The headline might seem confusing, as the Vegas Golden Knights are in fact set to enter their second season of play, but it’s true! The team has yet to name its inaugural captain. So who should be the first to wear the ‘C’ in a Sin City?
Last Season’s Alternate Captains
Last year, the team was content to give a good chunk of the roster an ‘A’, including Deryk Engelland, Jason Garrison, James Neal, Luca Sbisa, David Perron, Reilly Smith, and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. Neal, Sbisa, and Garrison are gone, leaving us with three holdover candidates that wore a letter last season.
You could easily say that Deryk Engelland served as the de facto captain last year, taking the mic to deliver an inspirational speech before the team’s home opener in the wake of the tragic mass shooting on Oct. 1, 2017. He also was the one to take the Clarence S. Campbell bowl on behalf of his team after they eliminated the Winnipeg Jets and captured the Western Conference championship, bookending the season as the team’s leader.
However, Engelland isn’t the best candidate in my opinion. He’s 36, on a one-year contract, and likely doesn’t factor into the team’s future plans. The same can be said for Bellemare, who is 33 and will also be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
They’re both great stories, as undrafted players who have carved out nice careers for themselves, but the first Golden Knights captain should be someone who the team’s still-young fanbase will identify with for years to come. Someone who will sell some jerseys and be a face of the franchise. Is that sounding like anyone we know?
A Goalie for Golden Knights’ Captain
Marc-Andre Fleury was anointed the first “face of the franchise” the moment he slipped on a Golden Knights sweater at the 2017 NHL Awards and flashed his signature smile. This was further solidified when he signed a three-year extension that will make him one of the highest-paid goaltenders in the league. From a marketing standpoint, Fleury would be a great pick, but unfortunately, the reality is that a goalie cannot be captain in the NHL.
The last time a goalie was named captain in the NHL was in 2008-09 when the Vancouver Canucks appointed Roberto Luongo to the role. However, Willie Mitchell served as on-ice captain since Luongo could not be the team’s official captain due to league rules. Therefore, Fleury could serve in the role unofficially, but would not be permitted to actually wear the ‘C’ or perform any of the captain’s on-ice duties, per league rules.
This is a bit of a bummer because it would surely be a lot of fun if he could be mic’d up for discussions with the referee. In fact, “Flower” should be mic’d at all times so we could hear his conversations with other players, himself, or his posts. Actually, they should do this anyway.
The New Acquisition: Paul Stastny
Chemistry is everything for a team, and it’s often thought that bringing in someone new and throwing the captaincy on them right away can disrupt the status quo. Whether you believe that or not, Paul Stastny seems more primed to join the alternate captain party rather than don the ‘C’.
Stastny is a proven leader and veteran presence that will be a welcome addition on the ice and in the locker room. He will be valuable in helping to mold young centers Cody Glass and Nick Suzuki as they make their way up to the NHL level. However, the ‘C’ will not be going to the newest Golden Knight.
The “What If” Clause: Erik Karlsson
There are exceptions to every rule, and if a deal is finally pulled off to bring Erik Karlsson to Vegas, it would seem to be a safe bet that he would assume the captaincy upon his arrival. Since I’ve already given my two cents on a potential trade for Karlsson, this is nothing more than a pipe dream. But what about that other Karlsson guy?
Is “Wild Bill” The New Sheriff in Town?
William “Wild Bill” Karlsson certainly fits the mold of a prototypical Swedish captain as a quiet, calming presence and a solid two-way contributor on the ice who doesn’t take many penalties. He’s also entering a pivotal season, getting a nice raise on a one-year contract to try and prove that last year was no fluke. If he can do that, and get himself locked into a long-term contract for years beyond, then perhaps he would make a strong choice.
But there’s still a better candidate available…
First Golden Knights Captain Should Be: Reilly Smith
Reilly Smith should be the first captain for the Vegas Golden Knights. Though he hasn’t worn the ‘C’ since his college days at Miami University, Smith is primed for a bigger leadership role in Vegas. He’s still young at 27, plays in every situation, and is under contract through 2021-22.
Coming off a career season even though he was limited by injury to 67 games, Smith provided a steady presence on both the power play and penalty kill and performed at his best when things mattered most as the Golden Knights made their unlikely run to the Stanley Cup Final. He would be more of a reserved captain in the mold of, say, Jonathan Toews, but that’s not a bad comparison to make, is it?
Coach Gerard Gallant may elect to go with a captain-by-committee once again in 2018-19, but I’d expect to see Reilly Smith be the first Golden Knights player to wear the ‘C’ whenever the time comes.