Instead of Luongo, should Kesler be Canucks' captain?

robertoluongoc.jpgIn late March, the writers at my old blog Cycle like the Sedins discussed whether or not the Vancouver Canucks should make Ryan Kesler their “true” captain rather than having goalie Roberto Luongo stand as their unofficial one. As you may know, goalies cannot wear a captain’s ‘C’ but the team considers him their captain, going as far as to allow Luongo to paint a big ‘C’ on his goalie mask. I wanted to tackle that subject in March, but it just didn’t happen. So when I heard that Don Cherry recently weighed in against Luongo being the team’s captain, I find now to be a good time to touch on the subject.

If you look at the scenario without the inconvenience of context, the idea seems sound. After all, you’re not technically stripping Luongo of the captaincy, right? He’s not technically your captain … so it’s like getting two for the price of one! All snark aside, the question for me is: would naming Kesler – a great player who brings offensive punch and defensive play to the table – your captain going to bring enough benefits to off-set the bruises on Luongo’s ego? I’m not so sure, so I thought it would be wise to take a look at similar situations in recent NHL history.

Recent moments of quality and/or big-name players being stripped of the captaincy

Mike Modano to Brenden Morrow: In the summer of ’07, the Dallas Stars decided to take the captaincy from the face of their franchise, Modano. The move was controversial to say the least (enough to make Modano’s future-wife angry) but it seems like things have blown over. Then again, the Stars haven’t made the playoffs for the last two years and Morrow seems to have regressed a bit possibly due to injuries.

Vincent Lecavalier: The Tampa Bay Lightning star was named their captain for the first time in March 2000, becoming the youngest captain in NHL history. That didn’t last very long as he was stripped of the captaincy before the 2001-02 season. That ended up working out nicely, though, as Dave Andreychuk’s leadership helped the Lightning win a Cup. Lecavalier was re-named captain before the start of the 08-09 season, which isn’t really working well; at least I say that because his team is a sinking ship that is paying him way too much money and he’ll be in trade rumors until he actually produces to expectations again.

Patrick Marleau to Rob Blake: Perhaps the strangest of the captaincy shuffles, meek but spirited captain Patrick Marleau was stripped of the Sharks ‘C’ last summer thanks largely to the fact that the team lost in the first round to the Anaheim Ducks. Eventually the team named Blake the captain which seems like a band-aid solution; Blake’s age and Marleau’s pending free agency indicate that they both may be gone after the playoffs.

So what do these cases say? To me, they show that getting to the question itself is already a dangerous undertaking. Perhaps I underestimate the beyond-symbolic effect of the ‘C’ but I can’t help but wonder if the Canucks would be better off soothing Luongo’s ego and making Kesler their spiritual captain. Like he is, already.

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    Capitals, Penguins nearly perfect at stopping third period comebacks

    Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) and Washington Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen (2) chase down the puck during the first period of Game 2 in an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinals Saturday, April 30, 2016 in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
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    Pittsburgh only won by a single goal in Game 2 on Saturday and that deciding marker came with 4:28 minutes remaining in the third, but that contest had the potential to be far more one-sided.

    The Capitals were outshot 28-10 through 40 minutes and were consequently leaning on goaltender Braden Holtby to keep things close.

    “First two periods, I thought they were way better than us,” Washington coach Barry Trotz told CSN Mid-Atlantic. Or has Justin Williams put it, the Capitals “were getting embarrassed out there” during the first 40 minutes.

    Washington did rebound in the third period, though it wasn’t enough to prevent the Penguins from evening this series at 1-1. That puts the pressure on Washington to take at least one game in Pittsburgh before the second round’s over.

    Starting the game off strong is always going to be important, but that’s particularly true when talking about the Penguins and Capitals. Pittsburgh was 39-0-0 in the regular season when leading after 40 minutes while Washington was 37-0-1. So far in the playoffs, both teams are 4-0-0 when they have the lead after two periods.

    Hemsky finds his groove on third line

    DALLAS, TX - APRIL 11: Ales Hemsky #83 of the Dallas Stars handles the puck against the Nashville Predators at the American Airlines Center on April 11, 2015 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)
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    When the Dallas Stars inked Ales Hemsky to a three-year, $12 million deal, the hope was that he would be a valuable secondary scorer and help round out their top-six. Things haven’t gone as predicted, but Hemsky has emerged as a significant player for Dallas lately.

    Hemsky is now playing on the third line with Radek Faksa and Antoine Roussel and he’s gone on to record 15 points in his last 16 regular season games as well as another four points in seven playoff contests.

    “We had hard conversations about how I felt the game needed to be played, where I felt his game needed to go,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff told the Dallas Morning News. “Did it always go his way? No. But from his defensive responsibilities to really buying into shooting the puck a little bit more, I think he’s been a real good asset for us this year.”

    The Morning News goes into much more detail about Hemsky and his resurgence, but taking a step back from that, having a third line that’s both impactful without the puck and capable of chipping in offensively is important, especially as we get deeper into the playoffs. There’s no question that the Stars have big time players on their roster, but that’s obviously not all you need in the playoffs.

    A lot of the time when talking about the Stars’ areas of concern, their defense and goaltending come up and understandably so given that Dallas allowed more goals in the regular season than any other team that made the playoffs. But the value of a strong bottom-six shouldn’t be understated and perhaps Hemsky’s recent resurgence will play a role in the Stars having that going for them throughout the playoffs.

    Dallas has taken a 1-0 lead over St. Louis in the second round and has an opportunity to build on that in Game 2 this afternoon (3:00 p.m. ET).

    NHL schedules hearing with Orpik over Maatta hit

    Maatta
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    Brooks Orpik‘s late hit in Game 2 on Saturday might keep him out of Monday’s contest.

    At the very least, the NHL Department of Player Safety intends to discuss the matter with Orpik today, per the department’s Twitter feed.

    The incident occurred early in the first period when the Capitals forward smashed into Olli Maatta. The Penguins blueliner collapsed and needed some assistance getting off the ice. He didn’t return to the game.

    You can see that hit below:

    “I thought it was a late hit,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan told CSN Mid-Atlantic. “I thought it was a target to his head. I think it’s the type of hit everyone in hockey is trying to remove from the game.”

    The Penguins didn’t have an update on Maatta’s condition immediately following the contest.

    ‘I don’t know if it has sunk in yet,’ Jets GM Cheveldayoff gets lucky with draft lottery

    Kevin Cheveldayoff, general manager of Winnipeg Jets, speaks to members of the media after winning the second selection of the NHL hockey draft lottery in Toronto, Saturday, April 30, 2016. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
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    The Toronto Maple Leafs may have won the draft lottery, but an argument can be made that the luckiest team last night was the Winnipeg Jets.

    After all, Toronto had the best odds to get the top pick, but Winnipeg jumped from sixth to second in the draft order.

    “I don’t know if it has sunk in yet,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff told the Winnipeg Sun. “I was doing my scrum at the end (of the show) with the media that was here, I said at one point, ‘Moving from six to two…’ and I had to catch myself and go through the mental notes in my head that it had just really happened.”

    It’s likely, though not guaranteed, that the Maple Leafs will take Auston Matthews with the first overall pick. Assuming that’s the case, moving up to the second overall pick means that Winnipeg will have the option of choosing one of the two promising Finnish forwards available: Patrik Laine or Jesse Puljujarvi.

    That’s potentially a big break for Winnipeg, especially after this campaign where the Jets went from making the playoffs for the first time since relocating to posting a 35-39-8 record. Through five campaigns in Winnipeg, the Jets have missed the playoffs four times.

    The last time this franchise drafted this high was back when the then Atlanta Thrashers took Kari Lehtonen with the second overall pick in 2002. That was the final year in a string of four straight drafts where the Thrashers always had the first or second selection. The previous three years they took Patrik Stefan (1999), Dany Heatley (2000), and Ilya Kovalchuk (2001).

    Related: Shanahan: Leafs earned No. 1 pick ‘the hard way’