In October of 2010 the Oilers named Shawn Horcoff the 13th captain in Oilers history. Under his leadership the Oilers have finished 30th and 29th, and many fans want to blame the captain. Wearing the "C" is an honour, but it also heaps a lot of responsibility on the guy wearing it.
Blaming Horcoff for the Oilers woes is off-base. Does anyone honestly believe that if Jordan Eberle was wearing the "C" he would have scored 90 points instead of 76, or if Taylor Hall had it, he would have stayed healthy all year?
The Oilers are getting closer to changing their captain, maybe as early as the 2013/2014 season, but next year isn’t the right time, but I think it is the right time to annoint one of the young players as a leader.
I think some fans, bloggers and media types underestimate how much pressure comes with being the captain. Most of it comes internally from the player, but once they stitch a "C" on your jersey the expectations increase. Some players can handle it, while others try to do too much.
Ethan Moreau was a fine soldier for many years. He was a blood and guts guy. He gave everything he had on every night, but when he became the captain he put too much pressure on himself to be more than he was. Moreau was an incredibly proud player, and he took the responsibility of being captain very serious, maybe too serious. It is a lot of pressure being a captain of an NHL team, and it is even harder when you are the captain of a losing team.
The Oilers are coming off 30th, 30th and 29th place finishes, so now is not the time to tell Hall or Eberle they need to be the guy to lead this team out of the depths of suckville. Trust me, those two want to win, and they will be the leaders on the ice, but I wouldn’t add to their responsibilties and make them the captain.
Especially with no on the job training, however, I think one of them should become an alternate captain next season.
I think handing them an "A" would make much more sense.
People forget that Sidney Crosby was an alternate captain for a year and a half before he was name Captain. Players feel a great sense of pride and responsibility when they get any type of letter, but there isn’t as much pressure when you are an alternate instead of the captain.
It would also allow for a smoother transition in my opinion. The kids could learn how to deal with the added responsibility, and they might feel more comfortable addressing their teammates with a letter on their jersey. Successful teams need to have more than three or four leaders, but annointing Hall as an alternate next season would make it clear that this organization is transitioning into a new phase of leadership, and hopefully on-ice success.
Hall would love the responsibility and honour of wearing a letter, and I think he’s a bit more of an Alpha male than Eberle, so if I was picking one of them I’d give it to Hall. The Oilers could easily give both of them a letter if they want more than two alternate captains.
This year the Oilers and eleven other teams; Ducks, Flames, Hurricanes, Hawks, Wild, Predators, Devils, Rangers, Senators and Coyotes had the traditional two alternate captains.
Twelve teams had three alternates: Bruins, Sabres, Avalanche, Blue Jackets, Stars, Wings, Canadiens, Islanders, Flyers, Penguins, Sharks and Leafs.
The Blues, Lightning, Canucks, Capitals and Jets had four alternates, usually two at home and two on the road, while the Panthers had four alternates, but no captain.
Keep in mind that Sidney Crosby was named captain of the Penguins after they had made the playoffs. The Pens were a competitive team, and he’d worn an "A" for 18 months before he was named Captain on May 31st, 2008. The Penguins didn’t have a captain when he was an alternate, and during the 2007/2008 season they offered him the captaincy.
Crosby turned it down during the season and explained why during the press conference when he was named captain.
"I just thought it wasn’t right for me. As a team, we were playing great and you don’t want to disrupt things like that. Individually, I was not ready to accept that responsibility quite yet. Going through the playoffs and having that experience has probably given me more confidence. I understand there is going to be a lot more responsibility on my shoulders with this, but it’s something I’m ready for, I feel very comfortable with it and I’m just excited to get things going.
Players need to be ready for the responsibility, so why not let Hall or Eberle learn on the fly as an alternate?
Jonathon Toews also wore an "A" before being named captain. Chicago and Pittsburgh recognized that Toews and Crosby were leaders and they put them in a position to learn to be a leader. They let them get their feet wet, before handing them all the responsibility of being the captain. It paid off for both franchises.
I think it is imperative that whoever is coaching this team in October recognize that they need to make the transition as smooth as possible for Hall or Eberle.
Success doesn’t happen instantly, and neither does understanding the responsibility and pressure of being a leader, but the Oilers need to start the process next season.