The Montreal Canadiens are rich in leadership despite losing two-thirds of their leadership core during the offseason. Captain Brian Gionta and alternate captain Josh Gorges have each moved within the Atlantic Division to join the Buffalo Sabres.
There is a healthy number of worthy candidates ready to accept the torch and carry it highly as captain of the blue, blanc et rouge. However, this is a tremendous responsibility that the proud Canadiens organization doesn’t take lightly.
Inside the walls of the Canadiens’ dressing room reads a passage from famed Canadian poet John McCrae’s war memorial poem “In Flanders Fields.” The passage serves as the club’s motto and a constant reminder of the history that every member of the Habs carries on their back. Painted above the portraits of past franchise greats, it reads in French and in English:
“Nos bras meurtris vous tendent le flambeau, à vous toujours de le porter bien haut.”
“To you from failing hands we throw the torch; be yours to hold it high.”
The poem was written in 1915, during the year the Canadiens captured their first of 24 Stanley Cup championships. Last playoffs, the Canadiens came very close to etching another championship season into their glorious history. The Habs might have gone on to lift Lord Stanley if not for an ill-timed injury. Star goaltender Carey Price suffered a knee injury in Eastern Conference Final Game One that forced him to miss the final five games of the series. The Rangers went on to win the series in six games, advancing to their first Stanley Cup Final since 1994.
Only 28 men have served as captain of the Canadiens during their rich 105-year history. There will be a new skater leading the Habs out on the Bell Centre ice, wearing the letter ‘C’ stitched above his heart.
CANDIDATE ONE: ANDREI MARKOV
35-year-old defenseman Andrei Markov has spent his entire 13-year career with the Canadiens. He is the Habs’ most senior member, and has served as alternate captain since 2009.
Markov reportedly turned down the opportunity to captain the Canadiens ahead of the 2009-10 season. This was after beloved captain Saku Koivu moved west to join the Anaheim Ducks after spending 10 years as Habs’ captain. It would have been a tough act to follow. Markov, Gionta and Hal Gill served as alternate captains during the 2009-10 season.
The Canadiens rewarded Markov with a three-year, $17,250,000 contract in June. All of the buzz coming out of Montreal is that the seasoned blue-liner is reluctant to become “the guy.” There are plenty of outstanding leaders around the league who would rather be a voice as opposed to the voice.
Markov has the complete respect of the Canadiens’ locker room, but he doesn’t seem to be interested in all the responsibilities that come with being captain. Serving as locker room spokesman is a big part of being captain. Markov probably would prefer keeping the ‘A’ and being there for a younger captain to lean on.
CANDIDATE TWO: P.K. SUBBAN
P.K. Subban is clearly the people’s choice. Subban’s popularity in Montreal rivals that of Pope Francis within Vatican City.
The 25-year-old is one of the league’s most outspoken characters. Subban doesn’t shy away from anything on the ice and has been known to make some bold declarations through the media. His electric play gets the Bell Centre and all of Quebec buzzing.
Subban’s forceful hits, monster shot and overall flair for the dramatic gets teammates’ blood rushing. He’s a lay it on me, I can handle anything kind of character. At 25, Subban’s time to lead the Habs may have come.
He has been accused of being arrogant from some corners of the media. In reality, Subban is all about being a team-first character. Listen to him speak after games, he’s always pointing out important contributions made by teammates.
His growing on-ice maturity isn’t spoken about enough. He will hold teammates back from taking undisciplined penalties when they are on the receiving end of a questionable hit.
Subban showed tremendous maturity in the way that he handled himself when he was the target of racism from a small minority of ignorant Boston Bruins fans during the Eastern Conference Semifinals. He completely diffused the situation, going out of his way to say that the tweets directed at him were not representative of the city or the Bruins’ organization.
On top of all this, Subban goes out of his way to be involved in the organization’s charitable efforts and is making an effort to improve his French.
Obviously, there are $72 million reasons for Subban to be named captain. According to Jack Todd of the Montreal Gazette, owner Geoff Molson may have overruled general manager Marc Bergevin to make sure a deal got done before arbitration.
Perhaps, the Habs might feel that handing Subban the captaincy immediately after he signed a mammoth eight-year, $72 million extension could be laying too much pressure on him ahead of the 2014-15 season. No matter how the organization feels, Subban is ready for the challenge of leading the Canadiens.
CANDIDATE THREE: THOMAS PLEKANEC
31-year-old center Plekanec brings outstanding consistency and maximum effort every time he laces up his skates and pulls on the Habs’ sacred flannel.
He’s probably one of the least favorite Canadiens in the eyes of opposing players due to his penchant for embellishing. Inside Montreal’s dressing room, Plekanec is certainly a beloved character. He is known to be a low-maintenance character that does all the little things coaches love.
He isn’t as vocal as someone like Subban, but Plekanec seems to have earned the right to wear the ‘C.’ It would not be surprising to see the Habs reward Plekanec for his steady consistency by naming him their 29th captain.
CANDIDATE FOUR: BRANDON PRUST
Veteran winger Brandon Prust would make a fine captain. The gregarious 30-year-old is a media darling, offering as much time possible to writers. He is the definition of an energy player that is willing to do anything for the cause. Prust’s all-out style of play tends to lead to frequent injuries. Prust missed 30 regular season games last season due to shoulder and upper-body injuries.
He is also a fourth-line player, sometimes logging minimal ice time. That combined with his injury history are reasons why the Habs would be unlikely to offer the captaincy to a role player like Prust.
CANDIDATE FIVE: BRENDAN GALLAGHER
22-year-old winger Brendan Gallagher has the attributes of a future captain. He’s a lead-by-example character that prefers to deflect praise to teammates.
Gallagher is mature beyond his years, similar to Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog. Ahead of the 2012-13 season, the Avs made Landeskog the youngest captain in league history at 19 years, nine months and 13 days.
Watch Gallagher and you’ll notice a winger who plays well above his undersized, 5-foot-9 frame. He plays a tenacious two-way game.
McDonald’s describes the sandwich as one that “gives 110 percent and then some.”
CANDIDATE SIX: MAX PACIORETTY
It would be surprising to see 25-year-old winger Max Pacioretty wearing the ‘C’ next season. Pacioretty wore an ‘A’ for parts of last season, but faded during the 2014 Eastern Conference Final against the Rangers.
Oddly, Pacioretty became the target of franchise legend Guy Lafleur following Montreal’s playoff exit. In the French-language publication La Presse, Lafleur ripped into the popular Canadiens winger.
“Guys like (Thomas) Vanek and Pacioretty, you can not keep (them) in your team,” Lafleur told La Presse. “They stay home if they are not willing to pay the price. Your team will never win with players like that (who) fade when there is adversity.”
That sounds pretty damning, but also comes off as unnecessarily harsh. Say what you’d like about Pacioretty’s underwhelming series against the Rangers. Endorsing the Habs to show Pacioretty the exit door is a crazy suggestion.
CONCLUSION: PLEKANEC SEEMS MOST LIKELY HABS CAPTAIN
Plekanec will turn 32 in October. He seems like a safe pair of hands to give the captaincy for the next couple of seasons. It would allow the organization more time to decide whether Subban or Gallagher is deserving of the long-term task of captaining the Habs.
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