With the Max Pacioretty saga over, the Montreal Canadiens can now move on. That means, in part, choosing the next victim, uh, honored candidate to become Habs captain.
While no Habs captain since Bob Gainey (1989) has had the privilege of ending their playing career with them, there are some pretty esteemed names on the long list. That there is a long list at all (nine names!) probably hints at it being the Canadiens and not them, but rest assured: The next captain will be different… everyone says, anyway.
Here are the likeliest options for the Habs captaincy, for the upcoming 2018-19 season:
4. Captain No One
It’s actually been done before. Quite recently in fact, with the Habs going without a captain after the Brian Gionta era in 2014-15. That year, the Habs named four alternates: Andrei Markov, P.K. Subban, Tomas Plekanec and Pacioretty, with the latter obviously going on to win the captaincy following a player vote.
So, do the Habs go with tradition… and repeat the same audition process? Unlikely, for two main reasons: One, as mentioned before, it’s been done and it didn’t work out so hot. As a result, the next captain will likely just be appointed by management ahead of the season opener instead of being voted in, because obviously the players can’t be trusted to pick the teammate they respect the most.
Two: Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin has already gone on record as saying the team will take a few weeks to name a new captain, implying of course that there will be one.
Bergevin says the team will take a few weeks to decide on a new captain
— Eric Engels (@EricEngels) September 10, 2018
Granted, Bergevin reserves the right to change his mind… or simply tell whatever half-truth is convenient at the time. It does seem like the decision to name a captain would be an odd thing to do a one-eighty on, though… especially seeing as there are a few clear-cut options from which to choose.
3. Tomas Plekanec
Look no further than Plekanec who is the last surviving member of the aforementioned foursome from just a few years ago. Take your pick as to whether or not that’s more or less frightening than the fact Plekanec got traded last season. So, technically, the Habs have lost their entire leadership corps from just four years ago. That’s, uh… something.
In any case, while Plekanec is a decent option to earn the captaincy, he’s a long shot. That’s because he’s on a one-year contract, which can realistically be his last with the Habs, if not his last overall. If the Habs are going to the trouble of naming a new captain for this season, they’d want someone who’ll be sticking around.
Of course, Plekanec has already stuck around pretty long, if you conveniently ignore those 17 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs, which may or may not have actually happened (he wasn’t wearing his trademark goatee, so they don’t count). As a free-agent returnee, he’ll be hitting 1,000 games played with the Habs a few weeks into the season. Because of his longevity alone, he’s a good bet to get an “A”.
There are other reasons to give him an “A”, of course. Namely his defensive responsibility and the undeniable fact he’s a vampire (what else could his turtlenecks be hiding if not a bite mark?). Whichever one floats your boat. It’s a foregone conclusion at this point that he’ll get a letter, just not the big one.
2. Brendan Gallagher
Brendan Gallagher’s the best option to succeed Pacioretty. He’s just not the likeliest. Gallagher brings with him a rugged style of play that has endeared himself to fans and teammates alike and, somewhat amazingly considering his just-26 years of age, six years of service as a Hab.
Gallagher is almost too perfect of an option as one gets the impression he’s universally beloved within the organization. Unfortunately, that would just make him all the much harder to scapegoat when it comes time to cut ties with the guy. Moving on.
1. Shea Weber
Back to that point about Gallagher being universally beloved: One also gets the impression that’s not exactly true around the league and among officials. It’s not that he’s inherently disrespected. It’s just that Shea Weber is respected more and, well, liked.
You know that saying that there are guys you absolutely hate when you play them but would love to have on your team? That’s Gallagher. Meanwhile, Weber is so beloved that you have the head coach of the Habs’ most-historic rival, Mike Babcock, publicly gushing over him to the point of flirting… with a contract tampering offense.
Babcock, to a Montreal reporter asking about Shea Weber: 'If you guys don't want him, we'll take him.'
— Kevin McGran (@kevin_mcgran) October 14, 2017
In any case, consider NHL Rule 6.1: “[The captain] alone shall have the privilege of discussing with the Referee any questions relating to interpretation of rules which may arise during the progress of the game.”
Sure, when the captain is off the ice, that responsibility will fall on the shoulders of the alternates, a group that already includes Gallagher (Rule 6.2). Nevertheless, you have to agree Weber isn’t just respected… he commands respect even if out of fear. You’d want a captain with whom the referees actually want to deal.
Weber would also have the responsibility of being one of the primary sources of info for reporters after games, and everyone knows how talkative he can be. Okay, so Weber obviously isn’t the perfect candidate, but he will be around for a long time, with a contract that only runs out in 2026.
That’s the good news. The bad news is Weber will be hard-pressed to maintain the same high quality of play fans have enjoyed from him as he approaches 40. That’s not even taking into account the injuries that will possibly pile up thanks to his style of play, a phenomenon that will admittedly also affect Gallagher in all likelihood.
What’s ironic about this hypothetical selection is how Weber, despite being in decline and primed to unfortunately become a source of ire for fans the longer he plays out his contract, won’t be easily moved.
Neither he nor goaltender Carey Price, whose contract also runs out in 2026, are going anywhere, in part because of who’s in charge (Bergevin) and in part because of their contracts. And Price can’t be captain (again, Rule 6.1). So, in a weird way, Weber is also the likeliest option to break the vicious cycle above. He’s a good bet to end his career as Hab, whenever that comes… and the best bet to be captain now.
To be fair, there are far worse options out there. Weber is a consummate pro who oozes leadership to the point that he was an alternate captain on Canada’s 2014 Olympic men’s ice hockey team roster… a squad rife with captains from around the league. And, to clear the air beyond a reasonable doubt that wasn’t just because Weber Fan Numero Uno Babcock was the coach, he of course also captained the Nashville Predators.
In other words, in addition to the skillset and league-wide reputation, Weber has the pedigree for the job, one of the highest-pressure positions in all of sports. It’s time to find out if he’s got the mettle for it. There should be no doubt he’ll at least give it his all.