The Calgary Flames have had only two captains since the 2003-04 season, Hockey Hall of Famer Jarome Iginla (2003-13) and former Norris Trophy winner Mark Giordano (2013-21). When the Flames lost Giordano in the expansion draft to the Seattle Kraken last summer, the role became vacant, and the team opted to run with a group of alternate captains for the 2021-22 season.
Last season, Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Thakuck served among the alternate captains before they both departed for American cities this offseason. As of this writing, the Flames’ current alternate captains are Mikael Backlund, Sean Monahan, and Christopher Tanev.
There will be a group of fans who think newly acquired superstar Jonathan Huberdeau could land the captaincy; since it is still vacant, however, it may be better for him to serve as an alternate and wait his turn to be the leader. Backlund, one of the longest-serving Flames, should be promoted and serve as the captain for the final two years of his contract.
Star Players Turned Captain
When we look back at previous superstar deals, whether they be trades or free agent signings, there have been moments in NHL history where the new player earns the team’s captaincy right out of the gate. One of the best examples of this occurred in 2006 when Zdeno Chara signed as a free agent with the Boston Bruins.
The future Hall of Famer signed his deal on July 1, 2006, and he was named the team’s 18th captain after a stellar training camp on Oct 2, 2006. The Bruins stumbled in Chara’s first season at the helm, and it wasn’t until a coaching change the following season (2007-08) that the team finally reversed course, ultimately winning the Stanley Cup in 2011.
John Tavares was the captain of the New York Islanders for five seasons before signing as a free agent with his hometown team, the Toronto Maple Leafs. The ink on his contract dried on July 1, 2018, and after one season, the team promoted Tavares to the captaincy on Oct 2, 2019.
It is safe to say that Chara and Tavares are both high-profile players who were promoted to their respective team captaincy at the beginning of their deals in new cities. Chara achieved great success in Beantown, while Tavares continues to shoulder some blame for the Maple Leafs’ inabilities in the playoffs.
Monahan is the longest-serving alternate captain on the Flames roster, earning his role in 2013-14. Once on the path to superstardom, Monahan struggled in 2021-22, recording a career low in goals and points, and finding himself listed as a healthy scratch down the stretch. Towards the end of the regular season, he opted for surgery on his right hip, ending his campaign. Monahan no longer has Gaudreau or Tkachuk around to play in their shadow and could use the 2022-23 season to find his game again and remain as one of his team’s leaders.
Backlund became an alternate captain during the 2018-19 season and enters the 2022-23 campaign as one of the longest-tenured Flames’ players in the organization. Originally drafted 24th overall in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, the native of Västerås, Sweden, has been with the franchise in some capacity since the 2008-09 season.
Tanev left the Vancouver Canucks in 2020, opting to sign with the Flames, a Western Conference rival. So far, two seasons into his four-year deal, Tanev has yet to miss a game and posted a career-best 28 points in 2021-22. The Flames have lost a boatload of stellar defencemen over the last few offseasons, which has allowed Tanev to grow into a leadership role among the team’s rearguards.
As of August 2022, the Flames remain one of the few teams in the league without an official team captain. The New York Rangers recently removed themselves from that list by promoting Jacob Trouba to the role. Many people thought a few other players might deserve the honor, but that is the direction the team decided to go.
The same situation could play itself out in southern Alberta. The fans will want someone to emerge from the room, own up to the miserable playoff exit, and do everything they can to prevent a repeat at the hands of their rivals from Edmonton. This player must also lead the charge in defending the Pacific Division championship the team earned, edging their northern rivals by seven points.
Huberdeau has said all the right things so far since signing his deal. He has put the fans’ minds at ease by committing to the city for the long haul and is on board to do whatever it takes to bring the Cup back. Many people will see all this talk as a signal he may be interested in the vacant team captain role. He may be the biggest superstar on the team but has only played 10 career games against the Oilers and will have his first taste of the Battle of Alberta on national TV on Oct 15. His performance that night will go a long way regarding his legacy in Calgary.
While we can sit here and debate the merits on which Huberdeau deserves to be the Flames’ next captain, it’s just not his time yet. The left-winger spent his entire career (nine seasons) in south Florida, where he owns the club’s all-time scoring record but never served as their captain. Even if Huberdeau has a fantastic training camp and turns heads, Oct 2022 is not the time to announce that the new kid on the block has earned the room and has shown he is the player the team needs to fight its northern rivals.
Should the Flames management and coaching staff decide to add an extra C to any player’s jersey, it has to be Backlund. Not only does he have the experience, but he has the pedigree to handle the duties of playing in one of the country’s largest hockey markets.
Although he is not the same kind of superstar his departed teammates were, he is the type of player others would follow into the trenches. The Battle of Alberta isn’t for the faintest of hearts, and Backlund has seen his fair share of blood, sweat, and tears entrenched in one of the game’s greatest rivalries for over a decade.
The Flames do not need to name a team captain; however, it shouldn’t be their new superstar if they do. Backlund has two years left on his current contract, and his future is unknown. Handing him the reigns makes the most sense since it rewards him for his dedication to the franchise and allows time for Huberdeau to adapt to his new surroundings. Two seasons can be an eternity in the NHL, and in that time, Huberdeau can get to know his teammates, blend into the city, and build his legacy in red and white. Backlund, meanwhile, gets the chance that so few ever get, and that is to be called an NHL captain.
Ryan Gagne is back for his second tour of duty with The Hockey Writers. In 2021 he wrote about the New York Islanders and now will embrace the challenge of covering the Calgary Flames. The best part of this new assignment is Ryan currently lives in Edmonton and will get to see both sides of the Battle of Alberta up close and personal. None of this will make much sense since he was born and raised in New England and the Boston Bruins are his still team.