Is there something about a hockey captain that makes a team whole? Does a successful team require a captain at the helm? Did the Sharks really need to name a captain? No, no, but yes.
Joe Pavelski was recently named to the honorable position of captain of the San Jose Sharks. Head coach, Peter DeBoer, said “There are a lot of leadership candidates here, but it’s his time.” Multiple hockey pundits and other sources will debate whether the captaincy actually matters to the product on the ice. But that argument is the wrong one to hash out.
What a Captain Means to a Team
By rule, the only special thing about a captain is that he gets to
berate discuss things with the referees. But of course, getting a “C” sewn onto your sweater gives a player a few more perks.
First, he quickly becomes the face of that franchise (or one of them at least). Captains are frequently recognized by non-fans. Dustin Brown, Shane Doan, and Zdeno Chara are all captains without being the most skilled players on their clubs. Yet, each are names that most fans can recognize without doing much research first.
Next, being named the captain is, of course, an honor. It’s almost inevitable. When listening to a radio interview Pavelski did Tuesday afternoon, it didn’t take long to hear that word come sliding out. Well, what good does honor do on the ice? The answer is nothing. But that’s a part of the captaincy, a medieval concept of honor thrust into our sport.
Finally, the captain represents the club. Not just as the face of the franchise, but he is the spirit of the team. The wild style of Alex Ovechkin, the golden boy Sidney Crosby, and the high-scoring Steven Stamkos all embody the traits of the teams they lead. The lack of a captain, however, can mean something as well. It can mean a lack of an identity. A lack of stability.
Drama and Stability
When the Sharks stripped Joe Thornton of the captaincy, it was at a time of crisis. The Sharks were on the wrong side of history and scapegoats needed to be burned at the stake. The Sharks tumbled further and the following season was even worse as they went the entire campaign without a captain and would miss the playoffs.
Of course, we can’t blame last season on the lack of a captain, but one source of blame should fall on the by-product of that absence. Drama. That high school phenomena nobody wants in their life. The missing letter and the resulting media chaos of questions distracts from the game itself.
Pavelski Deserving But Any Will Do
Pavelski is the best candidate for the captaincy. There’s no question there. Joe Thornton is no longer smarting from his fall from grace and the dust has settled. But honestly, anyone would be good at this point. With the appointment, the drama ends. The questions end. And the season can begin. The Sharks will no longer be a ridiculous sideshow with chaos ruling over the front office.
While no player will ever admit that distractions have any impact on a team, common sense dictates the opposite. Any person would prefer unbroken focus on a task they are trying to complete. The same goes for a hockey team. Post-game questions should be about the game just played and the next opponent coming up. Questioning team unity will always detract from the quality of play, however minute the drop off is.
With the naming of a captain, the Sharks have less on their plate. One more thing crossed off the check list. It is a weight lifted. Just as resolving the feud between Doug Wilson and Thornton did and just as taking care of the head coaching vacancy did, getting these tasks done makes things easier.
It may be a figurehead position, but it is not much ado about nothing. Lacking this role gives outsiders a chance to poke holes in the Sharks’ ship. Pavelski has taken away that narrative. Hopefully, this is the last time we write about the captaincy for a long while.
Kenneth is a graduate of the University of San Francisco in Politics and Chemistry. But his passion in life has always been hockey. He has played since he was four and even coached a few teams. Kenneth writes for the San Jose Sharks at thehockeywriters.com