LAVAL, Quebec -- The general consensus among fans and media attempting to handicap who would become the next captain of the Montreal Canadiens was that there were four primary candidates for the job.
The debate over which of those four would land the role became perhaps the most popular topic of conversation in Montreal during the past six weeks, with each of the top candidates having his fair share of supporters.
As it turns out, the Canadiens had trouble deciding as well.
So instead of naming a captain, the team announced Monday that defensemen Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban and forwards Max Pacioretty and Tomas Plekanec each will serve as alternate captains for the 2014-15 season, and the captaincy issue will be revisited next summer.
CANADIENS GOLF TOURNAMENT
Watch Carey Price and other Montreal Canadiens address the media prior to the team's annual charity golf tournament:
"I believe that it's a transition," general manager Marc Bergevin
said during the team's annual charity golf tournament. "[The captaincy] is a big role to have when you look at what comes with it, in Montreal especially. So if we can spread the leadership around and have guys slowly become more comfortable with the role and eventually, when [coach Michel Therrien
] and I sit down and feel that somebody can wear the 'C,' we'll make that decision. But I feel really comfortable with having four assistants."
The only other time the Canadiens have played a season without a captain was 2009-10, when Saku Koivu left to sign with the Anaheim Ducks as a free agent after 10 years in the role. That season the Canadiens welcomed an influx of new players via free agency and had a new coach in Jacques Martin, so the decision was made to allow management and Martin to get to know the group before making a decision.
Brian Gionta was named captain prior to the following season, and it is his departure as a free agent to the Buffalo Sabres that left the captaincy vacant. In addition to Gionta's departure, defenseman Josh Gorges, another prominent member of Montreal's leadership group, was traded to the Sabres during the offseason.
"We certainly talked a lot about it, me and Marc, and we came to the conclusion that there were a lot of good candidates, but there's always a transition that has to be made," Therrien said. "We believe that for that young corps of veterans; give them an opportunity to show their leadership. So we're going to focus on that."
Markov, 35, and Plekanec, 31, have spent their entire NHL careers with the Canadiens and are the elder statesmen of the team in terms of longevity. They will be full-time alternates.
"[Markov] is someone who has been in the League a long time. He's well respected and obviously one of our bigger leaders," Subban said. "I still look to him for advice, everybody's going to look to him for that leadership, and he provides that. But he can't do it alone. He needs support, and we all need to support each other in helping our team get to where we want to be."
Pacioretty and Subban both are 25 and represent the team's younger veterans, players just entering their primes, a group that includes forwards Lars Eller and David Desharnais. Pacioretty and Subban will alternate as alternate captains; Subban will wear the 'A' at home and Pacioretty on the road through the first 41 games of the season, then they will switch.
"We don't want to put pressure on anyone's shoulders for no reason," Therrien said. "Our young leaders made some big strides over the last three years and we want to make sure they continue to make some strides."
Subban is in the first season of an eight-year, $72 million contract. He had 10 goals and 53 points in 82 regular-season games and five goals and 14 points in 17 Stanley Cup Playoff games to help the Canadiens advance to the Eastern Conference Final last season. Pacioretty is coming off his best offensive season when he set career-bests with 39 goals and 60 points, and his 11 game-winning goals led the League.
For both of them, the announcement Monday represents a change in role within the dynamics of the Canadiens dressing room. Markov and Plekanec were already clearly established as leaders on this team, but Subban and Pacioretty will now have to manage their new place in the leadership hierarchy.
"We have young guys on our team that are going to have to look up to somebody," Subban said. "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. I want to be the best teammate I can be, and to be put in a leadership position it gives you that opportunity to also be that type of figure in terms of a mentor."
Pacioretty said he sometimes felt it was not his place to speak up in the place of Gionta, Gorges or the other established veterans on the team. Now, he is an identified member of that group, so not only will it be his place to do so, it will be expected of him.
He said that Bergevin warned him that in the past, he arrived at training camp looking to others to give an example. That's not the case anymore.
"[Bergevin] said now I'm coming into camp, and people are going to be looking up to me," Pacioretty said. "So I've got to have a different mindset when it comes to that. I've got to worry about making the opportunity the best for them and helping them out along the way. It's definitely something new. But I've been at the other end of the stick so I think I'm a bit experienced when it comes to that."