Time to Choose the Next Captain

It feels like we ask this question every summer, but still I
wonder who the next captain of the Edmonton Oilers is going to be. It’s
exceedingly unfair to ask that question when the current captain still has two
years left on his deal, is extremely devoted to the community, and doesn’t look
like he’s going anywhere. Still, we feel compelled to ask.

The problem isn’t Andrew Ference’s commitment to Edmonton.
Far from it. He’s done a lot for this city, ranging from the individual
interactions he’s had with sick or underprivileged kids to bigger initiatives that get people back to living more healthy lifestyles without forking over hundreds of
dollars on gym memberships or diet fads. Don’t mistake me questioning the
captaincy for me questioning Ference’s character. His character as a person isn’t on trial
and if it were then it would say a lot more about me than it would about him.

The reality is that the problem with our captain stems from the fact that
Ference isn’t a difference maker on this team. Even worse, his age all but
precludes him from being a part of even the medium-term future. The problem is
that the Oilers are a team trying to take the next step and that will surely
include finding a leader from the core.

TRANSITION

Edmonton is ready to start worrying less about tomorrow and more
about today. The rebuild was about gathering young talent. During this period from
2009-2015 the Oilers had three captains: Ethan Moreau, Shawn Horcoff, and Andrew
Ference (plus one magical night from Smytty).

It’s hard not to look at the Moreau years as an attempt to
continue the tradition of leadership that grew out of the Jason Smith years.
Smith was a hard nosed defender who wasn’t an offensive player but played his heart out. Moreau was a
hard-nosed forward who wasn’t an offensive player. He was a veteran, and he was a
longtime Oiler. Unfortunately, he wasn’t a difference maker either. He was a 15 minute per night third liner with a penchant for bad penalties.

The Horcoff years followed Moreau and while Hocorff’s
contract rankled the feathers of most people, he was at the very least a first
line player. For many years, no forward averaged more ice-time than Shawn
Horcoff. Like Moreau before him, he had ties to that ’06 team, was a veteran, and
was a longtime Oiler. It always seemed like Horc was doing his best to show the
ever growing stable of young players what it meant to be a professional.

When Horcoff left the Oilers it looked as if the young
stable of talent was ready to step forward and produce their own captain.
New coach Dallas Eakins saw things a differently. He ultimately chose
Andrew Ference to be the captain of the team before the newly signed UFA had
ever played one minute for the club. Ference stepped in and I can’t fault a
single thing he’s done as a leader off the ice. I’m not
privy to know what he’s done behind closed doors, but I can’t shake the feeling
that he’s wearing the C as a placeholder.

READY TO TAKE OVER

The plan was always to find elite talent, groom them, and turn
the club over to the kids. In some respects the Oilers have been extremely
cautious handing over leadership of the club to players like Eberle and Hall. Gabriel
Landeskog was named the captain of the Avalanche while he was still a teenager. The
Penguins named Crosby their captain while he was a teenager. Despite the former there are still people who still argue that some of the Oilers are still too young to be captain.

The fact is that the only Oiler in 2015-2016 who is probably
too young to be the captain will be Connor McDavid. By NHL standards, Jordan
Eberle, Taylor Hall, or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are all more than qualified to be captains
on NHL teams. They are old enough, have the experience, and are difference
makers on the team. Additionally, they all factor to be longtime Oilers and are all early
into the primes of their careers.

For me, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall are the most likely
candidates. Hall is a force of nature when healthy. He’s the first ever first
overall pick and at this moment one of the longest serving Oilers on the team.
He’s signed long term and is one of the best left wings on the planet. Ryan
Nugent-Hopkins was the second most played forward in the NHL last year,
is the team’s first line centre (they will have two of them moving
forward though) and he is likely the team’s most complete player.

The Oilers gave stewardship of the team to several different
men while the franchise went about collecting this group. Now it’s time to
think about handing it over to the kids.

WHY TAKE IT AWAY FROM FERENCE?

Why

There’s no way to have this conversation at all if we aren’t
going to acknowledge that Andrew Ference is aging, becoming less effective, and
unlikely to be an Oiler beyond this contract. As I mentioned at the top of this piece,
Ference’s character is not in doubt. That’s never been part of the cloud hanging
over his tenure as captain.

Andrew Ference is 36 years old. He is already two years older than
Jason Smith was during his final year as the Oilers captain and he’s playing
fewer and fewer minutes. Last season he was already less than 19 minutes a
night and with the changes that Chiarelli has made he will soon find it
difficult to get into games altogether.

The new general manager has not made life easy for his
captain. The left side of the depth chart is filling up with younger, more
effective players like Sekera and Klefbom. The right side has Schultz, Fayne,
and Gryba. The youth is surging by way of Reinhart and Nurse. The only other
defender with big minuses is Nikita Nikitin who still averaged more time than Ference
last season.

The remaining time Ference has with the Oilers is going to
be a struggle for ice.  

There’s a new coaching staff coming in and they have no
allegiance to anyone on this roster. The new GM already let Ference walk away
from his club once before. Now is the time to start thinking about who is going
to be the next captain of the Edmonton Oilers.

The Edmonton Oilers have to stop being the team of tomorrow
and start being the team of today. Part of that means it’s time to turn the keys
fully over to the core. It’s their team and it has been for a couple of seasons
already. Just make it official.

  • JackB

    @Matt Henderson

    You said:

    “It’s exceedingly unfair to ask that question when the current captain still has two years left on his deal, is extremely devoted to the community, and doesn’t look like he’s going anywhere.”

    If it’s exceedingly unfair to ask the question, then why did you ?

    Was it just because you knew would get 130 odd responses?

    This isn’t the type of question that can EVER be answered by fans. It is ALWAYS up to the coach. And it is the type of question that will ALWAYS get some negative opinions from supposed fans.

    I sure as hell hope Hall and Ference don’t follow this site.

  • O.C.

    Food for thought:

    Gretzky had the C.

    Messier had the A

    Gretzky had the patience. He gave respect to and also received the respect from teammates, officials, and the opposition. He was the perfect Captain on the ice.

    In the dressing room, Gretzky spoke rarely, but when he did, they listened.

    Messier was the driving force in the dressing room. Gretzky knew that that man was a force, with the perfect drive and intentions, that no one would dare cross. He was the other leader.

    When the time came to blow up at an official, Messier was the guy.

    This system was adopted and accepted. It NEVER was a problem.

    I think MSM and the fan base are overthinking this.

    C = Nuge
    A = Hall
    and whoever else floats your boat.

  • ubermiguel

    C – Hall

    A – Nuge

    A – Ebs

    Just a matter of interest,….. Does the coach choose or can he go the democratic route and have the players close the door and play with the alphabet soup?

    I would prefer the latter but it seems the former is in place with the Oilers.

  • ubermiguel

    The C should be on the ice in all crucial situations and deal with the refs the most on the team, needs to be respected (earned) by the refs. No disrespect but defence can’t do that from the press box/bench,mcdavid is a rookie, RNH is the defacto choice.

  • Spoils

    i lean towards no Captain. three Alternates – Eberle-Nuge-Hall

    they are the leaders and difference makers, but McDavid will be the captain. and it will be easy to give it to him once he is the 1st line center and points leader.now it just wouldn’t be right.

    but – really this is a decision for the people in the dressing room.

  • WTF2

    I dont like the idea of the players voting as i have a feeling Hall wouls finish last and thet would blister his ego. Nuge C, Hall, McD A’s. I can see Nuge trading with McD down the road.

  • toprightcorner

    Sorry Matt but your reasons for thinking Eberle, Nuge and Hall are ready to be Captain are not even considerations when naming a captain. Old enough, experienced enough, difference makers. A Captain is a leader, plain and simple, someone others will follow and who set the example of what is required from all other players.

    I don’t think Hall is ready, his joke about McDavid not messing up what they built over the past 5 years was funny, but not the word of a leader. Eberle does not set the example of what is expected from the other players, he takes too many shifts off. Nuge is the example but is he someone people will follow?

    Lander was captain of the Barons at age 20, his second year in North America, that kid has leadership qualities.

    The Oilers know have a generational player, one who will likely be the best player in the league for the next 10 years, is he captain material? We don’t know yet but he handles himself as an 18 year old better than any Oiler I have seen in almost 20 years. Why give the “C” to someone else if he could be your guy in 2-3 years. Why give it to Hall only to potentially take it away from him?

    You wait, leave the “C” with Ference and see which of the core players is the one who leads everyone else to become a successful team and that is the guy who is your captain.

    BTW, it was dumb for Colorado to name Lamdeskog as captain at 19, it was more a marketing ploy showing the Avalanche has turned the corner. He hasn’t been the same player since he became captain.

    • Kr55

      Totally agree , I think the next generation have better leadership qualities. The kids who will be regulars on the team in a few seasons will be the new leaders.

  • Cowbell_Feva

    I agree with Spoils. Maybe if there is no clear cut captain as of now, they run with 3 As??

    I’d have a hard time thinking they would strip Ference, regardless of his inability at this stage of his career. He is a good soldier….

  • a lg dubl dubl

    On the ice , in the dressing room ,off the ice and bringing players grievances (liason) to coaches, etc. from other players a goodly part of Captaincy . Considering them all Ference is still a good person for retaining the captaincy till he wishes to relinquish it , retires or is traded . I do not hear of the players thinking he should not remain the captain . So if it’s good for them and respected by his fellow players , then it should be with the fans as well . RESPECT .

  • Cowbell_Feva

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xF6RAZD3G_s

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xF6RAZD3G_s

    Jeez, Andrew, you’re just so classy…would you mind trying to teach these kids how to be professional?

    This guy, who has the balls to straight face the media when he says his glove got stuck like that, is supposed to teach a bunch of skill kids, what exactly?

    Giving him the C was a terrible choice by a terrible coach…

    Now, it’s just another mistake Chia has to unfortunately clean up, because the way he plays(very poorly), there is no way Ference is here for 2 more years…

  • a lg dubl dubl

    So, what happens when in 3-4 yrs when Mcdavid isn’t ready to be captain? Anarchy in the streets?

    Kid should earn it just like the other guys on the team.

    Hall, as of right now, is the best player on the team. Does he deserve it? maybe, maybe not. Sure it looks like he has “an attitude problem” because he slams his stick on the ice or throws a water bottle on the bench, but at least he showed some emotion when the team was losing.

    A captain should be able to take the team by the proverbial scruff of neck and do everything he can to help this team win. Hall does that.

    • Cowbell_Feva

      I respectfully disagree with you. I think #93 is the best player on this team.

      He doesn’t get enough recognition playing a 200 ft game. There’s more to hockey than just points. He gets his fair share of those too, but he isn’t flying the zone early to cheat for them.

      He dropped the mitts with Hamhuis to show he had enough. Id take that over stick smashing and water bottle throwing anyday.
      And yes, Hall tried that once and broke his ankle. One of many serious injuries he has had to deal with which is another problem with #4. That and getting crunched cause he still has his head down way too much.

  • Bucknuck

    What if Connor is the best choice for captain? What about Nurse? Neither would get the C this year because they are rookies, but maybe we should wait and see who emerges from the group as the leader.

    I think one more year of wait and see is in order… and then Ference will step aside of his own free will. I would prefer the new coach to consult the players on who the Captain should be… and they don’t really know yet.

  • If I had to pick a new captain for next season I’d go with Lander. Simply because he’s a born leader, reliable and a strong winning mentality. The guy speaks and acts his heart out.

    And I believe that not picking one of the “stars” (Hall, RNH, Ebs, McD etc) will benefit all of whom are not picked.

    • Why would you want to give captaincy to a player that might not even be on main team this season ? He was a call up from last season for crying out loud . He’ll have to earn a spot over Letestu and probably Draisaitl , who looks to be a future mainstay at least . He may well end up back in AHL or traded perhaps .

      • camdog

        I’m guessing a skilled winger leaves this team before Lander does. The only player that I’d put money on being with the franchise in 5 years is McDavid, but hey maybe your crystal ball is better than mine!

  • The Soup Fascist

    For next season i’ll keep C on Andy’s jersey. Let’s see, how good \or bad\ is he, with new coach, new management, new faces on the ice. Is he good – we have Captain Edmonton, no need for another. Is he bad – let’s find new man

  • Who will get the most out of the officials and be respected /tactful as our captain dealing with them ? Who also communicates the best to teammates , coaches , off ice and locker room, while still a major player on the ice ? Even Gretzky , Crosby and Lemieux were perceived to be on the whinny side by many .

  • Rob...

    Wouldn’t it be great if the last captain for the Oilers was ‘Captain Obvious’ from the commercials.

    Picture it:

    ‘You know Dallas, Taylor squirted you with a water bottle because he’s tired of losing and you suck as a coach.’

    ‘Hey Schultz, when you lose the puck on the power play without giving time for a forward to cover your vacated position it increases the chance of a short handed goal being scored.’

    ‘Hey Eberle, when you fall down in the O-zone, then sulk on the ice while the puck heads the other way, your teammates have to cover your sorry arse.’

    ‘Hey guys, with that thrown jersey there have been more jerseys than hats thrown on the ice this season.’

  • Jaxon

    I think you leave it on Ference as long as he is on the roster. I don’t think Hendricks is a good option as I’m not certain he’ll be here in a year. Hall doesn’t play responsible enough in his own end. eberle is pretty even keeled but that doesn’t exactly inspire. I think Nuge may be a great option but I think I’d wait a couple years to see who emerges from the group of Nugent-Hopkins, McDavid, Nurse, Reinhart and Lander. They’ve all shown great leadership qualities at various levels. The vet that may deserve an interim captaincy is Pouliot. I think it may be reasonable to give it to him. He works hard and is very passionate about winning. Plus, he’s here for at least another 3 years, which would be a good time to pass it on. He’s mature enough that he may be fine with relinquishing it to one of the younger players in a few years. I also don’t think Sekera is the guy. He’s seems more like the solid, but unremarkable type. Not sure if that screams capain. Plus, he doesn’t yet have any ties to Edmonton. Fayne may be a better candidate than Sekera. If Nuge turns into the responsible two-way player some are projecting him to be then he may deserve it more than McDavid in a few years. If Lander ends up getting all the tough assigments, like Gordon, and producing some points he may deserve it most. If Nurse becomes Pringer-like, then he definitely should be in the conversation. Likewise for Reinhart. So, I’m basically saying, what’s the rush. Ference is a good respected captain at the moment. If they need an interim captain, the Pouliot makes sense to me. In a few years they can decide to leave it on Pouliot or give it to one of McDavid, Nugent-hopkins, Nurse, Reinhart or Lander.

    Either that, or give it to Yakupov right now.

  • You would think giving the C to Hall would put an end to any immature talk.

    Having lived in the same building as the guy, and often going to the same bars ( Edmonton isn’t THAT big) I know the majority of the stories that surround Hall. I know that they are no different than ANY other 20yr old hockey player, save maybe Toews and Crosby, with 6 million in the bank.

    He’s not a dummy. He knows that winning matters. He’s got the drive, even the renewed drive, and giving him the C will put him over the top.

    He will go “Supernova”

  • filthymotherpucker

    Leave the C with ferrence this year. In the games he doesn’t dress (I see him playing 55-60 games) rotate the 3 A’s between 4 guys.(Hall, Nuge, Hendricks, and Ebs) then after this year if 97 is ready give to him.

    Then possibly have for next year:
    97-C and have Nuge a permanent A, and have Hall and Ebs rotate the remaining A

  • Does anyone else feel like Hall seems like the type of guy who would get upset if it was someone else who got it? resulting in off ice issues in the room and culture resulting in him wanting out. He just seems like that kinda guy.

  • Joy S. Lee

    I’m just going to chime in with my two cents on my answer to the question: Matt Hendricks. So far as I’m concerned, he would be the perfect guy to lead this team into the next phase of their development. I suspect we’ll see a leader or two emerge from that talented core this upcoming season, and then the right choices can be made on such things.

    It’s practically a brand new team all around. Just about have to give them a little time to gel, and see what shakes out, but I’m pretty sure something will, so there’s no need to force it.

  • Otis on Oilers

    I just hope they don’t do the same crap they did a few years ago. Having every guy who played on the top two lines rotating the A’s for home and away games? It’s embarrassing. its the NHL. Not daycare where everyone gets a gold star.

    Just pick your teams true leaders, and let them lead the rest of the boys to the promised land.

    Sorry McD, you’re too young right now. Be different if he came in a couple years ago. You’re going to have to light the league on fire to steal it from Nuge or Hall.

  • HECTOR

    I think they should let the players decide. They ultimately know who is best suited on any given team. Leaders stand out in all endevours and the players experience this.

  • R U Kidding Me!

    I think Nurse is the future “C”. C of the Hounds first year with the team if I’m not mistaken. Skilled, tough, pro qualities, taken Mac D under his wing and has his respect all while being a kid himself. Guy is a leader its obvious. As for This year I think its Hall’s to loose.