Why the Rush?

It has been a few years since the Edmonton Oilers have had to select a new captain. Shawn Horcoff was the obvious choice after Ethan Moreau left. He had been here his whole career and was at the right age to assume the captaincy.

An Easy Choice

When you consider the raw hand that Horcoff was dealt during his time as captain I think he did a pretty good job. He could not control the incredible number of injuries that hammered the team or the strength of the team compared to the rest of the league.

He played hard each night. I always was impressed by his commitment to conditioning. He is the type of player that understands how important spending time in the gym is during the season. When you are losing many players lose interest in doing the extra gym time that is required but his commitment to that was solid. It was a good thing for the newer players to witness.

Win or lose he was always there to stand in front of the media. He was well spoken and understood that as captain it is part of the job to give the media his time and sound bits. I wouldn’t imagine it was always fun taking bullets for the rest of the team but that role comes with the "C".

After Moreau left the Oilers, picking a captain for the head coach was pretty easy. Tom Renney was the new head coach for the Oilers but he had been the associate coach under Pat Quinn the year before. He had intimate knowledge of what was going on inside the Oilers dressing room. He knew how each player worked, listened and could possibly lead. He had been studying and watching for a whole season.

A Hard Decision

With Horcoff having been traded this off season the Oilers need a new captain. I don’t think it will be so easy this time for new Oiler head coach Dallas Eakins.

Eakins is a first time NHL head coach. He has done everything right to get to this point in his coaching career. He had great coaches when he was a player with many of them influencing his coaching style. He also has coached at different levels and in different roles to get to this point, coaching the Oilers.

But… he doesn’t know any of the core players in the Oilers dressing room. They are all new to him. New Oilers GM Craig Mactavish has said the selection of the new captain will be left up to Eakins.

How do you walk into the NHL as a new coach and pick a captain before the season starts? You don’t. I don’t think Eakins should name a captain until he has had time to get to know his team.

Imagine walking into a room full of twenty five people you don’t know and in two weeks having to select the leader of those people. Very tough.

If Eakins can turn this group of players into the type of team he talks about Eakins could be here in Edmonton for quite a few years. That means the captain he chooses will be his partner for those years as well. This is a decision that he wants to get right.

I know that the same assistants are coming back to support Eakins along with Keith Acton. They could give him their input but as the new coach do you want to base you choice for captain on someone else’s opinion?

Why rush it?

An NHL captain should help his coach promote the style of play the coach is laying out for the team. The captain is a conduit between the players and the coaches. Is important that the coach trust his captain one hundred percent.

You can get to know a player/person through off ice meetings. I bet Eakins has met with some of the core players for the Oilers since his hiring. He wants to get to know them and them him before the season starts. But those types of meetings are always fun and easy in the summer.

After those types of meeting I expect Eakins to know Taylor Hall’s goals for the season or Eberle’s family story but he has no idea how those two or any of his players will react in a very tough game. Or how they will deal with a slump or injury. Or how they will react to a super-hot streak or someone else’s hot streak.

These types of actual "in season" situations are impossible to replicate during the off season.

So I come back to the point of this whole article. How can a Eakins be expected to pick a the new captain for the Oilers when he doesn’t know the type of captain this team needs or the type of people inside his locker room? He can’t.

I think Eakins should announce the first day of camp that he will delay making his choice for captain. He should say he wants to study the group and the individuals so that he can make the right choice for the long term.

I would have no issue with the decision taking till Christmas or beyond. I played on a New York Ranger team that didn’t have a captain all season. We all knew Jagr was the captain but he didn’t want it on his jersey. We made the playoffs and the dressing room was a strong one.

The choice was so obvious there, it isn’t as clear for the Oilers. Give it time Eakins, get it right. Don’t rush a decision.

  • In reply to my previous comment, I said that the best player or the one that shows the top leadership qualities, should wear the “C”. I think Kessel and Subban will one day make excellent Captains. I prefer to compare to the leadership and success to the likes of Toews, Chara,

    On another note, I am not a big fan of the shared “C” and I totally agree with 47#WhattaMike’s comments.

    Agree to disagree, it’s always fun to read all the comments and fun to debate the comments. I wonder if MacT reads them?

    Jason Strudwick, keep the articles coming. I really enjoy reading them !!

  • First of all this is an excellent column that only a thoughtful and reflective ex-player could write with such authority and perception. So thank you, Jason. As fans we sometimes have to accept our limitations. We see what happens on the ice, but we don’t see what happens in the dressing room, or on the plane or during practices, etc. We don’t know who the other players respect the most and are more likely to follow.

    Like most posters, Hall seems to me to be the logical choice based on his on-ice performance and his obvious burning desire to win, but that choice should be made by the coach based on his observation of the complete picture which we lack, and there is no reason to rush that decision before he is comfortable he is making the right one.

  • Struds – I recall seeing/reading an item at the time Moreau was made it was somewhat of a tradition on the club that the outgoing captain would give his input and to who the next captain should be…and this was often followed.

    different circumstances here because (I think for the first time) there’s a change of coach and captain in the same season.

    If Hall isn’t ready (and I think he may be) a possible solution is to name Smyth captain as that would set up a transition year until next season when the coach knows his players better and the leadership role is evident.

  • Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

    In post #47, I wrote a fair bit on why Taylor Hall should be the next captain of the Oilers…and i still stand by that post with my reasoning and my opinions. With regards to those who are stating that one of Smyth or Ference should be a type temp captain, I ask why to do this when… it is Hall who will be leading this team forward by performance and talent and will-power like as he should be?

    Fact: It is an entire new era with the Oilers right now…a new GM, a new coach, and now – a new captain..and it’s not a total rebuild still or a blast from the past regime either.

    Smyth would be but just an honorary named captain at this stage and… with this surely being his last yr on the Oilers, him being named would stunt the year for the Oilers again (no disrepsect meant to him). It should have been Smyth being named the captain awhile ago when Moreau was let go but it did not happen then…nor should this happen now.

    Ference, being a possible other good choice… did not grow with this teamn or lose with this team these past few years and also, he comes at the near end of his career…so this would also stunt the dressing room growth of the team in some ways.

    These two players are of excellent calibre to be leaders but their time to be captain is gone. Taylor is here for the next 6 yrs plus and it is his time to speak, to show, and to lead…now!!! My support reasons are some that are listed back in post #47.

    Ference and Smyth know they don’t need the C or the A to show their near career ending leadership abilities and for the guys they are…they are already fully respected in the room always…

    • oldhippy

      Hall is gutsy and talented as all hell, but the Oilers aren’t winning the cup this year. Being wrong about making him Captain is an unnecessary risk.

      Going without a Captain would be OK if the amount of time we will likely need to wait wasn’t as long.

      So, if Ference is a fit early having only 2 good years left actually makes for the ideal “stunt”.

  • Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

    This is Taylor Halls team now, he lead the Spitfires to back to back Memorial Cups. When hes out there running and gunning the team follows suit, hes been being groomed to lead this team to the promised land ever since he was drafted. He has his two gunslingers as assistants in Eberle and Nuge. Hall took the turn to superstar status last season, when he goes the team follows.

  • Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

    I think Eakin will have a look see attitude on this. Likely will start with “A” only and see who the real leader is on and off the ice. See who has the maturity to handle ice and off ice stuff.

    I think it could be between Hall and Gagner .

    If Hall can show maturity , then he would likely get the nod.

    Good thing Ruff is not the coach or Hall would not have a chance.

  • Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

    Thanks Struds. After reading, Ryan Smyth should be interim captain. No one else has the Oiler cred. Someone else should prove and step up through the season.

  • nuge2drai

    Oiler Domination To Follow

    When Hall goes 100mph crashing into the net or boards…

    It’s going to be real nice saying, “rest of the team has to get pumped seeing their captain flying up and down the ice, no fear of injury, just all heart”

    He leads by example, and he’s the leader of the super kids, this is a no brainer…

    Blackhawks did it with Toews, Pens with Crosby, it’s time for the Oilers to pass the torch to the youth…

  • nuge2drai

    At the start of reading this I was not sure but after reading the comments I think you have to be “BOLD” and this means Hall, although RNH might not be a bad choice in a yr or two.

  • nuge2drai

    I saw in that Oilers documentary series that the social leader of the pack was in fact Eberle. That he is a little older, and a little more mature and stable, and perhaps the most cerebral of the players? makes him seem to me perhaps the better fit for the C.

  • nuge2drai

    If I was Eakins being a new coach and not having a team captian I would let the players decide who their captian should be. If the social leader gets selected or the alpha so be it.

  • Gret99zky

    Are you people insane!!?? Ference? Really?! A first year player on the team after a guy like Hall? Taylor Hall is absolutely everytjing you want in a captain. Among plently of other things the guy absolutley HATES to lose. Hes the kind of player that will put the team on his back on the odd night and grind out a win.

    HALL WILL BE CAPTAIN BY DECEMBER

    COUNT ON IT!

    Ference? Wow

  • Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

    JORDAN EBERLE! Everyone seems to have really jumped on the hall bandwagon after his great year. While there’s no questioning his work ethic and skill he still comes off as being immature and cocky, not really traits you’d want in a captain. Eberle may not have the same top end physical ability as hall, but no one can doubt his hockey sense and pure skill, and from what’s shown in Oil Change he has a real voice in the locker room and respect among his teammates. Anyone remember halls temper tantrum at renney on hnic? Not saying he hasn’t changed since then but he does have his flaws, it’s not like ruff benched him in the WC for nothing. Eberle shares the characteristics of someone like toews in terms of work ethic, leadership and humble attitude, always expecting more from himself.