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.

  • vetinari

    I would think that Eakins could easily wait until Christmas or New Year’s to name a captain, and go with 3 or 4 AC’s in the interim (maybe pair a youngster with a hardworking vet and rotate them around until January– like Hall and Ference take home games and Eberle and Smid take road games?). Eakins can approach it like an audition for the captain’s chair. If one of the kids is ready for the captaincy, then name them on January 1st. If the kids aren’t ready for it yet or the team is in the basement again, then name a vet who can handle the load in an interim basis.

  • Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

    That’s a great way to build consensus in the locker room. Give it a couple of months into the season, I think the players in the room will know who is most deserving and accept the choice of captain.

  • O.C.

    Struds how important is the in room personality to gaining captaincy, and or being respected once it is gained? I ask because in terms of on ice give a crap, Hall seems to be the clear cut winner. In terms of off ice work ethic, again from what I’ve heard Hall is a cut above. In terms of wanting to win and demonstrating that every single shift, he also once again seems to lead here. I mean, the kid got his face stepped on and was on the bike seeing if he could return that freakin night. Finally, he is great with the media, always taking a loss on his shoulders, and dishing credit for a win to the rest of the team, all while holding himself and others accountable for any losses. It never seems okay to lose with Hall.

    From all accounts, the only spots where he might be lacking are his communication with the Refs, and perhaps how he gels in the dressing room. That last one seems a bit strange since he’s obviously good friends with Ebs, Nuge and J Schultz.

    So my only question is what is holding Hall back from from getting the C?

  • Tikkanese

    I can’t wait for Smyth to shut you idiots up. The lockout season was a bad season for many players not having to play with Belanger. Smyth had to deal with both things. Playing out of position at Center when Belanger was hurt didn’t help matters at all either. Smyth is effective in front of the net and along the boards, not worrying about covering the entire ice and faceoffs.

  • You have to give your captaincy to best player!

    The player who goes as your team goes.

    Giving Eakins sole decision making for the Captiancy is not a smart plan here, nor is giving Smid or Ference the Captiancy.

    First, Ference doesn’t need to wear a letter to be a leader, nor does Smid.

    As an orginization you want the face of your franchise to be the leader, the inspiration for your players, the fans and the community.

    Hall has to be the Captian, it would be an orginization fail if he’s not.

    Also the sooner the better.

    • Are you in the dressing room? On the bench between shifts? I know it seems obvious to an outsider, and Hall is likely the rightchoice, but you just ccan’t know for sure unless you’ve spent a good chunk of time with each player.

      Ovechkin was the wrong choice IMO. Just an example of how the face of the franchise shouldn’t always be captain.

  • Personally, I think the holder of the “C” should be the best player on the
    team as well a the person who displays top leadership qualities. When your
    one of the best on the team, you can expect the same from your
    team mates. As much as I like Horcoff and respect him as a “class act”,
    its hard to lead when your on the third line and producing sub par results.
    you cannot expect 100% from others and expect others to follow, unless
    you lead by example. The Oilers have a few good candidates and for them
    to make the playoffs, they will need to be able to lead, hold accountability,
    kick ass and become the face of the team.

    • toprightcorner

      Based on this theory, you think Kessel, Subban, Vanek, Flieschman, Gaborik and Bufeglien should all be captains of their team?

      Do you think Brett Hull should have been captain of all of the teams he played for?

      Best player had nothing to do with best leader.

      • Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

        Byfuglien is far from the best player on the Jets. Andrew Ladd was 19th in league scoring last season, so he doesn’t fit with the rest of your argument (which – for the record – I agree with).

  • Smid, Ference, Eberle and Hall will all wear an A to start the season.

    If Eakins decides to put a C on someone to start the season, in my opinion, it will be Ference. Due to the respect the Oilganization has for Smyth-I can’t see that happening.

    They will go with 4 As, and sometime during this season, or next year give the C to Hall.

    I’m really hoping Smyth retires at the beggining on the season, I don’t see his body or play surving the whole year with the Oilers. How much cap space would his retirement clear?

  • csaw84

    You gotta think that Gagner might be in the mix. You can say all you want about his size, faceoff ability and offense, But he plays hard and has great character.

    • Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

      He is also a good candidate to perfectly fit the recent(ish) trend of us running our captain out of town once we have fastened goat horns to his head…

      I know its August 7 and there’s nothing else to talk about, but from a fans perspective I’m not sure why any of us care. Isn’t the C more of an honorary thing? I mean, leaders are leaders regardless of the letter on their sweater, and stuff goes on in the dressing room we will never know about. Example – when Gretz was Captain do you think nobody listened to Messier?

      The room will figure it out regardless of who Eakins picks, or when. And in that case I’d like to look back at the list of captains of the Oilers some day and see Smytty’s name.

  • LinkfromHyrule

    I agree with this 100%. The impression I get from Eakins is that he understands this (I hope). I can see one of the kids getting the C, more than likely hall, but we will see.

  • Since 2000 10 of the 12 Stanley Cup champs have been captained by a Hall of Fame type player. The recent cup winners have been Toews, Chara, who seem like they are bound for the hall. Not sure Rod Brind Amor or Dave Andreychuk (sp?) did enough to get into the hall.

    So it seem obvious to win the cup you need a HOF captain. Or it could be plausable that if you captain a Stanley Cup winner or two you get into the HOF?

    • oldhippy

      Do you see the Oilers winning the cup this year? I get that Toews is a talented player and a great captain. I get that Chara was a huge part of the Bruins cup win. The Oilers aren’t there yet. Like I said about Fogolin, he wasn’t the captain when the Oilers went to the Finals. He was an interim until Gretzky had the age and respect necessary.

      And really guys, I know Smyth has lost a step and isn’t the player he was. I know He will be a healthy scratch. I know he wouldn’t be everyone’s choice, but does he deserve the amount of derision he gets?

      • Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

        My comment wasn’t intended to be disrespectful to Ryan Smyth, I’m just trying to be realistic when it comes to what he’s currently able to contribute.

        Smyth deserves all the accolades the team can throw at him once he retires, but sitting your team captain in the pressbox is embarrassing.

        • oldhippy

          I realize you weren’t bashing. That was aimed at all the crap the guy takes from a certain type of fan.

          My point is, not always is the most talented or the most dominant player, necessarily your captain. When Mario was in and out of the line-up, did they take away his captaincy. Captains are going to be injured, miss games. At one time the primary job of the captain was the coaches voice on the ice, talk to ref’s. Now it seems the captains job is not to be an embarrassment when fans talk to their friends in Calgary/Vancouver. Screw what fans of other teams think.

          I’ll be cool with whoever is chosen but, Hall has yet to establish himself as the guy who can hoist this team on his shoulder. RNH could yet become that guy. I would be happier with a one year captain and see who the dominant guy is by seasons end. What happens if Hall is made captain to start the season and he slumps from last seasons obvious jump?

          • Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

            I think your comparison to Mario is a little off, because he was given the captaincy when he was the best player on the ice. Additionally, taking the captaincy away from a player has a much different connotation than never giving it to them.

            I think the best way to describe my position would be to draw an analogy to the business world.

            Imagine two employees are being considered for the same managerial position in a company. One is 2-3 years away from retirement and has been a faithful employee for 30 years, and the other has been with the company for 5-10 years, but has the potential to be the future CEO if he maintains his current career trajectory. It is important to acknowledge the older employee’s contributions to the company, but if you are making a business decision you have to consider two primary issues:

            1) Is the impending retirement of the older employee a potential detriment to the company (ie. lack of continuity)

            2) Which employee is able to effectively connect with their direct reports to ensure that they meet their potential

            With respect to issue 1, I’d say it’s dangerous to downplay the importance of continuity. How do you think the revolving door of head coaches has affected this team?

            With respect to issue 2, Gen Y is probably the least likely generation in 100 years to follow a leader because of their prior contributions. Speaking as someone who was born in the mid-’80s, I can tell you that I’m motivated by leaders who garner respect by doing their job well, rather than pointing to their resume.

            Disclaimer: There are obviously several more considerations in hiring, but these are the two that best fit the analogy I was making.

          • oldhippy

            Cool analogy.

            Being a boomer and a tradesman, I rarely saw the best tradesman elevated to the foreman’s rank. (and rarely did they aspire to be that guy) The push on a project was often the best guy on that job, but not the over-all leader. Occasionally a foreman was somebody who was close to retirement and acted as a mentor, passing on years of acquired knowledge. Experiments with super tradesmen as leaders rarely worked, as they could not relate to their peers.

            Not sure any analogy outside of sport, works.

            Hall is going to be the captain on this team, sooner or later. I would rather it be later. I would rather he wait one more year. I see him being Toews eventually, but he isn’t there yet.

            Play devil’s advocate. Hall named captain, Oilers struggle, Hall continues to play well, but with fewer goals. Do you take the captaincy away? I would rather the Oilers wait one more year. One more year of improvement and development. He’s 21 and signed to a six year contract. There is time to honour age, youth will always be served.

          • Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

            I wasn’t trying to say that the best assembly line worker is the best person to manage the assembly line. What I’m saying is that Gen Y is more likely to be motivated by a manager who is good at their job right now, rather than one who has a history of success but is bordering on irrelevant right now.

            Boomers, on the other hand, tend to respect hierarchy quite a bit more than Gen Ys. They are much more likely to do what their boss tells them because they are the boss.

            I’m not saying one attitude is better than the other, or that every Boomer or Gen Y is exactly the same. These are just prevailing trends in each generation that can lead to conflict in the workplace, and I don’t think it makes much of a difference who’s signing your paycheque.

  • Action Jackson

    I think it will be a tough decision. I mean there is Hall….and…Hall…and Hall.

    Unless you want to give it to Yaks (which would be aaaaaamazing) I think the choice is pretty clear even to an outsider.

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    I’m still betting on Hall getting the call. He’s got the give em hell attitude that this team desperately needs. In my opinion, a captain’s gotta be someone who can carry the team on his back when they’re dragging ass, and I don’t know how many times the last couple years Hall has been the only Oiler to actually show up.

  • oldhippy

    Waiting for the true Captain to emerge makes sense to me. I like Hall’s raw talent but I think RNH has the higher IQ (in the traditional sense) and bigger long term upside. Not hearing a lot of talk about RNH.

    Could Smythy be the Captain and cheat time in a final year? Give us the chance for the RNH v Hall v ??? leadership question to settle out.

    That said, if Smythy ends up a healthy scratch…

    • Chaz

      Good point on RNH. If he emerges as an elite player as I think he might this year giving the C to Hall might prove to be premature in hindsight.

      I’d say someone like Ference would be ideal as a short-term solution as we wait for one of the kids to emerge as the captain of the future. Won a cup and has been to the finals twice in the last three years. Would be great to have someone who knows what it takes to win as the C for now. Seems to have the right personality for it for what I can see.

      As far as Smytty goes, that ship has sailed. Can’t have someone fighting to stay in the lineup as your Captain.

        • oldhippy

          Man do I LOVE Yak. Just don’t see him as a Captain. Certainly not this year.

          Again my gut says it should be “timid little RNH” as soon as he is able to make the rest of the NHL look like the boys he made his cohort look like at the WJC.

          When is that though – when he is 24?

          JSchultz would be my next bet (but again not this year). He was the best when they were all rocking the AHL (ie. playing in a league where they were on top).

          Point is the Oilers are best selecting someone for this year and probably next.

          Pull the trigger based on the room at camp. Ference seems ideal – anybody on the team wants to argue that call they can go win a cup.

  • The Soup Fascist

    Jason,

    I appreciate you have lived through it and had no issue without a set captain in NYC, but anecdotally I seem to rememember a lot of bad teams with co-captains, rotating captains or three assistants – the Minnesota Wild under Jacques Lemaire come to mind as do a bad Buffalo Sabres team.

    Some (can)knuckleheads even tried to make a goalie their captain!

    The Oilers NEED to make the playoffs this year – or die trying. They cannot get off to a slow start. Would they not be better off making a Ference or Smid the captain with the understanding a year or two from now, one of the kids is going to wear the “C” – a’la Lee Fogolin?

    • toprightcorner

      I disagree with your thoughts on Minnesota or Buffalo as they always played far above their talent level and their success can only be measured by the talent the team had and the coaching system. A good captain does not instantly make a team successful.

      With Minnesota, the team voted every month on who they felt showed the best leadership qualities over the past month and that is how they chose their captain. This builds multiple leaders who can all pick each other up and all feel responsible for leading the team to success. that’s how team chemistry is built and how everyone gets on the same page. This methods have players rise to the challenge, not get rewarded because of on ice performance, fan popularity or cap hit. The players will follow who they believe in so who better than the player they voted in as the captain of the month.

      A good captain can benefit a team but only to a certain level but a bad captain can destroy even the most talented of teams. This is a decision that should not be taken lightly and the longer Eakins waits to make that decision, the better.

      Rotating captains could really give this team the unity it needs with so many new faces and could bring a lot more out of some players than expected. At the end of one season, the true leader will rise to the top and that person should be the captain, no matter what number is on his jersey.

      • The Soup Fascist

        Agree to disagree. To paraphrase an old football axiom about quarterbacks …. If you have a bunch of captains …… you don’t have a captain.

        To add: IIRC Lemaire actually selected the captain of the month, but I am not certain – you could be correct that it was a player vote. Either way, the captain of the month thing seems like something that would happen in Pee Wee House League, not the NHL.

  • oldhippy

    How about a short term captain?

    I think it would be a nice gesture to make Smyth the captain. We all know this will be his last season. He bled for the team. He gave up teeth for the team. He has taken tons of punishment for the team. It would show the young guys that commitment is valued by the Oilers.

    Hall drove the bus last season, and if he repeats that performance in 2013/14, then he will be the guy in 2014.

    • The Soup Fascist

      Nice sentiment, but I am not sure a 4LW or press box Captain does anyone any favours. I think for Smyth to hope to be effective this year there are nights he needs to be eating popcorn in the pressbox.

      Making Smyth captain complicates that decision.

      • oldhippy

        I hear you, but I think this is a special circumstance. I would certainly be happy if Smyth were to be in the press box in the second half of back to back games.

        You know, it hasn’t always been the most talented player on the team wearing the C. Foglin was a great captain, showing intensity and commitment, while being in the third pairing D. McTavish was the captain when he was 3C. Also not unheard of to have more than one Captain. If Smyth plays 70 games, the other 12 could be covered by the possible successors.

        Nobody has really done Smyth’s job in front of the net since he was traded away. I’d like to see him get some p/p time. Show the young guys how to battle. Unless Hall is named captain at the start of the season, whoever is named will only be temporary until Hall has reached an age where he will have the respect of veterans that are new to the team.

  • 2004Z06

    I think a few weeks is enough, especially around a team. hang around a team all day everyday for 2 weeks and you will know who the guys follow and look to for leadership. its not rocket science.

  • D

    I think wearing the “A” is probably the safest route. The Captain and Coach are always the first to go around here while the side kicks keep their jobs without accountability.