Sunday, September 16, 2007
Elias is the Captain (for now)
Regarding the captaincy of the team, the big and obvious question is who will be the new captain? Brian Rafalski isn't here anymore, so it won't be him. Darren at 2 Man Advantage seems to think the options will include assistants John Madden and Colin White, but ultimately picks Brian Gionta since goaltenders cannot be captains. I agree with his assertion that Zach Parise and Travis Zajac may be captains of the future and further agree that neither are ready for the role yet. I disagree however that Gionta should get it - if Elias' previous season is reason to not make him the captain, then Gionta's drastic dip in production would be reason enough to deny him. But that shouldn't be the reason, in my opinion
The interesting thing about being a captain is that the role requires leadership. A false assumption is that the captain has to be the clutch player, the guy who gets a point per game and always when the team needs it, the go-to guy. That isn't necessarily true. As great as Scott Stevens was, you would be mad to suggest that he needs to be a game-winning goal-scorer on a regular basis. Considering the Devils' history, guys who came through in big games run the gamut of Patrik Elias to Jason Arnott to Valeri Zelepukin to Jeff Friesen to Mike Rupp and so on. I wouldn't immediately jump up and name everyone one of them as captain-material on that alone.
Part of the problem is that from our perspective - the fan's perspective - the captain is supposed to be the leader and well, the leader therefore has to step up on a regular basis. That's part of it, but being a leader also includes motivating the players - not just in games or in intermissions, but also in practices and warm-up skates. The leader has to properly represent the team as well, especially when discussing a call with a referee (which, unless I'm mistaken, is a reason goaltenders aren't allowed to be captains, it'd take too long for them to get up to center ice and discuss matters with the ref). The captain probably also has to deal with internal issues such as chemistry, general team morale, and other matters I wouldn't see on the ice. The leader doesn't necessarily have to be the best player on the team; I don't think you can tell me Tim Taylor is the best player on the Tampa Bay Lightning. The most important matter is whether the player is fit to lead - can they inspire their team to do better? Can he resolve issues properly while not disrupting the team's results? Hockey is a team sport and everyone must contribute; but a strong leader makes the team that much better - just like Scott Stevens did for New Jersey.
And of all the players on this team, from what I know and seen, the one best fit to lead is Patrik Elias.
Don't tell me how he didn't look interested in game X against team Y or how he was a minus player for most of last season. Yes, his season in terms of production was poor and not only do I feel he can contribute more offensively, I think he has to contribute more for the Devils to have the best chance for success in this upcoming season. Nevertheless, he remains the best player in my opinion to be the captain of this team. Why?
The second half of the 2005-2006 season.
You know, the season where Elias returned from his recovery from Hepatitis A and the team played like a winning machine for the rest of that year? The season looked lost prior to his return: Lou Lamoriello had to step in as coach when Larry Robinson stepped down, the team looked to be fighting for the eighth seed in the East, and the Rangers - the Rangers - were leading the division. The return of Elias in January not only provided the Devils a boost for a few games, oh no. The Devils turned it up and turned it on even in April when they won all their games - regular season and playoffs - and swept the Rangers. Elias wasn't just absolutely fantastic - and he was - but he helped lift a team that look liked it was treading water at times and pushed them to new heights to take the division, sweep the Rangers, and go farther than anyone expected.
Nobody else on the Devils can make that claim. Nobody outside of Brodeur can claim of such an impact on the team. Nobody. The return of Elias and how he conducted himself lifted an otherwise above-average team to do some great things. If that isn't being a captain, what else is? I believe that was the reason he got the 'C' to begin with; it wasn't a bargaining chip to keep Elias in Devils' red, but Elias had truly earned it. While he didn't have one of his better seasons, the Devils did win the division again and still made it to the second round of the playoffs. I don't think that's enough to strip Elias of the "C" completely.
I know and understand Sutter wants to state that this is his team now and he'll make the decisions. If you ask me, unless someone else steps up in a major way, Elias is the captain of the Devils.
UNRELATED BIT: I keep forgetting to link this, but Hal Stern's blog Snowman on Fire discusses the Devils and hockey in general at times. He has a report about the rookies and their ten-hour skate (!!) at training camp from Friday. It's quite interesting, I suggest you check it out. Good to know that if you want to make it onto the N.J. Devils, you need to earn it.