Since the start of 2013, three different players have worn the ‘C’ in Buffalo — Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek, and Steve Ott — and they have all been traded. That’s created something of a leadership vacuum for the Sabres going into the 2014-15 campaign.
Fortunately, there have some candidates to fill that void.
Perhaps the most obvious player is Brian Gionta, who inked a three-year, $12.75 million contract with Buffalo over the summer. The 35-year-old doesn’t have experience within the Sabres’ organization, but he has a strong resume after serving as the Montreal Canadiens’ captain and winning the Stanley Cup.
He could prove to be a mentor for the young Sabres and aide them in their rebuilding efforts. After his tenure with Buffalo ends, the team could then hand the captaincy to one of the young forwards that’s established himself and symbolically complete the transitional period at that time.
The Sabres might also opt to go with a younger option to put the focus more squarely on their future. Tyler Ennis, for example, is an interesting choice. He’s just 24 years old (25 in October), but already has 267 NHL games under his belt. On top of that, he’s starting a five-year, $23 million contract this season, so he’s someone that will be around for the rest of Buffalo’s rebuild and then still be young enough to lead them once the Sabres are on the other side of it.
Ennis plans to learn from Gionta and the other veterans on the team, but he also recognizes that at this point he should take on more responsibilities in the locker room.
“It’s time for us (Ennis and Tyler Myers) to take over now,” Ennis said, per team’s website. “It’s a good balance of older guys, middle guys ready to take over and lot of great young kids coming up.”
Another option is for the team to pass on naming a captain this season. As a rookie, Sam Reinhart isn’t expected to take on that role, but the 18-year-old is, as Flames president Brian Burke put it, an “Einstein on the ice” and might be a serious candidate in a year or two if everything goes right. On top of that, if Buffalo has a bad season, it could end up drafting a potential superstar in Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel.
Would it make sense for the Sabres to leave the position vacant for now in the hopes that one of their promising young players will claim it? That’s up to head coach Ted Nolan, but he certainly has a few interesting paths he could take.