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.