The Captaincy: There’s No Rush

Thanks to our own Wanye Gretz, everybody’s talking about who the Edmonton Oilers’ next captain should be. Should it be one of the team’s young stars? Should it be Sam Gagner? Should it be a veteran like Andrew Ference?

I can’t help thinking there’s no rush to make a decision.

No Rush: Part One

It’s been made clear over the summer that rookie head coach Dallas Eakins will be the guy deciding who will captain the Oilers now after the departure of Shawn Horcoff. He’s new to the group, and it only makes sense that he wait until he’s seen them together in training camp, talked to the various candidates (and heard from other players about the various candidates) and just generally observed the team.

No Rush: Part Two

The other issue is that it might make sense to consider something other than a full-time, permanent captain at this point (something Jason Strudwick has suggested here previously). So far, there has been no indication that the Oilers are considering a rotating captaincy or a group of alternates without a designated captain, but it’s an idea that in my view has some merit.

First, the caveat. I was asked the other day by a very smart guy what I thought of the potential of Sam Gagner as captain. I told this person that I really didn’t know because I think it’s extremely difficult for an outsider to answer that question. To what degree the captaincy matters it matters inside the dressing room, and without a really good feel for the mix of personalities it’s difficult to be certain which player is the best fit for the role.

With that said, the sense that I get is there is a lack of certainty about who the best choice is. Taylor Hall’s exceptional 2013 campaign has established him as the best young player on the team right now. A year ago, Jordan Eberle would have been the consensus pick as the best of the bunch and as the team’s only full-time alternate was seemingly the favourite to be the captain in the future. Andrew Ference seems to be highly regarded and is joining the team from an extremely successful Bruins’ club, but he’s also 34 years old. Sam Gagner has been praised by general manager Craig MacTavish for his character but seems a step below the team’s upper tier skill-wise. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins seems universally praised as a mature young man and though he hasn’t been mentioned often in this context a year from now that might be a very different story.

To me, it’s a group that seems well-suited to the old Jacques Lemaire strategy of having a rotating captain. If there is a reluctance to name one of the younger stars captain now, it saves the team from the installation and subsequent tricky removal of a short-term veteran captain while at the same time offering those young players a sort of trial run. It also stresses group leadership and allows the coach to reward especially compelling performances. With the five players named above, plus Nick Schultz and Ladislav Smid there seems to be no shortage of potential candidates for such a system, and unlike in Minnesota it would be a run with a definite end date – after one season, doubtless the choice for the permanent captaincy would be clearer.

I don’t expect the Oilers to go this route, but it wouldn’t bother me in the least if they did.

Recently around the Nation Network

At Canucks Army, the very funny Graphic Comments asks what the problem is with Tony Gallagher calling Roberto Luongo a diva:

I mean, really, doesn’t every team want their starting goalie to be a highly distinguished performer that plays a leading role for them? Yes, but the Canucks are the only ones that can ice a goalie of Italian heritage, thereby making the "diva" label highly appropriate.

Click the link above to read more, or check out some of my recent stuff:

  • Batfink

    Just watching TSN and it looks as if they might know that they’ve come across as a bit ‘anti-oiler’ and are placating us by saying J-Shultz has a shot at Olympics.

    Now, I drink every flavour of Kool-Aid the oilers sell, but even I know that he would have to score at least 2pts a game, have a +/- of +50 and probably post a .950 save percent for this to happen. Just admit you’re wrong and say Hall has a good shot will ya?

  • Zamboni Driver

    IMO, I would say there are two right choices here, at this time even though I also agree there is no rush for a new permanent Oiler captain yet as well.

    The first type choice…is that it would be right to offer Ference the captaincy while with him knowing he would be this for about 2 yrs. He, in effect, would then be perfect to lead the team while also give mentoring to any one and/or all… of the kids…Hall, Eberle, or RNH.

    The other right type choice is to give it to Hall now as he is definitely the strongest new leader. He has put in the time (3 yrs already), he’s a leader in team scoring, he shows up every night, and he deals with the media excellently before and after games, etc.

    Although Gagner would not be a bad or wrong choice, his contract issues with the Oilers as to being here long term are not yet secured and to give it to him then suddenly he is traded does not make sense. I would give him an “A” if Hall is promoted.

  • Zamboni Driver

    Gagner – “Hey new third-line centre guy.”

    What’shisface – “What?”

    Gagner – “Gotta start pulling your weight better.”

    New Guy – “Hey Cap, STFU, win a face-off and figure out who your man is in our end.”

    Gagner – “I had EIGHT POINTS IN ONE GAME.”

    • Gagner – (Motions to the room with circling finger)…”Boys”

      (Entire team surrounds “new guy”)

      Gagner – “Now we can do this the easy way…or the hard way. Doesn’t matter to me.”

      New Guy – “Man I gotta start pulling my weight around here.”

      Gagner – “What was that? I didn’t hear you!”


      Gagner – “That’s what I though you said. Ladi, you can let him down now.”

  • Batfink

    For me, statistical performance is the least important factor in choosing a captain. If your best player is truly the best candidate for the captaincy then that’s just a bonus.

    I’m more concerned about how he inspires, supports and motivates his teammates, and how he represents the team in the media and around town. By this metric, I would choose Gagner or Ference.

    Choosing Hall because he is our most dynamic player makes no sense to me.

    • Batfink

      I agree. Gator, Moreau, Horcoff prove this and this is just the Oilers. Look around the league. Ovie is only now finding his feet as skipper. Crosby is a cry baby. Landeskog? WTF? Sedin? Now I’m snorting my milk down my nose trying not to laugh. But then there’s guys like Toews, Chara, Alfie to name a few.

  • It would be funny if they gave the captaincy to one player for a certain amount of games for the season, say 20, therefore having 4 captains throughout the year.

    Further they could put a stipulation that whichever player had the best record as captain for their 20 game stint would become the permanent captain.

    Not a great measure of leadership, but it would be mighty entertaining…

  • If Gagner is named captain, then, Omark needs to be one of his assistants.

    Only reason the Oilers would name Gagner captain is because they wouldn’t want to choose between the four kids who run the team and the team belongs to.

    Captains are leaders, Gagner is a fortunate son.

    “The skilled can fill their people with energy to confront the emptiness of others, while the incompetent drain their people in face of the fullness of others.” Since Gagner joined the Oilers. they have done nothing but sucked. Gagner didn’t fill anyone with hope, nor did he make any of his teammates better.

    Gagner is not a leader, never has been. He never took a game over in the 7 years he’s been on the Oilers. He only performs when he’s got a line to ride on. On his own Gagner is average at best.

    • Do what Weight did?

      Everybody else took care of the most obvious problem here, so what about ‘filling anyone with hope’?

      Am I the only one who remembers a pretty exciting rookie season, some sweet shoot out goals and some big nights with (unanimously adored) Hemsky and Penner? When I saw Gags playing as the youngest player in the league (not positive on that one) I was certain we’d be right back in the playoffs, and we wouldn’t even need to boo our former #44

      On another note; if you have 7 captains, you have 0 captains. I hate the rotating captains idea, but as others have pointed out, I don’t know the locker-room dynamics. I hope someone emrges, and Hall looks like the guy from my perspective, as the clear leader. Someone who brings it in the gym and at every practice. Someone who sets the bar high for performance in training, and has the credibility to hold teammates accountable when they are not pushing themselves at all times. It’s my understanding that that’s what led the Red Wings to be so successful for so long.

    • cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan

      gosh, must be nice to be around the team and in the room.

      or, are you trying to determine leadership qualities by watching the games on Sportsnet?

      Fact is, none of us have any clue what happens in the room. Gagner could be developing into the type of guy behind the scenes that could captain material.

      I will defer to the guys that, you know, are around the team all the time and have played the game to know what a “leader” is.

          • Batfink

            I believe the qualifier for the statement was “Gagner is not a leader, never has been. He never took a game over in the 7 years he’s been on the Oilers.” Please include the context. Lowe was in a diatribe about his hockey knowledge. To my knowledge, Sam has never blown his own trumpet about that night.

          • Spydyr

            Nope what the qualifier is winning six rings means so much more than getting 8 points in a regular season game.

            You know what getting 8 points in a regular season game amounts to? Two points in the standing on a team that ended as a lotto pick. Big picture other than it being a shiny bauble it means next to nothing. Six Cup rings or a 8 point game what would you rather have?

            Moving forward to today ,the past is the past, what you do next game is what really matters.

          • Spydyr

            Or that time he stripped the Vancouver D of the puck and danced past the entire Canucks line to make Luongo look completely silly…or that time he, Penner, and Hemsky combined for 13 points on the night…you know….those times. I don’t get why people think he doesn’t do anything to lead. Just because he’s not potting 5 goals a night and being loud on the bench doesn’t mean he has zero leadership qualities.

  • Spydyr

    Ference will be a buyout candidate by the end of his contract. Huge mistake to pick him.

    If not Gagner or Hall then Smyth should be the placeholder till one is ready.

    • Spydyr

      Let me get this straight you are saying no to Ference because he will be “be a buyout candidate by the end of his contract” in say 3-4 years. Then you mentioned Smyth as a choice. No matter how much one loved Smyth he will be gone long before Ference.

      • The Soup Fascist

        I am saying choose Hall/Gagner. If they are too young in mgmt eyes then choose Smyth for this year and maybe one more if he plays another, then pass it to Hall. Ference will be dead weight by the end of his contract. Remember how it was to have Ethan Moreau as captain near the end….

        I don’t care if Smyth is captain for one season even, just a better pick then having Ference in his inevitable bad seasons.

  • Spydyr

    So you’re saying be like Tambo and assess the situation for a year or two? Have we not had enough of trying to run things by doing nothing. I know I have.

    Not my choice of the way to go.As you mentioned unless you are an insider you are just guessing. That being said, my guess would be Ference or Smid.

  • Admiral Ackbar

    A coach needs to consider what the captaincy will do to a young, maturing player. I honestly think that Hall, Ebs, Nuge & Yak need to concentrate on their offensive development, Eakins will take care of the 200 foot player parts. This is why I think Gags is a great candidate, as he needs to develop in many areas besides offensive output. The captaincy would turn in into a complete player. The other kids aren’t ready or are inappropriate chorines.

    • Buke

      Let me get this straight…giving the captaincy to Gagner will improve his faceoffs and defensive awareness?

      Man, someone should have given Peckham the ‘C’ so that he would come to camp in shape!

  • extroy

    Does it matter who the captain is in August? Rotating for a year does not seem like a bad idea to me. Let Smyth have the first stint, after that let each player earn it. No rush and by the end of the year it should be clear who owns the captaincy.

  • Admiral Ackbar

    I love how every oilers fan and their mother has an opinion on who should be the captain, and how so many think Hall will be offended if he isn’t named captain.

    This team isn’t exactly loaded with veterans, and thus it is a bit of a unique situation. With so many young guns, it is obvious that most of them can lead, a letter on a jersey won’t change that fact.

    Personally I would like to see anyone but hall named captain just because it would offend everyone (except the actual OILERS) so much