The Buffalo Sabres have chosen their 20th full-time captain in team history, and the choice could not have been more perfect. Kyle Okposo was named captain at the player’s family skating session Saturday, Oct. 8, along with alternates Zemgus Girgensons and Rasmus Dahlin. Both Girgensons and Okposo served as co-captains last season wearing an “A” on their chest, and as the season progressed, it was clear who the leader of this team truly was.
Okposo is the first full-time captain for the Sabres since Jack Eichel had the honor stripped away from him prior to his trade to the Vegas Golden Knights. The announcement came off the back of a very successful preseason, as the Sabres flooded their Twitter account with the news. While many candidates surfaced over the course of the 2021-22 season, he was always the one that stood out the most. It is refreshing to see management continuing to make good decisions, and appropriately recognizing players for their efforts.
Other Captaincy Candidates
After the leadership style of Eichel failed, there needed to be a new definition of what it meant to be the captain of the Sabres. As the season went on, fans took to noticing a multitude of players with similar traits that exuded what it meant to be a leader; traits like determination, grit, humility, and above all, a deep love for the city and the team.
The first player that jumped right off the page was Dylan Cozens. The young forward plays the game with a smile on his face, and his clear love of hockey is infectious. He has the time of his life during every game, and he constantly shows support for the city and his teammates. He is one of the hardest-working players on the team, and is the type of player that leads by example. He makes the people around him better hockey players, and he also brings value to any position in the lineup.
The second player was Alex Tuch, who was acquired as one of the pieces in the Eichel trade. With connections to Buffalo, he had a natural affinity for the city and its fans. He grew up cheering for and watching the Sabres, and stated that it was “a dream come true” to play for this franchise when he was traded to Buffalo. He backed up his words with his gameplay and became a spark plug for the Sabres’ offense in 2021-22. His team play, combined with his personal connection to the city made him a prime candidate before the Okposo selection.
The third contender was Rasmus Dahlin, and he got a fine consolation prize by becoming one of the alternate captains. He served some time last year with an “A” on his chest when Okposo or Girgensons were injured, and he showed some real growth as a player and a person. His offensive totals were up, and his attitude was completely different from previous seasons as he was exhibiting a confidence like never before. While he was not named the full-time captain, he was a perfect choice to be one of the alternates.
Why Okposo Was the Perfect Choice
Okposo signed with the Sabres as a free agent in 2016 and inked a seven-year deal that saw him get paid $6 million per season. He was brought in to be a big part of the Sabres’ offense and to complement the young core of Eichel, Sam Reinhart, and Ryan O’Reilly, but he never quite did. Offensively, he struggled to put up numbers similar to what he was doing on the New York Islanders, but he never lost faith in himself or the team. He was transparent about his health struggles to the fans and took responsibility for his lack of production. His scoring woes brought him to be relegated to the bottom six of the depth chart, but he took it in stride and still became a great role player for the team.
Okposo was constantly welcoming new players to the organization, and was a premier role model even when he did not have to be. He has been a team-first person above everything else, and it has rubbed off on many other players. He is the reason there were so many qualified choices for the captaincy, and that is why he deserved it the most.
Okposo stands at the ripe age of 34 and has a total of 15 NHL seasons under his belt, so his experience is unmatched by anyone on the current Sabres roster. When anything seemed too hard or the losses kept piling up, he was the leader that they needed to stabilize a group of young hockey players that might have otherwise been discouraged. His efforts within the organization deserved to be recognized, and he was the one player exuding “captain material” all throughout the 2021-22 season. Now he joins the likes of iconic players like Gilbert Perrault, Michael Peca, Jason Pominville, and so many others as the new captain of the Sabres.
The Future of the Sabres’ Captaincy
Okposo’s contract expires at the end of the 2022-23 season, and with so many young players making their way through the Sabres organization, his playing career may come to an end sooner rather than later. It would not be shocking to see him retire in a couple of years and become a part of the Sabres’ development or coaching staff so he can remain a part of the team. With that in mind, the captaincy would have to pass to someone else; someone that exhibits the same qualities and traits that befits what it means to be a Sabres captain.
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That player will reveal themself during the course of the coming 2022-23 season. So many young players are hungry to win, and all of them have bought into the “team first” mentality that coach Don Granato has ingrained in them. The next captain could be anyone from Tage Thompson, as he has shown some innate leadership qualities this preseason, to a veteran like Jeff Skinner who only continues to grow in his love for the city and the team. Time will tell, but for this current moment, Okposo is the captain of the Sabres, and he was the best choice by far to don the bold letter “C” on his chest.