Tag: captain

Edmonton Oilers v Toronto Maple Leafs

Horcoff looks to lead young Oilers… to the playoffs?

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Are the Oilers going to be one of the elite teams this season? Looking at the roster as currently constructed, probably not. But wins, losses, and playoff berths aren’t necessarily what the 2011-12 season is all about in Edmonton. Ask most hockey people and this season is all about growth. It’s about the young players growing into their NHL roles as they realize their unlimited potential; it’s about the collection of young players growing together as they try to form an identity as a team. Neither of those come over night—and no team in the NHL can be considered a contender without both: players playing together and maximizing their potential. That’s what this season is all about.

Take a quick look at the Edmonton Oilers forwards. Names like Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have fanatics in Oil Country daring to dream about the future for the first time in decades. Some people have been as presumptuous as to mentions names like Messier, Kurri, Anderson, and even Gretzky. They have a lot of potential—but let’s take this rebuild one step at a time.

With all of that youth and inexperience comes growing pains.

For this season, there’s a forward on the roster who may be more important than all the blue-chip prospects Central Scouting can drool over: captain Shawn Horcoff. Just like the team as a whole, the numbers Horcoff puts on the scoreboard will be secondary to the work that he does in practice and in the locker room.  The Oilers captains knows it would be nice stay healthy and play in some meaningful games at the end of this coming season:

“In my case, I’ve endured two of the hardest years of my career. I’d like to think that’s behind me now. A realistic goal for us is making the playoffs. At the very least, we have to be playing meaningful games in the second half of the season, especially down the stretch.

“Look at Pittsburgh. They had three high, high drafts (Marc-Andre Fleury, Evgeny Malkin and Sidney Crosby; the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 1 selections in 2003, 2004 and 2005, respectively) and it wasn’t until the fourth year where they made the playoffs and lost in the first round. We’re just two drafts in and it’s still early.

“The first step is making the playoffs and taking it to the next level.”

A subtle correction: the first step is becoming competitive on a nightly basis. They’ll need to learn to push back when things go south; they’ll need to learn how to limit a potential losing streak to two or three games and not seven or eight. Horcoff is a guy who has been around for a while and knows what it takes to be an NHLer on and off the ice. He’ll be instrumental if the Oilers are to start fulfilling their promise this season.

People forget that it was only five years ago when the Oilers were within a single game of their sixth Stanley Cup. For the first time, the franchise has committed itself to a complete rebuild—a rebuild that is starting to bear fruit. The next step is for all of the assembled prospects to learn to take the next step together as a team. If Horcoff has it his way, he’ll take care of that part this upcoming season.

New leader in St. Louis? Blues finally set to announce captain

St. Louis Blues v Florida Panthers

After months of speculation amongst the St. Louis faithful, the Blues are finally set to announce their captain(s) for the 2011-12 season. As previously reported, the Blues organization has been contemplating either a traditional captain with two alternates or a “captain by committee” set-up that would rotate the “C” throughout the season. With the announcement only hours away, it seems like everyone is in agreement that David Backes is the man to lead the next era of Blues hockey.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has been polling Blues fans for their choice for the “C.” Given the choice between newly acquried veterans, youngsters with potential, and familiar faces, fans chose to go with the names that have been in St. Louis for a while.  Backes leads the way and it’s not even close:

“Backes was the overwhelming favorite to be the Blues’ next captain among the fans in a recent poll on STLtoday.com. There were 1,780 responses to the poll and Backes earned 76 percent of the support, followed by Jackman (8%), Pietrangelo (6%), Steen (5%), McDonald (4%) and other (2%).”

Andy Strickland shares the majority opinion that Backes would be the perfect fit:

“Having a Captain gives the Blues an identity and I can’t think of a better player to represent the franchise than Backes. He’s entering the prime years of his career as well as the first season of a brand new five-year extension. When you look around the division, Jonathan Toews, Rick Nash, Nicklas Lidstrom, and Shea Weber all do an outstanding job of representing their individual franchises. Backes would do the same in St. Louis.”

To Strickland’s point, Backes brings much more to the table than just goal scoring and ice vision. Some may remember in the weeks leading up to the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver when Backes took it upon himself to fight the entire Canadian National team one game at a time. That’s just a sampling of the type of leadership he brings to any team. If the team is sluggish he’ll take the ice and deliver a few body checks to get his team going. If a teammate is taken out, he’ll drop the gloves to defend anyone on his team. Of course, if the Blues desperately need a goal, he’s pretty good in that department as well.

There’s an old adage that a team will take on the identity of its captain. If that’s the case, then Backes would be the ideal man for the job.

Becoming a first time captain is never an easy transition. Time and time again, anointed captains have explained afterwards that they had no idea how difficult the job could be. There’s added pressure deal with in the locker room, on the ice, and even in front of the media. Those are the little things that people don’t always see when a first-year captain slumps while they adjust to the added responsibility. But with former captains Jaime Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott added to the team this offseason, the veterans should be able to aid in the transition.

The only question left: the Blues are going to make Backes the captain, right?

Looking for leadership: Who is the next St Louis Blues Captain?

Colorado Avalanche v St. Louis Blues

Trading a captain away used to be a mortal sin for an organization. If players tended to stay with the same organization for the duration of their careers, the captains would stay part of the organization for the rest of their lives. Can anyone imagine Maurice Richard, Jean Beliveau or Bob Gainey wearing anything other than the bleu blanc et rouge? Would the Red Wings ever trade Alex Delvecchio or even Steve Yzerman? Would the Boston Bruins ever trade Raymond Bou… nevermind.

Like many other things around the NHL, time brings change.

Over the course of the offseason, the New York Rangers have let their captain Chris Drury walk away and the Philadelphia Flyers have traded Mike Richards to the Kings. Adam Foote has retired in Colorado and Doug Weight has done the same in Long Island. But even more surprising, the Sabres, Devils, and Blues all traded their captains in the middle of the season last year. Craig Rivet was sitting in the press box by the time he was traded from the Sabres and Jaime Langenbrunner was fighting with Jacques Lemaire by the time he was sent out of town. But for the Blues, sending Captain Eric Brewer to the Lightning was a move that truly sent their leader to a new team.

As important as offseason acquisitions are for the Blues, perhaps the most important decision in shaping the team this offseason will be selecting the next captain of the proud franchise.

Returning to the team this season are all three alternate captains: Alex Steen, Barret Jackman, and David Backes. Elsewhere on the roster, Andy McDonald has provided leadership over the last four seasons and star-in-the-making Alex Pietrangelo wore the “A” for Team Canada in the 2010 World Junior Championships. The team has also welcomed veteran leaders and former NHL captains Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner to the team via free agency. For a team that traded away their leader at the deadline last season, the Blues certainly have their share of candidates to replace Brewer as captain for next season.

For our money, it’s hard to imagine a better captain for the Blues than David Backes. He’s the heart and soul of their young core combining skill, grit, and leadership in one powerful package. The 27-year-old is a two-time 30-goal scorer in the NHL and has only missed three games over the last three seasons. He’s represented the United States in the World Championships three times, was a member of Team USA’s silver medal winning team in the 2010 Winter Olympics, and was an all-star for the first time in his career last season. But more important than any stats that show up on his resume, it’s the way Backes plays the game that makes him the ideal leader for the Blues. He’s the type of player that would do anything for his team—whether its spark his teammates with a body check, an important goal, or even a fight. David Rogers from the Blues blog FrozenNotes.com agrees:

“Backes leads by example. He goes to the dirty areas of the ice and has no fear throwing his body around. Quite often, his physical play helps create scoring chances in the first place, by disrupting the other team’s flow of play. If he needs to stand up for his teammates, he will. If he needs to scrap, he will – and boy has he, just ask Team Canada.

Backes leads the Blues in plenty of offensive categories, but it is his overall play through the intangibles that will likely result in him leading the Blues as the team’s captain in the not too distant future.”

Last season, he signed a 5-year contract extension worth $22.5 million meaning he should be in town until at least 2016. Assuming the Blues don’t trade him after signing him to a long-term extension (see: Philadelphia Flyers), Backes would be an ideal candidate to lead the young team for the foreseeable future.