When I think about general managers in the NHL, I sometimes think of European Enlightenment mega-inventor, Leonardo Da Vinci. Why? Well, Da Vinci was a painter, sculptor, inventor, engineer, scientist, and the do-er of many other things. But he wasn’t your prototypical jack-of-all-trades – he didn’t just do all of these things “well.” No. He was supremely talented in the endeavors that he pursued. He addressed his projects with utmost precision, effort and forethought – characteristics which culminated in Da Vinci developing expertise in those fields. Indeed, he was many things, but will always be remembered as an inventor first.
Okay – this is hockey, not history, I get it. But take a glance at the role of GMs in the NHL. Ideally, they should each essentially be incarnations of Da Vinci, as they work to create, engineer, sculpt and most importantly, invent their respective hockey teams. Again, precision, effort and forethought must be enacted when determining what ingredients go into the pot of creating a hockey team. When GMs do a variety of things masterfully, success is the usual result.
But is there an ingredient in the pot that is more important than the others? Top-end skill? Bruising physicality? How about a mix of youth and age? The tale-of-the-tape is usually enough to tip us off on what a GM values most. Just look at the team. How is it built? What stands out?
When looking to the Vegas Golden Knights, GM Kelly McCrimmon may have invented a close-to-perfect machine. His main ingredient? Well, on the surface it seems to be sheer hockey talent. The Vegas dressing room is a daunting “who’s who” of high-end skill, namely, Jack Eichel, Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, Alex Pietrangelo, Shea Theodore and Robin Lehner, among a group of many other gifted players.
But take a closer look. What else is there? What else can we detect by looking at this collection of players? The answer to this question may be the element of team-creation that will allow the Golden Knights to persevere through many future challenges, and to win hockey’s ultimate prize: a Stanley Cup. That element is leadership. On paper, the Golden Knights have one captain – Stone. But who else has worn the “C?” Well, Pacioretty was the Montreal Canadiens captain from 2015-2018, Pietrangelo was the St. Louis Blues captain from 2016-2020 and Eichel was the Buffalo Sabres captain from 2018-2021.
As fans of the Knights, becoming more acquainted with these players will help us to feel more justified in our Cup hopes, while it will also strengthen our conviction in McCrimmon’s, Da Vinci-like capabilities in the back office. Here is a snapshot of our Golden Knights’ lance leaders.
The New Canaan, Connecticut native is a sniper-extraordinaire who can give any NHL goalies nightmares; but in terms of most important hockey asset, his emotional poise and ability to lead by example may rival his offensive skillset. Pacioretty captained, arguably, the most storied, and demanding franchise in the NHL – the Canadiens. Throughout his leadership tenure there, he was constantly tested.
Before the 2015-16 season began, the “C” was stitched onto Pacioretty’s jersey, and with that, a world of expectations followed, as he was thrown into the eye of the Montreal storm. Being naturally more demure in nature, his leadership style wasn’t about yelling at guys or stirring up the room with a galvanizing speech. Instead, he led by example and became a student of leadership. In his first season as captain, the Habs endured a miserable campaign that was characterized by bad losses, both in the “L” column and in the dressing room. That year, Carey Price, a Hart and Vezina winner, missed all but 12 games. Ouch.
Pacioretty remained poised, though. He shouldered the adversity that was striking his team and often spoke of taking accountability. He felt that it was important for every player on the team to look at themselves in the mirror. He was forged in fire – he certainly didn’t walk into a 55-15-12 season. Try a 38-38-6 record instead, with plenty of ups but double the downs. His often turbulent experiences in Montreal sculpted his ability to lead – an ability that he is now using to help the Golden Knights win hockey games.
A raw and authentic human being; a player who can lead by example and with his voice – one who possesses skill, grit, ambition, experience and character.
Few NHL players ever get to become the figurative “tip of the spear” on their teams. Even fewer experience the joy of captaining a Stanley Cup-winning franchise. But King City, Ontario native, Pietrangelo has that achievement stuffed squarely into his back pocket, leading the St. Louis Blues to a 4-1 victory over the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final and securing the franchise’s first-ever championship. Having lived experiences like this will allow him to dig into that back pocket when difficult times call for a leader who has survived the brutal ascent to hockey supremacy.
Another important fact to remember when discussing this Blues team and Pacioretty is that the team found itself at the bottom of the standings of the entire NHL, on Jan. 1 of that season. They didn’t just casually flip the switch – they muscled it up with all of their collective might. It’s unlikely that a feat like this has ever occurred in professional sports. You can bet that the leadership – of which Pietrangelo was at the core – had plenty to do with this.
Pietrangelo is certainly one of the “infinity stones” on a franchise that has worked to buoy itself with a number of crucial Cup-winning ingredients – leadership, perhaps being the most demonstrable attribute for McCrimmon’s team. But why have two captains, when you can have more?
The leadership import has continued with Eichel. We all know what the Buffalo Sabres have been over the past decade. In fact, does anyone remember the last time that Buffalo was good?
Eichel was awarded the Sabres captaincy in the 2018 season, only three years after being drafted. Imagine feeling that constant pressure, even if it’s self-imposed, of having to turn a franchise like Buffalo around. What would it do to you? Well, it would likely do one of two things – either force you to develop a thick skin and leadership qualities of steel or cause you to buckle and fold within that atmosphere of perpetual doubt and negativity. He blossomed as a leader in Buffalo.
In fact, Eichel was the Sabres’ nominee for the top leadership award in the NHL, the King Clancy Memorial Trophy in 2021. Many people will likely argue that this is an obvious nomination. However, when you consider the frayed and acrimonious relationship that developed between Eichel and the Buffalo brass over the past 12 months, the nomination becomes much more impressive.
You can bank on Eichel providing much more than superstar offense when he returns to the Vegas lineup.
Oh captain, my captain! Considering the deserving candidates for the “C” in the Vegas locker room, Stone is definitely among the most qualified. He has been a complete gamer since entering the league. Before he ever donned the Golden Knights captaincy, his leadership qualities were being recognized in the Ottawa Senators organization. When Erik Karlsson departed the Senators, all eyes were on Stone to be bestowed as lead Senator. However, free agency was fast approaching and Stone soon found himself in black and gold, after signing a monster eight-year, $76 million contract in the 2019-20 season.
Soon thereafter, Stone became the man in Vegas. In January of 2021, the Knights organization made him the first-ever captain in Golden Knights franchise history. Again, when pressure or expectations are placed on a player, that player typically either wilts or blossoms within his new role. He went on a tear after obtaining the captaincy, forcing himself into the Hart Trophy conversation towards the end of the 2020-21 season.
Stone plays with a type of animated passion and fire on the ice that distinguishes him from many other captains in the NHL. McCrimmon also acknowledged that Stone does everything the right way – he leads by example, while also leading with his voice. He scores and he grinds. He’s a leader that everybody respects, and if he leads his team to the promised land, he will be one that everybody remembers.
McCrimmon was mentioned as the straw that stirs the drink, followed by Pacioretty, Pietrangelo and Eichel. Well then, we may call our Golden Knights captain, Mark “the-fifth-infinity” Stone. Too cheesy? Maybe.
Just look for McCrimmon’s, Da Vinci-esque savvy to be a difference-maker for this leadership-first Knights team that he has invented.
Christian is from Vancouver, B.C. He is a contributor to the Vegas Golden Knights. Christian completed both his history degree and his education degree at the University of British Columbia. He currently works as a high school history teacher. Christian spends his spare time watching, researching and writing about hockey.