Rabid Habs

Montreal Canadiens Captaincy Situation

Habs' Max Pacioretty Photo - canadiens.nhl.com

Last summer, the Montreal Canadiens brass opted to go without a captain much like they did back in the 2009-10 season. Despite not having a captain in both those seasons, the Habs were able to have some successful seasons.

According to reports from the Globe and Mail on September 15, 2009, Andrei Markov had rejected the offer of becoming the next Canadiens captain saying he’s happier to just be an alternate captain. Instead of announcing another player to be captain, the team decided to wait another year to evaluate who should wear the “C“. After the 2009-10 season, the team announced that Brian Gionta would become the 27th Habs captain.

In 2009-10, the captain-less Habs snuck into the playoffs only to knock off the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins. The team came together when it mattered, however they just couldn’t get the job done in the Eastern Conference finals. They ran into a hot Philadelphia Flyers team who ousted the Habs in 5 games and advanced to the Stanley Cup finals.

Last season, the Canadiens were in what general manager Marc Bergevin called “a transition year.” He said this because he believed that it was the year where the young veterans such as Max Pacioretty, P.K. Subban and Carey Price would become the leaders of the team. He had let go of the older veterans like former captain Brian Gionta and Daniel Brière in the summer of 2014 so that these players in their prime could really take over the responsibility of being the guys in the room to look up to. Bergevin even decided to ship Josh Gorges, who was very likely to become the next captain to the Buffalo Sabres.

While the Canadiens didn’t make it as far in the playoffs last year, by losing in the second round to their kryptonite the Tampa Bay Lightning, they enjoyed a successful season by finishing second in the league with 110 points – only 3 points behind the New York Rangers. However, the Habs’ biggest reason for finishing that high in overall standings was due to Carey Price. Price had a remarkable season where he finished first in wins with 43, first in save percentage with .933, and first in goals against average of 1.96 goals per game. (Note that the save percentage and goals against average stats only count goalies who played 25 games or more.) Price ended up winning the Hart and Vezina trophies as the most valuable player and best goalie of the year.

Many of Price’s teammates and management staff have said that he is the true captain of the team. When the team has their leadership meetings it includes the 4 alternate captains (Andrei Markov, P.K. Subban, Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty) and Price. The only reason Carey is not the captain is the fact that goalies are not allowed to wear the “C”. The last goalie who wore the “C” was Habs netminder Bill Durnan during the 1947-48 season. However, Durnan would come out of the crease a lot. That would cause games to be delayed, and the league had no other choice but to reinforce the “Bill Durnan rule” which forbids all goalies from wearing a “C” or an “A” on their jersey. Despite this rule, there is nothing that says a goalie cannot be named captain of his team and in 2008 the Vancouver Canucks decided to name Roberto Luongo as captain. He became the first goalie in 60 years to be captain. The Canucks had painted a “C” onto Luongo’s helmet and it lasted two years until Luongo stepped down after it was causing the fans and media to criticize the team for not having a real captain. The “Durnan rule” also says a goalie can’t argue calls with the ref as captain, making the situation tough on the Canucks. The knowledge of all this could be the reason why Price has not been publicly named captain.

For the upcoming 2015-16 season it is uncertain if the Habs will decide to name a captain or continue to run with 4 alternates like they did last season. If they don’t name a captain, it won’t be because there isn’t anyone who is ready to be named captain, it will be because there are a handful of candidates who deserve to be named team captain.

Since Marc Bergevin took the reins of the team in June 2012, he has prided himself on getting character guys onto the Habs to set up a great nucleus of leadership around the room. He has done a great job with that so far as the team seems to have a great bond with each other. However, some of the guys such as Max Pacioretty and P.K. Subban are more likely to be named captain. The two are currently alternating as the third “A” each game with Andrei Markov and Tomas Plekanec being alternates on a full-time basis. As it stands right now, Pacioretty is an alternate captain at home while P.K. is one on the road. In the beginning of last season, it was the opposite which might suggest that Pacioretty may now have the upper hand to be the Canadiens captain.

Despite Subban actually being nominated for an award, finishing 3rd in Norris trophy voting (behind winner Erik Karlsson and runner-up Drew Doughty), Pacioretty was the Canadiens second most valuable player after none other than MVP Carey Price. Pacioretty took being named an alternate captain very seriously this past season. He started to lead by example on and off the ice. He was no longer considered to be that one dimensional scorer he was during the 2013-14 season. He developed a more defensive game as he and Plekanec became one of the most fearful penalty kill duos this past season. Sure they have played together on the penalty kill the year before, but they weren’t as good as they were last season. Last season they were just clicking together perfectly, leading the way for the Habs to have the 7th best penalty kill in the league. Pacioretty ended up finishing 7th in the Frank Selke trophy race and 2nd among wingers behind only Marian Hossa who finished 6th. Not only did Max Pacioretty improve his defense, but he kept up his goal scoring as he potted 37 goals in 80 games which had him tied for fifth in the league. He also distributed the puck more as he finished the season with 30 assists compared to 21 during 2013-14 season. Pacioretty’s game didn’t only improve on-ice. Last season when doing post-game interviews, Pacioretty was more calm and collected than he had ever been, answering questions the way a true born captain would.

As for Subban, he could be a good captain as he clearly has the abilities to lead on and off the ice. However, he tends to get too emotional on the ice and could take a stupid penalty, like when he double-hand slashed Senators forward Mark Stone, causing him to get a game misconduct penalty. Even if he didn’t do it on purpose, he needs to control his emotions if he wants to be the next Canadiens captain. He’s the most vocal player on this team and if he can mature and not let his emotions get the best of him, he can become a great captain for years to come.

The point of having all alternates last season was to see whether Max Pacioretty or P.K. Subban are closer to being captain. As of right now, Pacioretty seems like the consensus pick but if Habs brass decides to wait another year to name a captain, that can all change.

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