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Sunday Coffee: Leading The Charge

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
(Getty Images)

"I didn’t want to name one unless I was very comfortable with the candidates, being a new coach with new personnel. It’s a critical decision, and it’s not one you want to make a mistake on." - Panthers Head Coach Peter DeBoer on not naming a captain last season

Somewhere between their first official skate this morning in Nova Scotia and their historic regular-season opener in Helsinki, one of the Panthers players will be wearing a ‘C’ on his jersey.
 
He will be the first since the spring of 2008, and only the second since 2002. And like anybody in any sport, he will embrace that opportunity and take ownership or it will weigh on him like an albatross.
 
    It’s a tough gig wearing the ‘C’ in the NHL. Some are awarded it too soon (Vinny Lecavalier) and some never seem quite comfortable with it (Olli Jokinen). But it can also be rewarding.  
 
    It wrapped Mark Messier in glory in New York. Jean Beliveau dignified the letter for a decade in Montreal. Bob Clarke became part the symbol in Philadelphia as did Steve Yzerman in Detroit.
          
    For the Panthers, who were led through expansion and into the Stanley Cup by Brian Skrudland and then through some lean years by Scott Mellanby, it appears they’re ready for a captain.
 
    “It’s a topic we’ve discussed as a coaching staff,” said Panthers coach Peter DeBoer last week. “I think we’re going to make that decision through training camp. But I would expect we’ll have a captain this year.”
 
    Finding a leader has been tough for the Panthers since those early years. Skrudland, who came to the Panthers in the 1993 Expansion Draft via Montreal, was an all-out character who the fans and media fell in love with during those early years. Yes, he kept things light when they needed to be (he once carried Mellanby on his shoulders past a tour bus in Detroit, giving the impression to the horrified passengers that Mellanby was a 15-foot giant), but he also knew when to throw the hammer down. Mellanby could be quiet, but he had a disarming wit and was respected like Skrudland for his work ethic and desire to win.
 
    That was and remains important. Not only did Mellanby and Skrudland have the respect of the players, but the respect of their coaches. Players knew they could go to either with concerns, and the captain would serve as a liason.
 
    “They knew how to carry a team on and off the ice,” said Panthers’ television analyst Bill Lindsay, a teammate of both Skrudland and Mellanby. “And they knew how we should carry ourselves.”
 
    Skrudland and Mellanby knew the importance of their role in the South Florida community. Both men were excellent with the media, knowing part of their responsibility was being the last player on many nights to answer the final question. They realized the responsibility of wearing the ‘C’ and they took ownership of being captain.
 
    Pavel Bure, Paul Laus, Olli Jokinen…they all tried but none seemed as comfortable as Skrudland and Mellanby no matter how well they played on the ice. And rotating captains or having multiple captains hasn’t carried this franchise to the playoffs.
 
    But after going without a captain during his first year behind the bench, DeBoer says he’s ready to give out the ‘C.’
 
    “I didn’t want to name one unless I was very comfortable with the candidates, being a new coach with new personnel,” DeBoer said. “I felt I wanted to take the opportunity to get to know the guys before I made that decision. It’s a critical decision, and it’s not one you want to make a mistake on. I feel I have a handle on that group now and I’m sure we’ll make a decision during camp.”
 
    It’s a decision that likely won’t be a shocker inside the organization.
 
    “I think a captain is pretty clear cut,” said forward Gregory Campbell. “You take a guy like Yzerman. Those guys are going to come through and it’s going to be pretty clear who the captain is. We might have a little bit more of a quiet team, but leadership, as everyone knows; it’s not just in the room. It’s on the ice, and I think there are a lot of candidates in our room that could be captain.”
 
    Veteran Cory Stillman, who’s won Stanley Cups with two different teams, says there’s already a group of leaders within the Panthers.
 
    “There are vocal guys, guys who lead by example, guys who get everyone together,” he said. “I think guys know in the dressing room who the leaders are and sometimes it can be an older guy or sometimes it can be a younger guy. People know our leadership group and who’s there. If you’re asking what specific thing a guy needs to be captain? You’ll never find just one thing.”
 
    And that’s fine…just as long as there’s one captain.
 
Alex Ovechkin (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Neil Davidson)
OVIE MAKING WAVES
 
    It was a busy week for Alex Ovechkin. The Capitals star drove a custom-designed Zamboni Wednesday through midtown Manhattan to promote the new video game, NHL 2K10, for which Ovechkin is the cover boy. He also reiterated that he planned to participate in the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia whether or not the NHL sactions his participation.
 
    While some in the NHL are wondering if shutting down the NHL for two weeks in 2014 to play in the Games is prudent, Ovechkin is taking a hard stance and claims he won’t back down from playing. He’s asking for a player’s meeting in the not-so-distant future.
 
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
 
    “There is something special about the Stanley Cup, other than it just being really big.” President Barack Obama honoring the Penguins at the White House.
 
Jim Balsillie (AP Photo/Matt York)
DEALING IN THE DESERT
 
    Well, it’s all up to Judge Redfield Baum now whether the NHL gains control of the Coyotes, or Jim Balsillie gets the team and eventually moves it to Ontario, or whether he rejects both bids. No matter what side he favors, the other side will likely appeal.
 
    It does appear, however, that Balsillie, who’s bid is double that of the NHL, is facing long odds. Creditors and the city of Glendale all support the NHL bid. And even Baum might have tipped his hand when he told Balsillie’s attorney their client is seeking an unprecedented ruling.
 
    “Doesn’t it strike you as unusual that in the bankruptcy code of 1978, 31 years later, nobody’s ever crossed this bridge before and approved this kind of relocation?” Baum asked Balsillie’s lawyer.
 
    Meanwhile, the Coyotes open their preseason Tuesday with split squads playing in Phoenix and L.A., against the Kings.

Dany Heatley (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Adrian Wyld)
NOTES

    The NHL lifted Theo Fleury’s suspension a week shy of his four year anniversary of sobriety, and now he’s reportedly been invited to Calgary’s training camp. Good for Fleury. The question now is whether a 41-year-old who’s been out of the game for six seasons could have anything left…The Senators have finally bid farewell to Dany Heatley with GM Bryan Murray tradiing him to the Sharks for Jonathan Cheechoo and Milan Michalek. Michalek is only 24 and has scored 73 goals the past three years. Cheechoo is three years removed from scoring 56 and had only 12 last season. Still, not a bad deal for the Senators considering the circumstances...There’s still a lot of unrestricted free agents out there, and things are getting tough. Defenseman Dennis Seidenberg, who set career highs last season in Carolina in games (70), goals (5), assists (25) and points (30), is still looking for work. “I was told in free agency it could take a while and just to stay patient,” he told the News & Observer. “I did for a while. Lately, I’ve been calling my agent more often just asking what’s going on.”…Former Panthers prospect Drew Larman has been invited to Bruins training camp…Speaking of the Bruins, they unveil their Winter Classic jersey later this week…Former Panthers Rob Globke and Serge Payer are teammates in Germany on the Krefeld Penguins…Road songs for Panthers iPods:  Nothing But The Wheel (Peter Wolf and Mick Jagger), Night Driving (Milton), Rearviewmirror (Pearl Jam), Windfall ( SunVolt) , Key to the Highway (Derek and the Dominos), The Road (Kinks), Homecoming King (Guster)..A 1993 signed Donruss hockey card signed by Brian Skrudland: $2.99 on ebay. Only 15 days remaining to bid…

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