If Milan Hejduk of the Colorado Avalanche can recognize the lay of the land and peel the "C" off his jersey and hand the captaincy over to a teenager like Gabriel Landeskog, why can’t Shawn Horcoff do the same with Taylor Hall?
Well, Horcoff can and, in good time, he likely will, but there’s absolutely no reason for the third-year Oiler captain to follow Hejduk’s lead and hand over the letter to Hall, or anybody else, between now and the start of the 2012-13 NHL season, whenever that is.
I understand the sentiment – and there has been plenty of it in these parts in recent days – that Horcoff, facing a diminished role as his career winds down, could get out in front of the inevitable transition that will see youngsters like Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins take over as the on-ice leaders of the team. That swing is already underway.
And I get the argument that if Hejduk, a more accomplished and dynamic player in his prime than Horcoff ever was, can give the letter to Landeskog, who is younger than Hall and Eberle, there’s no good reason it can’t happen here. And that’s true. It could, and will, happen. Just not now.
LEADERS WILL LEAD
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: leaders will lead by nature whether they have a "C" or an "A" on their jersey or not. Hall, a two-time Memorial Cup MVP with the Windsor Spitfires, is one of those players. There’s no doubt in my mind he has captain written all over him.
Hall, easily Edmonton’s most dynamic player, has given us glimpses of his desire to have a bigger voice on and off the ice with the Oilers, and he did so this spring, long before he and Eberle hit the jackpot with their new contracts.
"As players, we’re all maturing," Hall said in response to a question by Jason Gregor when we scrummed him at the end of the season. "I know myself, I’m doing the same thing. In the room I want to be more vocal and try to take that next step.
"I want to be here for a long time. I want to be here when we’re the team that’s contending and we’re in the playoffs and everything like that, so I’m looking forward to kind of taking that next step next year along with Ryan and Jordan and having a bigger voice in the room."
TIME WILL COME
The voice Hall talks about will carry greater weight and resonance in the dressing room moving forward. Horcoff, entering his third year as captain, would have to be exceedingly dim not recognize that. But it’s the player, not the letter, teammates respect. The player makes the letter, not vice-versa.
The captaincy, at least in Edmonton, isn’t about pinning the letter to the best or most dynamic player. If that was the case, Kevin Lowe, Craig MacTavish, Kelly Buchberger and Jason Smith, to name just four, would never have worn it with the Oilers. Points totals, popularity and jersey sales aren’t the measure.
There is something to be said, especially with a young team like this edition of the Oilers, for experience and gamesmanship and context. Horcoff, despite his shortcomings, brings that. So does Ryan Smyth, also facing a diminished role.
At some point, and in the not-too-distant future, that experience will give way to the dynamic Hall, and it should. I’m guessing that Horcoff, if I know him at all after all these years, will recognize that time when it comes and he’ll do exactly what Hejduk just did.
That time is not now.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.