It's Your Turn, Pierre: Discussing the Habs' Captaincy Issues

Yesterday, the Toronto Maple Leafs ended an entire season of speculation when they announced Dion Phaneuf as their new captain, the 18th in their long storied history.

The decision was generally met with approval from most Leafs fans. Phaneuf certainly represents the team that Brina Burke has built this far well, in terms of truculence, belligerence, hard work, and, of course, Canadiana (or I guess North-Americana, but anyway). From an outsider's perspective, or more specifically, a Montreal Canadiens perspective, I can't help but find ways to make fun of this decision.

This is the man that nearly cried in every interview he did after he was traded from the Flames to the Leafs this past winter. I can't even begin to count how many times he told us that he was really excited to be a Toronto Maple Leaf. Have you convinced yourself yet, Dion?

Of course, I'm only kidding (for the most part, anyway). Really, I commend the Leafs for making the decision to promote Phaneuf to the C. The guy knows what it's like to be a top player in a pressure-cooker hockey market, even if the heat has been upped a few hundred degrees now that he's moved from Calgary to Toronto. The guy also has what it takes to win and succeed. He knows what it's like to be criticized, and he knows what it's like to fail, and what to do to overcome certain shortcomings.

As much as I have to make fun of him and the Leafs, I truly agree with Brian Burke and the Leafs when it comes to promoting Dion Phaneuf.

But I write about the Canadiens, damnit, not the Leafs. There are plenty of people who can get into much detail about the pros and cons of having Dion Phaneuf as your captain. So, why am I bringing it up, you say?

Because the Leafs weren't the only team without a player who wore a ''C'' on his jersey this season.

For the first time in 100 years, the Montreal Canadiens, the most storied franchise in professional sports, a team with many traditions and taboos still walking the halls of its arena, played an entire season without a captain. For the first time, this team did not have an official on-and-off ice leader.

Keep in mind, this is the team that gave the captaincy to Alex Kovalev every time they got the opportunity when Saku Koivu was injured. The team that kept the C on someone like Koivu despite controversies and media pressures at every single turn. This is a team that likes to hold on to its traditions and histories, and for once, it broke free of those traditions for reasons still unknown. Ironically, the man who seemingly made this decision to break free what one of the men who best represents these traditions, Bob Gainey.

We could sit here and talk about why Gainey, Martin and the Canadiens decide to play the season without a captain all day. But just for the sake of being thorough, here are what I think might have been three of the best excuses:

1. None of the potential leaders spoke French.
No, I don't want to start another debate about whether the Canadiens need a French-speaking captain, a French-speaking coach or French-speaking players in general, but this has always been an issue that has been important to the organization, mainly to team president Pierre Boivin. It's an issue that is discussed and considered in every major on-and-off-ice decision the team has to make, from a new coach to a new GM to who the team is going to pick at the draft. With most if not all the potential new captains coming from outside the province, whether they promised to learn French or not, the fact is that last September, they did not speak French. And that could very well have been a deciding factor in playing the season without a captain.

2. The leader of this team wasn't on the ice, but behind the bench.
Another issue that has been thoroughly discussed in and around Montreal is that despite having an obvious leadership ''group'' in Montreal, none of them were the true leader of the team, at least not in the coach's eyes. Jacques Martin is the type of coach who likes to control how his team plays, how they act, and maybe even how they feel. He has a system, he doesn't stray from it and if any of the players do, they usually end up in the doghouse. It is very possible that because of all this, because he wanted people to stick to his system and because he didn't know who would be ''his guy'' in terms of a leader, Martin was the one who decided that there wouldn't be a captain this year, in order to figure out who would be ''his captain'' and in order to be the real leader himself. Call it a conspiracy theory, but seeing how Martin operates, it's more than possible.

3. There were, in fact, TOO MANY good candidates
We'll go into detail for each of them in a little bit, but this could be a legitimate reason as to why they decided to go with no one. Throughout the season, there have been more than a handful of players who have showed leadership qualities and their dedication to the team. And while most of these players were signed to long-term contracts, and choosing a captain is certainly not a permanent decision, choosing the wrong captain might have been more damaging to the club than annoying. Allowing these players to play without pressure, to show their true colors and their dedication to the team would allow management to make the proper decision heading into the 2010-11 season.

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All that being said, it is truly time to make the decision that Habs fans have been waiting for for nearly a year now. Unless Pierre Gauthier is planning on bringing back Saku Koivu on July 1st, there really is no reason to delay this decision any further. If this timing is good enough for the Toronto Maple Leafs, then it should be good enough for the Montreal Canadiens.

What's there to wait for? Yes, Gauthier and his staff should be busy re-signing pending UFAs and RFAs, preparing for the draft as well as looking at upcoming free agents they might be interested in signing this summer, but a decision for captain should have been made by now.

Take a morning off, schedule a press conference and reveal who the captain is already!

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A question, however, still remains: Who will they choose?

There are still many viable candidates for the position.

Hal Gill proved to be a leader during these playoffs by blocking the most shots-per-game out of any player, despite his advanced age, his size and stamina, and of course, not to mention the fact that he may have become a little injury prone in the last few years. He would be a stand up choice for captain.... if he was 5 years younger and had more years left on his NHL career. But at 35 and with only one year left on his contract, he is not a long term choice for the Canadiens.

Mike Cammalleri has proven his worth to the Canadiens', scoring 26 goals during the regular season in 65 games, not to mention leading the league in playoff goals scored with 13, an impressive feat. He's also shown his dedication and affection for the organization, not to mention the city. He's always available for interviews, he's made himself available to fans through social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook, and he always has a smile on his face. Nevertheless, I don't think he needs the added pressure of being the captain. Let Cammalleri score his goals, do his interviews and tweet his tweets, in English, French, Italian, Hebrew or whatever, and let someone else deal with being the captain. The Habs have a good thing with Cammalleri, and there's no reason to put that in jeopardy.

Scott Gomez certainly has the contract to justify being a captain. His $7.5 million cap hit could go towards justifying a letter on his jersey. He's also shown dedication to the city, always available for the media and vowing to learn how to speak French. He also has experience as a leader, both in New Jersey and another fairly high-pressure hockey market, New York City. But is he the right choice for the Montreal Canadiens? There's a certain intangible that tells me he might not be, despite his obvious affection for the city and the team.

Andrei Markov received a lot of media support for the job throughout the season, but many people are starting to question his dedication to his team, not to mention his worth to the team heading into a contract year. He's not getting any younger, and despite consistently being the best player on the ice for the Canadiens when he's on the ice, he's missed a lot of time to injuries. There are also, of course, language barriers and the matter of dealing with the media. Markov is a great on-ice leader, and deserves to wear the ''A'' on his jersey, but captaincy, I'm afraid, may be asking a little much from the Russian superstar.

Brian Gionta, has, in my opinion, been the front runner for the job since the very beginning of the season. His drive and dedication to succeed, despite his small stature and all the things working against him, represent the very essence of the Montreal Canadiens. There have been many midget jokes over the course of the season, many doubters and many haters, and Brian Gionta, ironically, has risen above every single one of them, scoring a team-leading 28 goals during the regular season and adding 9 goals and 15 points in the playoffs, second behind only Mike Cammalleri. He too has leadership experience in New Jersey, and he too has shown his dedication to the city. In fact, I can't think of a single reason NOT to make Brian Gionta the Canadiens' captain heading into next season.

But Gionta wouldn't be my choice for the job. While he has all the qualities, he, too, is someone who may benefit from less pressure, from focusing on doing his job on the ice while leading silently behind another. He, too, may represent the present of this team, but not the future.

There is only one player on this team that combines all the above-mentioned positive factors that go into making an NHL captain, as well as well-representing the future of the franchise.

My choice for captain of the Montreal Canadiens for the 2010-11 season is.....

Josh Gorges

At 25 years old, Josh Gorges should have at least another decade of hockey ahead of him. He's modest, he's kind, he's good in front of a camera and even better in front of a crowd, on the ice. He'll never put up too many points, but who ever said that was a requirement for being a captain?

Essentially a throw-in in a 2007 trade between the Montreal Canadiens and the San Jose Sharks which sent Craig Rivet to California in exchange for a 1st round pick, Gorges has blossomed into a great defensive-defenseman who actually can contribute offensively if needed. He blocks shots, he seldom makes mistakes 5-on-5 and he's always there to support his players in any situation.

He's not the flashiest of players, but he's solid in every sense of the word.

Promoting Gorges to captain may be going slightly against the grain, but I dare you to find one reason as to why Gorges would not be a good candidate for the captaincy.

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All this being said, the decision, of course, rests squarely on the shoulders of the players, the coaching staff, management, and the team in general. As listed above, there are plenty of acceptable candidates for the position.

And through 100+ games, there really shouldn't be an issue in selecting amongst these candidates, whether it ends up being Josh Gorges or anyone else.

The fact remains, with those 100+ games in the books, there really is no reason not make an announcement before the draft. Selecting a leader for this group of players, after all they accomplished during the playoffs, would be a perfect way to kick off 2010-11, and it would be a nice way to reward the fans for sticking with the team through the thick and thin.

Or maybe, if the Molsons aren't satisfied with the 19 playoff games which generates unspeakable amounts of revenue for the Canadiens, or the 3% increase in ticket prices for next season, then I've got a better idea. Take Gorges, Cammalleri, Markov, Gionta, Gomez and Gill, put them in a big house on Ile Bizard, isolate them from their families, friends, the media, and everyone else, and have them compete in a set of physical and mental competitions, Big Brother style, and broadcast it on CBC and TVA.

The winner gets a pimped out locker stall, $250,000, a brand new 2011 Hyundai Sonata, and, of course, the captaincy!

Pure profit, Mr. Molson, pure profit!

But seriously, if Gauthier, Boivin, Geoff Molson, Jacques Martin or frankly anyone else in the organization doesn't announce the captain soon, I might flip my lid. This has gone on long enough, and there's no reason to keep it going any further.

Unless Pierre Gauthier is too busy watching World Cup soccer on Bob Gainey's HDTV, then this decision needs to be made. Now.

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News/Notes:

While we wait for Gauthier to announce the captaincy, the Canadiens have a lot to do in preparation for next week's draft, and free agency a week later.

- Today marks the first day of buyout period in the NHL, so expect the Canadiens to announce that Georges Laraque has *officially* parted ways with the team.

- The draft is next Friday, and there are plenty of big forwards and big defensemen to choose from. There will be plenty of talk, rankings and analysis in TCL and elsewhere in the coming week, but for now, keep this TSN link bookmarked for all the draft news your heart desires.

- On the top of my wishlist for the Canadiens' 1st round pick: Jarred Tinordi. 6'5'' 205LBS Left Defenseman playing for the US under-18 team out of Maryland.

- On the top of my wishlist for the Canadiens on July 1st: Anton Volchenkov. As you can tell, I think it's time to bolster the blue line. But for that to happen, Roman Hamrlik has to go.

- Not one of the UFAs/RFAs has been signed yet. Just sayin'.

More to come, including details on TCL's coverage of next week's draft as well as UFA day, so stay tuned!

Prax
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