The Sabres have a bunch of questions that need to at least begin to be addressed this offseason and next season. While everyone focuses on the draft and who is going to put the puck in the net for last year’s worst offensive team, many have forgotten that the Sabres are (once again) without a captain.
There are a couple basic things that I believe the organization should (or should not) do when considering who will be the next person to wear the “C”.
First (and most important) is that the next captain must come from in-house. The cons far outweigh the pros when it comes to naming a player who was just acquired as the captain. The most obvious issue is that it places undue pressure on the new player. No matter the age or experience of a player, when someone is traded to a new team, or signs with a new team as a free agent, they want to make a good first impression. On top of trying to fit in with new teammates and a new system on the ice, the player is faced with trying to acclimate to a new city off the ice. Throw in moving a family and all that comes with it into a new town and the player is juggling all he can handle.
Another concern is that naming a player that is new to the team as a captain is an indictment of the leadership qualities (or lack thereof) of your current roster. By giving the captaincy to a newly acquired player you’re basically telling the 23 guys on your roster, “I don’t think any of you are capable enough or ready enough to assume responsibility for this team.” Given the state of the Sabres’ roster, I’d advise against doing that.
The second thing the team must take into account is the staying power of the next captain. The team has traded three captains over the last two seasons, and it’s important the next one is here for a while. The Sabres have lacked any sort of continuity (as a team and organization) over the last two years, the first step to restoring that is naming a captain that will be here for the next five or ten years.
Lastly, don’t rotate the captaincy. The Sabres did it in 2003-04 and 2007-08 with everyone except Rip Simonick getting a chance to wear the “C” for a time. It’s a poor way to go about installing a leadership group on a team, and it failed in both instances.
With all that being said, let’s take a look at the options.
Tyler Myers: Hard to believe it, but 2014-15 will be year number six for Myers. Once thought of as the anchor of the defensive corps for years to come, he finally started playing better once Ted Nolan took the reins behind the bench. In terms of leadership qualities, I’m slightly disappointed in Myers. While he’s currently only 24, he is the second longest tenured defenseman on the team and has not taken the next step as a leader. With his name being thrown about trade rumors, I’d be surprised if he were to be named captain.
Christian Ehrhoff: He has been, in my opinion, the best defenseman on a bad team since he arrived here three years ago. He has been an alternate captain during his Sabres career and has seven years left on his contract, yet the trade speculation again makes me hesitant to slap the “C” on his chest.
Drew Stafford: He was on the trading block for a solid two years with no takers before turning around his season, and possibly his career, with a great last three months of hockey this year. He also took over as leader of the team after the exits of Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller and is well respected by his teammates. That solid play many have reignited interest from possible suitors, and I think he will be one traded during the draft or at next year’s deadline, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him named captain if he’s on the roster come October.
Zemgus Girgensons: For me, it’s a matter of when, not if, when it comes to Zemgus and the captaincy. He plays key minutes and is the hardest worker on the team. Wearing an “A” for the season finale is very telling of what the coaching staff and his teammates think about the 20 year old. I think he is a year or two away from being the captain, but I’d make that “A” permanent for next season.
Cody Hodgson: The de facto number one center has the skills to be a great player, but is still a liability in his own end. Next year will be his third full year with Buffalo; he needs to assume more of a leadership role with this young team.
Matt Moulson: Obviously this is contingent on him resigning, and I think the Sabres will make a run at him in free agency. From all accounts he enjoyed his teammates and his short time here and even was an alternate captain. I’m still leery of handing over the captaincy to a free agent acquisition, even if he played 5 months here already.
No Captain: The team could choose to go without a captain and instead anoint three alternates in hopes of someone stepping up and becoming the leader of the team.
After looking at all the possibilities I think the best course of action is to not name a captain and instead name three alternates. Tim Murray is not done reshaping this roster, and more new faces will be arriving via the draft, trade, and free agency before training camp opens. Personally I could see Drew Stafford and either Tyler Myers or Christian Ehrhoff being dealt at the draft or the trade deadline. Because of that I’m hesitant to name any of them as a captain, even though I do believe Stafford has positioned himself to be named captain if he’s still a Sabre come July.
My three choices would be Girgensons, Stafford, and Ehrhoff, with an eye towards giving the captaincy to Girgensons come 2015-16.
Ted Nolan and Tim Murray have repeatedly talked about establishing a culture within the organization, and the captain is an extension of that culture. Let’s hope that whoever they decide to give the captaincy to is here long enough to help create some of that culture they’re searching for.