For the first time in eight years, the Calgary Flames are currently without a team captain. The last time this happened, it came as a result of Jarome Iginla being traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins just prior to the 2013 Trade Deadline. The Flames finished the 2012-13 season without a captain, before giving that honour to Mark Giordano the following September.
Giordano captained the Flames from the 2013-14 season through the 2020-21 campaign. Now that he is no longer with the team after being selected by the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft, a new search for captain begins. Assuming head coach Darryl Sutter and his staff decide to select a new captain prior to the upcoming season, here are the most likely candidates.
The Most Likely Choices
If we were having this discussion a year ago, Matthew Tkachuk would be the no-brainer selection to become the new captain of the Flames. This is a player who wears his heart on his sleeve every night and is willing to do whatever it takes to win. On top of that, he is also the team’s best all-around player, which, based on looking around the league, is often enough on its own to earn the ‘C.’
Things have changed, however, as a down 2020-21 season has caused some fans to question the 23-year-old. Not only did he struggle in terms of play, but he also had a few on-ice instances that put his maturity under the microscope. These events resulted in some rumors throughout the city that his teammates have grown tired of his act, though they remain just rumors.
The other reason Tkachuk is no longer the guaranteed next captain of this team is the fact that he has been involved in some trade chatter this offseason. The Flames have been taking calls on him this offseason, though the price is reported to be astronomically high. In my opinion, he will be announced as the next captain in Calgary, but there are certainly questions surrounding him at this time.
With Giordano moving on, the longest-tenured player on the Flames roster is now Mikael Backlund, who made his debut in 2008-09. While he came in with some promise, having been selected in the first round (24th overall) of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, it took the 32-year-old center some time to establish himself at the NHL level.
Over roughly the last eight seasons, Backlund has established himself as a very solid two-way player for the Flames. He can score goals, kill penalties, is great on faceoffs, and does not shy away from physical play. He is a consistent player, which is an important trait for a captain.
Clearly, the Flames organization values Backlund’s leadership skills, as he has served as an alternate captain for the past three seasons. He still currently has three years left on his contract, so they wouldn’t have to worry about the possibility of naming him captain and losing him shortly thereafter. He has a ton of respect from both his teammates and the fanbase, making him a pretty good option.
Though Chris Tanev has only played one season in a Flames uniform, he very quickly became a fan favorite due to his compete level and overall solid play night in and night out. While he isn’t a flashy player, he is a very good shutdown defender and does all the dirty work, which includes his great play on the penalty kill and his ability to block a ton of shots.
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It was clear early into the 2020-21 season that the Flames signed a true gem in Tanev, who many would say was the team’s best and most consistent defenceman throughout the entire campaign. Much like Backlund, he is a player who does everything right, and while some of his contributions go unnoticed, both fans and teammates understand his value.
Prior to signing with the Flames, Tanev had spent his entire career with the Vancouver Canucks and spent his final four seasons with them as an alternate captain. He is a veteran player who was a valued leader in the Canucks dressing room and is willing to walk the walk every time he is on the ice. Despite still being a new player to the Flames roster, few would question him being named the next captain of this team.
The Wild Card Choices
The chances of Johnny Gaudreau being named team captain are pretty slim given the fact that he has not even been an letter in his seven seasons with the team. Fair or not, his leadership skills and his desire to win have been questioned over the years with both he and his team struggling when it comes to postseason play.
What Gaudreau may have going for him to have an outside shot at being named the next captain of this Flames squad is that he has been their best offensive threat for numerous years now. That includes this past season when he led the team in scoring with 49 points in 56 games. He has been around the team for longer than almost anybody else in the dressing room and is well respected by his teammates.
Another reason this seems unlikely, however, is that Gaudreau’s future as a Flame is very much up in the air right now. He is set to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2021-22 season, and while there have been discussions between his agent and the team on an extension, there have also been rumblings of a potential trade to shake up the core in Calgary. If an extension were to come together prior to the season beginning, then perhaps it could help his case of being named captain, but if it hasn’t, then there is next to no chance.
Like Gaudreau, the chances of Sean Monahan being named captain are very low, though again he has been around this team for a very long time. On top of that, he has also served as an alternate captain since the 2015-16 season, so clearly both Flames management and coaching staff value his leadership abilities.
A couple of seasons ago, Monahan would likely have been a legitimate candidate to become the Flames’ next captain. However, he has struggled the past two seasons, and as a result, has been involved in many trade rumors, perhaps more so than anyone else on this roster. On top of that, his struggles the past few seasons have turned him into a whipping boy for a big chunk of the fanbase, and naming him team captain could potentially make that even worse.
Monahan too has been criticized over the years for his lack of playoff success. The postseason is a time where you need your captain to lead the way, and given his track record to this point, there is little to suggest he would be the type of guy to put this team on his back when it matters the most. Still, the fact he has been an alternate captain for the Flames as long as he has means that it isn’t completely impossible, no matter how unlikely it is.
No Rush to Make a Decision
Given the situation they are in, there is no real rush for the Flames to make a decision on their captaincy just yet. They will be better off to let the summer go by in case any big moves are made and go from there. There is even a chance they could decide to play the 2021-22 season without a captain and instead use four alterantes, something we have seen from other teams in the past.
At some point, however, a decision will need to be made, whether it comes by training camp this year or perhaps a year further down the road. Whenever that decision is made, it would come as a major surprise to see their next captain be a player who is not currently on this list, unless of course there is a major roster shakeup beforehand.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Oil On Whyte, NHLtradetalk.com, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.