The Montreal Canadiens entered the 2021-22 season on a high making a magical run to the 2021 Stanley Cup. This led to high expectations from fans and media alike that the Habs would be in the thick of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference. However, the 2022 season crushed those hopes and expectations as the Canadiens fell to 32nd place overall and are now in the running for the top pick in the 2022 Entry Draft. A major reason, beyond injuries and COVID protocols, has been a massive leadership vacuum left behind with Carey Price and more importantly team captain Shea Weber being absent.
Even though he remains on long-term injured reserve (LTIR), Weber isn’t coming back. His injuries are serious enough that general manager Kent Hughes has admitted he’s not likely to ever return, and has even tried to trade his contract, and may yet still do so. The absence of a clearly defined leadership group has left a mark. This may be why Hughes stated there will be a captain selected for next season.
Hughes never stated how they will be selected, so it could be anyone on the current roster. Here are three candidates that could plausibly take over the role.
Canadiens Assistant Captain Brendan Gallagher
Brendan Gallagher was a fifth-round pick of the Canadiens at the 2010 Draft. After half of a season with the American Hockey League Hamilton Bulldogs, he then joined the Canadiens in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, this makes him the second longest-tenured member of Montreal’s roster, only Carey Price has been with the Habs longer. Over his 10 seasons so far with the Habs –six as an assistant captain – he has provided 30 goal seasons, but most of all, he provides leadership by example. Many fans have been wanting to see him as the next captain, but is he the best fit?
As a long-time member of the Canadiens leadership group, he has been known to be vocal, be it by chirping players and referees on the ice, or by making his feelings known to the public through the media.
While that is something leaders need to do, they must be more selective when doing so. His being vocal with NHL officials about displeasure over their calls has led to what seems to be a universal distrust of Gallagher by these same officials. Gallagher has many beneficial leadership qualities that impact the player in the room, leading by example, keeping a high standard for how a professional player acts off the ice, and an ability to share his knowledge with the younger players. Despite all of that, the inability to command respect from opponents and NHL officials could be detrimental to his ability to lead.
Canadiens Assistant Captain Joel Edmundson
Joel Edmundson arrived in Montreal as a free agent signing ahead of the 2020-21 season signing a four-year deal worth $3.5 million per season. The hulking six-foot-four inch 227-pound defenceman instantly became an integral part of the roster as he and Jeff Petry quickly became the most impactful defensive pair on the roster.
Edmundson provides the roster experience, having won a Stanley Cup in 2019 with the St-Louis Blues and now, helped lead the Canadiens to a Cup Final in 2021. His style of play as a reliable stay-at-home defenceman has earned him the nickname of “steady Eddy” and likely helped earn him the role of assistant captain this season, a position he had never held in the NHL before. He has also shown that he can play mentor to the younger players not only on the ice, but off of it as well. He welcomed newcomer Jordan Harris by inviting him to have dinner with him and Christian Dvorak at a sushi restaurant.
His physical style on the ice and his calm demeanor off the ice has led to his name being mentioned as a possible replacement for Weber as captain. Edmundson could be a good fit as a transitional captain, one who can take the reins now, then hand them off to a younger, core member of the roster once his contract comes to an end in 2024. However, the Canadiens are more likely looking for a permanent, long-term replacement as captain as opposed to a placeholder.
Canadiens Assistant Captain Nick Suzuki
Nick Suzuki joined the Canadiens from the Vegas Golden Knights in the Max Pacioretty trade. Since then, he has risen from a fourth-line right-wing role to become the team’s top center and an NHL All-Star. Due to this, he signed an eight-year contract extension for $7.88 million per season, keeping him in Montreal for the foreseeable future as the face of the franchise.
He earned this extension through his play. He has shown that he can play at a high level consistently, and even raise his level of play when it matters most, in the playoffs. This hasn’t gone unnoticed by his teammates either, which has earned him their respect and admiration.
“You look at our regular season at the end of the year, we were going through a tough time. You needed someone to step up and take charge, and it was him, last year in the playoffs, same thing. He’s a guy who steps up, scores big goals. It’s something he’s done as long as he’s been playing hockey, something not everyone has.”–Brendan Gallagher
Suzuki is already seen as a leader for the Canadiens, being named as an assistant captain only solidifies this point. While his leadership style seems like a quiet leader type, he isn’t one to shy away from calling himself out publically when he feels he hasn’t lived up to his demanding expectations. We saw this from him back in November of 2021 in Anaheim when he said, “I want to be a good go-to person, but today I wasn’t really doing much, to be honest.” The Canadiens suffered a difficult loss and he felt he could have done more. His desire to improve and be accountable displays a maturity that goes well beyond his 22 years of age.
Suzuki is an excellent fit as captain of the Canadiens. He is already the future face of the franchise, is seen as a leader and respected by his peers, and is under contract for the long term with his prime years still ahead of him. If he were selected for the role, he could be supported by the veteran leadership group of Byron, Gallagher, and Edmundson. That group will have turnover as players come and go the next few seasons as Hughes continues to mold the team into the image he desires. Having consistency at the helm as captain will be crucial for the young core’s development, which is something Suzuki can provide.
Having a defined leadership group is a necessity for success in the NHL on and off the ice. In Montreal, being the captain comes with added pressure. They face the fans and media not only when times are good but are also expected to answer the hard questions when things aren’t going well. Not all leaders will wear a letter, so the support of the rest of the room will be necessary. It is important that whoever is selected is well supported. However, the decision on the next captain is made, picking the right one can make a difference for the fortunes of a franchise in the long run.
Blain is a regular contributor as a THW Writer. For over 7 years he has been a part time journalist and podcaster covering the NHL, the Montreal Canadiens and its affiliates. He has made appearances on various television and radio stations as well as podcasts to discuss the Canadiens, and the NHL. Blain has taken the lessons on integrity, ethics, values and honesty that he has learned as a 28 year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces and applied them to his work as a journalist to guide him in informing his readers and his goal of being a trusted source of information and entertainment.