For the first time since the summer of 2008, the Buffalo Sabres are without a full-time captain. The last captain, Craig Rivet, was waived in February and the Sabres have gone without an official captain since.
As the first puckdrop of the 2011-12 season fast approaches, the organization will need to peg the next man to adorn the ‘C’ soon. To offer a barometer for when an announcement may occur, Rivet was named captain on October 8, 2008. Rivet became the 27th captain in franchise history and it is rather unfortunate to think there have been 27 captains in this team’s history. Twelve earned the honor during the “rotating captaincy” years of 2003-04 and 07-08. Now that idea may be the most preposterous thing I have ever heard of. At the most you should have co-captiains – as they had in 2007-08 with Drury and Briere – but it is a shame to think a professional hockey team would need to rotate the captaincy, there had to be one or two candidates who could have easily filled that role.
Personally, I see four front-runners for this honor. Paul Gaustad, Tyler Myers, Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek. Each have their own pros and cons but are also likely the best candidates to become the 28th captain in Sabres history. With only four players deserving of a look, I am confident that a crime such as a rotation will not occur. The preseason will allow some different players the opportunity to wear letters when they usually wouldn’t during the regular season. For example, in the Sabres’ first preseason contest Paul Gaustad served as captain while Tyler Myers and Drew Stafford were his assistants. Now, these three were some of the most veteran players in the game and two (Gaustad and Stafford) have worn letters in the past. Surely there will be others wearing letters in the remaining preseason contests, don’t take too much stock in this though, the players pegged now may not be given a second look when the true decision is made.
Roy may be the least likely of my four candidates to be selected as captain. He has been with the organization for some time and has even elevated himself to the level of wearing an ‘A’. However, I don’t see him having the intangibles that you hope to get out of your captain. He is certainly one of the team’s best players and will be counted on to lead by example all season long. Taking that into account, he has to be in the conversation. Still, I don’t think of Briere or Drury when I look at Roy, I don’t even think of Rivet for that matter. I would still have him wearing an ‘A’ this season, he just wouldn’t be the first person I would want to hoist the Cup.
As for Vanek, he floats into a similar category that Roy does because he is very much a one-way player. However, he has always been able to elevate his game when Lindy Ruff has given him additional responsibility. This was true when he was given an ‘A’ after the departure of Rivet. Based on his reaction to the new responsibility, plus his ability to lead by example, it certainly makes him a prime candidate. Not to mention, you usually want your best player to wear the ‘C’ and Thomas Vanek is certainly one of the three best on this Sabres team.
Myers also enters the conversation regarding the best player wearing the ‘C’. Myers just signed a contract that will keep him in Buffalo for the foreseeable future and his development is progressing quite quickly. He was a leader with Kelowna in the WHL and he is showing more leadership on the ice with each passing week. I think he means more to the team than Vanek may in regard to long-term success. Even though his age may be a drawback, his skill level makes it unimportant in my eyes.
My final candidate is Paul Gaustad. Now he really falls into the Craig Rivet/Chris Drury intangibles category. Guastad is a player who is said to be a vocal leader on and off the ice while playing in numerous important situations for the team. He takes every important faceoff and is responsible in his own end. He is no offensive juggernaut and his contract status is somewhat perilous based on his salary and production levels. Still, he stands up for his teammates and has been on a “leadership track” for quite some time. He is another player that wears an ‘A’ already for Ruff and may be due for a promotion in that department.
When the coaching staff finally decides on the route they wish to take I think either Vanek or Myers ends up with the letter. Maybe if it came down to a player vote Gaustad would earn the ‘C’, but this letter truly belongs with the team’s best player. Since Ryan Miller can’t wear it, it may as well go to one of the other two super stars. My choice would be Myers because he will be here long-term and would, hopefully, respond well to the increased responsibility. After all, other members of his draft class are already wearing letters, he has had time to mature and now it is time to give him the proper recognition.