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Captain picks: Choosing who will wear the 'C'

by Adam Kimelman

Unlike other professional sports, the role of captain on an NHL team actually is an important one -- it's even spelled out in the rule book.

Rule 6.1 states: "One Captain shall be appointed by each team, and he alone shall have the privilege of discussing with the Referee any questions relating to interpretation of rules which may arise during the progress of a game."

In addition to the captaincy holding a defined role, there are other, intangible parts of the job. It's the captain who is seen as the team leader, counted on to be accountable to the media and in most cases the public face of the franchise as well as a link between the coach and players.

With the New York Islanders naming John Tavares as their captain Monday, the number of teams without a captain is down to seven.

Will those teams let someone step to the forefront during training camp or the early part of the regular season? Or will they opt to go into the season without anyone wearing the "C."

Here is one person's guesses for who the next captain could be for those seven teams:

Buffalo Sabres -- Steve Ott

The Sabres have been without a captain since Jason Pominville was traded to the Minnesota Wild at the NHL Trade Deadline in April.

Pominville was a Sabres draft pick and a fixture in the lineup for seven seasons, including two as captain. He was part of a core group that includes goalie Ryan Miller, forwards Thomas Vanek, Jochen Hecht and Drew Stafford, and defensemen Henrik Tallinder and Tyler Myers.

Vanek is the team's most skilled player, but he's entering the final season of his contract. General manager Darcy Regier admitted to investigating trades for Vanek during the summer, and Vanek has said he's not ready to sign any extension with the club, all of which makes him a tough sell as a captain you might have to replace at any moment.

That makes Ott the best candidate to wear the "C." He arrived last summer from the Dallas Stars as part of the Derek Roy trade and quickly became a fan favorite with his gritty, physical style of play. Also, he's never been shy about speaking his mind, and when the Sabres opted to unveil their third jersey, it was Ott who was picked to be part of the plan for the online reveal.

The fact the club chose him for a big public-relations campaign speaks to where he stands within the organization. Making him the next dressing-room leader appears to be the next step.

Calgary Flames -- Mike Cammalleri

When the Flames traded Jarome Iginla to Pittsburgh Penguins in March, it ended his decade-long tenure as captain.

Mike Cammalleri
Left Wing - CGY
GOALS: 13 | ASST: 19 | PTS: 32
SOG: 102 | +/-: -15
Who could possibly fill that void? Iginla personified all things Flames, on and off the ice. With the roster in a major state of transition -- Iginla, defenseman Jay Bouwmeester and goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff have left the team in the past six months -- finding a new leader from the young players who will be expected to have significant roles could prove difficult.

The best option appears to be Mike Cammalleri. Though the veteran forward is in the final season of his contract, he's had some of his best NHL success in Calgary and could be willing to sign an extension if he knows he's going to be a tent-pole player in the rebuilding effort.

At 31, Cammalleri likely won't last as long in the role as Iginla did, but his veteran know-how would make a solid bridge until the next generation of players is ready, a group that includes forwards Sven Baertschi, Mikael Backlund, Sean Monahan and John Gaudreau, and defensemen Patrick Sieloff and John Ramage.

Columbus Blue Jackets -- Jack Johnson

Following the trade of Rick Nash to the New York Rangers last summer, the Blue Jackets opted to go with a rotating cast of alternate captains last season. President of hockey operations John Davidson said the team could go that way again this season.

Jack Johnson
Defense - CBJ
GOALS: 5 | ASST: 14 | PTS: 19
SOG: 96 | +/-: -5
Asked recently by about naming a new captain, Davidson replied, "I don't anticipate it [soon]. We don't talk about it. When that happens, it'll happen."

If the team does opt to name a captain, the guess here is it will be defenseman Jack Johnson.

Since arriving in Columbus from the Los Angeles Kings as part of the Jeff Carter trade in February 2012, Johnson has been a workhorse on the Blue Jackets' back end. He was fifth in the League last season with an average ice time of 25:58 per game, and played more than 27 minutes 13 times in 44 games; in 65 games with the Jackets, he's played more than 27 minutes 25 times, and more than 30 minutes in a game eight times. He was one of four players in the League last season to average more than 2:30 of penalty-kill time and more than 3:30 of power-play time per game.

That kind of work ethic personifies the kind of game the Blue Jackets want to play. There are other candidates: R.J. Umberger is an Ohio State alum, and Umberger, Brandon Dubinsky, James Wisniewski, Fedor Tyutin and Jared Boll all served as alternate captains at some point last season. But if one person had to be designated the unquestioned leader, it would have to be Johnson.

Dallas Stars -- Jamie Benn

The trade that sent Brenden Morrow to the Pittsburgh Penguins in March left the captaincy with the Stars open for the first time since Morrow was given the role at the start of the 2006-07 season.

Jamie Benn
Left Wing - DAL
GOALS: 12 | ASST: 21 | PTS: 33
SOG: 110 | +/-: -12
After Morrow's departure, the Stars rotated the alternate captain's roles between a few veterans, among them Ray Whitney, Loui Eriksson, Stephane Robidas and Jamie Benn. But the franchise upheaval that came over the summer -- there's a new general manager Jim Nill, a new coach Lindy Ruff, and a new-look roster that features newly acquired centers Tyler Seguin, Shawn Horcoff and Rich Peverley -- the time has come to appoint a new leader of the group.

From this perspective, that leader should be Benn. The 24-year-old led the team in scoring last season after finishing second in 2011-12. He's in the second year of a five-year contract and is the player the franchise is building around. Your captain doesn't always have to be your best player, but in the case of the Stars, they should be one and the same.

Edmonton Oilers -- Jordan Eberle

Trading Shawn Horcoff to the Dallas Stars this summer was the biggest step in handing the leadership of the team over to its cadre of young, emerging stars. New coach Dallas Eakins told the team's website, however, he's in no hurry to pick a new captain.

Jordan Eberle
Center - EDM
GOALS: 16 | ASST: 21 | PTS: 37
SOG: 133 | +/-: -4
"I've already talked to a number of people in the organization on what their thoughts were. In the end, I've got to feel this out," he said. "I'm always going to take in information. … I don't have a time frame on it. If it looks like it's the end of next week, then we'll do it. If it is not until November or December, then we'll do it then. I'm not going to rush into this. I’m going to take my time."

Whenever he does get around to picking a captain, the choice should be Jordan Eberle.

Taken by the Oilers with the 22nd pick of the 2008 NHL Draft, Eberle has emerged as the team's most dependable player in his three NHL seasons. With a six-year contract that kicks in this season, his role on the team is cemented.

There are other options. Taylor Hall made his NHL debut at the same time as Eberle and is poised to take his game to an All-Star level. However, Hall is learning to play center at the NHL level for the first time, so saddling him with another task might not be for the best at this time. Defenseman Andrew Ference has a Stanley Cup ring, 13 seasons of NHL experience and was born in Edmonton, but he just arrived in town after signing as a free agent in July.

Eberle has the experience and maturity that makes him the perfect option for the captaincy, one that he likely will be good in now and only will get better at as time goes on.

Ottawa Senators -- Jason Spezza

After 14 years as captain, Daniel Alfredsson's summer departure for the Detroit Red Wings opens a leadership void with the Senators not seen since the last millennium.

Much as Iginla was in Calgary, Alfredsson was a revered figure in Ottawa on and off the ice, and stepping into his skates won't be easy. But there's one obvious candidate: The next captain should be Jason Spezza.

Spezza long has been the team's most skilled player, and at age 30, he's matured into a leader for a group that will feature a number of younger players who will be counted on as big contributors in an 82-game NHL season for the first time.

"I think I've really grown in a leadership role and I'd be honored to be the captain," Spezza told "We have some guys on the team that could also be captain of our team, but I'd love the opportunity to be captain and I feel like I'm ready to be captain of a hockey club."

Tampa Bay Lightning -- Steven Stamkos

Vincent Lecavalier had been captain of the Tampa Bay Lightning since 2008, but buying out the longtime face of the franchise meant it was time for new leadership.

Steven Stamkos
Center - TBL
GOALS: 29 | ASST: 28 | PTS: 57
SOG: 157 | +/-: -4
Lecavalier leaves the Lightning as the franchise's all-time scoring leader, but the choice for the next captain is the player who most likely will own all those numbers by the time his playing days in Tampa are over: center Steven Stamkos.

The sentimental choice could be Martin St. Louis, and though the 38-year-old doesn't look like he's going to slow down any time soon, it's time for some young blood to take over. There's no better candidate than Stamkos.

The two-time Rocket Richard Award winner is the team's unquestioned leader on the ice. With five seasons under his belt, he's got the kind of NHL experience that would allow him to take a younger player aside and give him the benefit of his time in the League. Having St. Louis as a supporting member of the team's leadership group certainly won't hurt.


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