Vanek will serve as captain for home games and Ott will serve as captain on the road. Rolston also named Sabres defenseman Christian Ehrhoff the team’s alternate captain for all games.
Rolston made the announcement in the Sabres dressing room after practice at First Niagara Center. He said the decision to go with two captains was an organizational one, made after much discussion.
“We just thought both guys represented what we wanted,” Rolston said. “Nothing more, nothing less than that. We thought it’s all about the influence they have on the team. Those guys are big influences on the team, so we thought that was the way to go.”
Ott and Vanek will be the 24th and 25th players to wear the “C” for the Sabres. Excluding the rotating captaincy of the 2003-04 and 2007-08 seasons, they are the 17th and 18th full-season captains in Sabres history.
Vanek, drafted by the Sabres fifth overall in 2003, is sixth all-time in goals for the franchise and 10th all-time in points. He said that being named a captain will not change how he plays or how he approaches his teammates.
He’s poised to lead a group that has missed the playoffs the past two seasons and Vanek hopes to help change that this year.
“Obviously it means a lot to be representing this great organization with Steve and Christian,” Vanek said. “It’s an honor, but as I’ve told the guys, this letter doesn’t mean much if we don’t do anything as a group. Again it’s nice, but it’s not where we want to be.”
We just thought both guys represented what we wanted. Those guys are big influences on the team, so we thought that was the way to go. - Ron Rolston
Vanek is one of the longest-tenured players on the team and Rolston took into account how the veterans have helped the younger, less experienced players since he took over as coach in February.
“Thomas has been a big part of this organization for a long time. He knows how it ticks,” Rolston said. “He wants to have a great year and he also has been really good in camp and in helping our young guys – whether it’s on the bench or in the room – develop. That was very important in that decision.”
Ott joined the Sabres after being acquired in a trade with Dallas last summer. After the team traded captain Jason Pominville in March, Ott was named an alternate captain for the rest of the season. He previously served as an alternate captain for the Stars under Brendan Morrow.
He also said his style will not change because of the new letter on his chest.
“I’ve tried to stay on the right line and lead and be an example for the team. Obviously I play a hard style, try and be competitive, but for myself, this isn’t going to change anything or who I am,” he said. “What’s got me to the NHL is my work ethic and that’s what’s going to keep me there with a letter or without it.”
Rolston pointed out that Ott’s demeanor both on and off the ice played a big part in naming him a captain.
“He puts everything out there and he wears his heart on his sleeve. He plays for the crest every night,” Rolston said.
Vanek and Ott are both entering contract years, but Rolston said that never played a role in the decision process.
Ehrhoff, entering his third season with the Sabres, will lead a defense that has a good mix of experience and youth. The Sabres brought back veteran Henrik Tallinder but have rookies like Mark Pysyk and 18-year-old Rasmus Ristolainen on the roster as well.
“With a lot of young guys coming in, there has to be a little more from the older guys so it’s not too quiet. We are up for the challenge,” Ehrhoff said.
The Sabres last used a two-captain rotation in 2005-06 and 2006-07, when Chris Drury and Daniel Briere served as co-captains. Vanek, who was a rookie during that first season, said that Drury was a tremendous influence on him.
“It wasn’t just because he wore the ‘C.’ It’s because how he carried himself, how he worked hard, how he got along with people,” Vanek said. “Him and Mike Grier – even though Mike didn’t have the ‘C’ – are two of the guys I learned a lot from and that’s the example I’ve been trying to set for years for other young guys coming in.”
Vanek, Ott, Ehrhoff and Rolston all made note of how there are many leaders on the team who take charge in their own way. Vanek said that leadership on the team doesn’t stop with the three players wearing letters.
“It doesn’t come down to the three of us. We have a group of seven, eight who have to be more vocal than in the past – who haven’t stepped up,” Vanek said. “I think it’s a group effort. I think it starts with us obviously on the ice, off the ice but it’s more than us. Big picture, there are a lot of guys who are leaders and they need to help us.”