When the NHL’s expansion process started, the league’s newest franchise was met with a list of tasks that needed to be taken care of by the start of the 2017-18 season. From choosing a name, picking a logo and hiring front office staff and a head coach to choosing players in the Expansion Draft, the 2017 NHL Entry Draft and franchise’s first go of free agency, the Golden Knights have seen all of those tasks and checked them all off of their to-do list. With a roster full of pieces and assets for the future, the team’s biggest offseason tasks are all but completed with a few more minor moves possible prior to the start of the 2017-18 season. The next biggest task for the team does have to do with players, but not from a personnel standpoint. Instead, it has to do with the team’s captaincy.
Picking a captain for the Golden Knights is no easy task. One of the biggest difficulties with the decision is the fact that so many players are signed to only one-year deals. On top of that, no member of the Golden Knights roster has ever worn the captain’s “C” on their chest before, making the decision all that much more difficult. Jackie Spiegel recently made a case that Deryk Engelland should be the team’s first captain. Still, it felt necessary to talk to a few Golden Knights writers on The Hockey Writers and ask them what they felt would happen with the team’s captaincy. For that reason, I posed two questions to Thomas Conroy, Jonathan West and Ricky Brown pertaining to the situation.
Who Do You Believe Would Be Best Suited as the Captain of the Vegas Golden Knights?
In professional sports, there is no cherished role than being a captain of an NHL franchise. He’s the player that leads by example with his actions on the ice and leads his comments made to the press after either win or loss.
James Neal is best suited to be the Vegas Golden Knights first captain because he’s a natural born leader who will put his heart and soul into making this expansion franchise a success. Neal’s personality makes him an ideal candidate in getting the community more involved with the team. Plus, he can mentor the young players on the roster and guide them in finding their true potential on the ice.
Sadly, Neal has a year remaining on his contract, and tenure in Las Vegas should be short. His spirited play will be rewarded with a trade to a Stanley Cup contender near the deadline.
I’m already starting to chuckle because if this question is ever posed as a social media poll, the Vegas fans will pick Marc-Andre Fleury.
Since goalies can’t be on-ice captains, let’s consider the other options. With any team captain, you’re going to want someone who has earned not only the other players’ respect but hopefully the respect of the coach, the general manager, and the owner as well. He should also be a good communicator because even though lots of players jabber at the refs during a game, the captain has the privileged position of actually being heard.
He should also be a good strategist who can help the other players adapt to changing game conditions. So he needs experience. In other words, the role of captain transcends the mere ceremonial rites that they often perform as the public face of the team.
More Than Just a Scorer
When it comes to captains some think immediately of top scorers like Sidney Crosby or even Wayne Gretzky, and if the Golden Knights were picking based on scoring then players like James Neal or Jonathan Marchessault would be contenders. Being the top scorer, however, is not more important than being a force on the ice. Is the guy a worker? Is he the last one off the ice after practice? A strong work ethic and locker room presence are key characteristics of any team leader.
Having said that, since this is a new team, it would seem obvious to pick a veteran to lead. But who knows at this stage which veterans were acquired as trade bait and which ones will actually be sticking around? As GM George McPhee put it, “We really don’t want to put a ‘C’ on a guy unless this is going to be the person that’s going to lead us for a long time.”
I want to say that Jason Garrison will get the big “C.” I like his attitude and he seems to possess that calm reassuring presence that young players need from a leader. But if the Golden Knights choose too impulsively they could end up rotating captains wildly like the Minnesota Wild (pun intended).
I believe it’s a tie, with one choice honoring Vegas’ hockey past and the other with an undeniable resume on-and-off the ice. The first is Deryk Engelland, former Las Vegas Wranglers defenseman who received a loud ovation at T-Mobile Arena on Tuesday night. If the team wants to erase any ill sentiments towards not honoring the city’s hockey history, he is the obvious choice. Marc-Andre Fleury is the other choice. The three-time Cup winner is the NHL version of Russell Wilson, exceptional play at the rink and a prime example towards community involvement. Of course, a goalie cannot officially wear the “C” thanks to Rule 14D, but Roberto Luongo was the sixth goalie in NHL history to be honored this way in 2008.
Do You Believe There Will Be a Captain This Year or Will the Team Go With Four Alternates?
Ideally, It might be best to select three or four alternate captains for the inaugural season, then let the players choose their captain for year two of the franchise. I think this format works best for an expansion team that is searching for their identity on the ice.
The odds are high that the veteran players (James Neal, Jason Garrison and Clayton Stoner) currently residing on the Vegas Golden Knights roster will have a short stay in town because their value on the trade market will be high come deadline time. However, that doesn’t diminish the fact these players can still lead without having a letter on their sweater. If something needs to be said inside the locker room, then it will be said. It’s their job to keep everyone calm, but at the same time, focus on achieving the goal at hand.
Often, veterans of this nature are widely respected by their teammates and opposing players. If you have that type of influence, then you are an unofficial team leader
With everyone being so new to the organization and with the locker room probably still divided on the issue and because some veterans are on their way out and some of the younger players are poised to step into the role, I’m predicting the Golden Knights will rotate alternates for a while until a clear leader emerges.
Based on their experience, my top three alternates would be Jason Garrison, Reilly Smith, and Deryk Engelland. If I had to go with a fourth I’d say, David Perron.
I do believe Team VGK will have a top on-ice leader in 2017-18. And the Golden Knights would pleasantly surprise the local fan base if they decided to hold a public vote about its captaincy. With the process of the team name that concluded last November, this may not be a popular sentiment by the new club but would give the Vegas Valley an added piece of this inaugural year. I’m not sure if the team will have three alternates besides a captain. With such a youth on the roster, I wouldn’t be surprised only seeing two alternates in year No. 1.
Brandon Share-Cohen has covered the NHL and various professional sports for six years. Working with The Hockey Writers, Brandon works extensively on covering the Boston Bruins in addition to his role as the News Team Lead.