's identity on offence for the last four seasons, but how can you pick one over the other? The Sedins are statistically identical at this point in their careers, Henrik has played four more games than Daniel, yet they've both recorded 398 points apiece. Like two peas in a pod, these Swedes carry themselves identically on and off the ice, they're both capable of taking on the role of captain but choosing one as captain over the other would almost be as hard as actually telling them apart.

A new face in town could warrant wearing the C, Pavol Demitra also captained the Wild for a stint in 2007 so he's familiar with the territory. He's coming to Vancouver as somewhat of an anomaly though, he hasn't even sported a Canucks jersey on-ice yet so tacking an important capital letter on the front of that sweater might not be the best idea. But if all goes according to plan he will be a predominant part of the Canucks on offence this season, so maybe a little added pressure would help him adapt and thrive in his new surroundings.

Last but not least is Roberto Luongo. His name should be brought up in captain discussions, although NHL rules state that goaltenders are not permitted to act as captain or alternate captain. The last goaltender to serve as team captain was Bill Durnan of the Montreal Canadians in the 1947-48 season, he was one of only four netminders to ever captain a team, Chuck Gardiner, George Hainsworth and John Ross Roach being the other three.

It makes sense in theory why goaltenders cannot dawn the C, the captain is the only member of the team that is allowed to engaged in discussion with the referee, unless that player is not on the ice then the alternate captain may have a word with the officials, and goalies mostly stay between the pipes so it would be a hassle for them to go back and forth to discuss calls.

If not for the rule, Luongo would make en exceptional captain. He is a natural born leader who can shift momentum and change the flow of a game with a stacking of the pads. He's put the Canucks on his back and led them to victory numerous times, plus he isn't bashful and when he talks, players listen.

Who will captain the Vancouver Canucks through the 2008-09 season remains to be seen, but clearly the team has a few candidates for the position.

No one is campaigning for the job, Canucks management and coach staff will make the call on who the captain and alternate captains will be this season. Add that to their list of decisions heading into training camp and the pre-season, and the next few weeks promise to be exhilarating in Vancouver.

  11- number of players who have proudly donned the C for the Vancouver Canucks.

  1035- Markus Naslund played in his 1000th NHL career game on January 17, 2008 with the Canucks.

21 - age of Trevor Linden when he was appointed captain of the Canucks in the 1991-9 season.

Mitchell prepares
Linden, in his own words
Lining up
One on One with Linden
Kesler back in Van

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