During a recent visit to the Hockey Hall of Fame, it was evident the curators had work to do on the Calgary Flames’ exhibit.
Pictured front and centre, with the captain’s ‘C’ prominently displayed high on his chest, was Mark Giordano.
Given Giordano’s departure to Seattle, officials will likely replace the photo with Johnny Gaudreau or mouthpiece-mangling Matthew Tkachuk.
A much tougher debate revolves around who will be the Flames’ next captain.
“Darryl and I have talked a lot about it,” said Flames GM Brad Treliving, as his players opened camp with fitness testing Wednesday. “There won’t be any announcements today. There won’t be any announcements tomorrow. We’re going to let this thing sort of play out. I think it’s a really big, important decision, and it has certainly got to come organically. I don’t think you force it for the sake of forcing it.”
That’s why the Flames should take the better part of a year to figure this out – not because this team lacks leadership, but because naming a captain should always be an obvious decision.
It certainly was when the last three captains were named – Craig Conroy, Jarome Iginla and Giordano.
Prior to that, the Flames captains mirrored just how directionless the organization was following the departure of Theo Fleury, with a five-year window between 1997 and 2002 that saw Todd Simpson, Steve Smith, Dave Lowry and Bob Boughner take turns wearing the game’s most coveted letter.
Back in 1990-91 the Flames played a full year without a designated captain, buying time before anointing Joe Nieuwendyk their official leader.
There is currently no consensus inside the organization as to who is most deserving of being the next captain.
Let the season play out with the captaincy dangling as a carrot.
For several years, any mention of Tkachuk generally included the understanding he would be the team’s future captain.
But given the uncertainty surrounding whether the team will be able to extend his future in Calgary beyond next season, such talk has tapered.
Treliving seems to agree that sometimes it’s best to just let things evolve, instead of forcing a decision that doesn’t have to be made.
“I don’t think you name a captain just so that you check a box and you say you have that stroked off the list,” said Treliving, who said last week Sutter would be speaking with players throughout camp to get their feedback.
“I think that’s something that has to play itself out over camp and we will see where we are over the coming days.”
So, who could finish training camp with a splashy press conference, anointing them the team’s 15th captain?
Let’s examine the top candidates:
There was plenty of debate over whether he or Giordano was the team’s best defenceman last season, which instantly bolstered his stock as leader and captain material upon his arrival from Vancouver.
At 31, he’s got the experience and demeanor to be the face of the franchise – a face so brilliantly bereft of teeth it is now depicted on the mask of Flames goalie Jacob Markstrom.
On a defensive-minded team, it wouldn’t be crazy to think the team’s most experienced and best defenceman could be Sutter’s go-to guy.
Sutter would also like the fact Tanev is not a big talker, keeping most of his media availabilities brief and to the point.
If Sutter feels the need to name a captain this year, he’s the early favourite.
The team’s best overall player is almost always in the mix for captaincy consideration, and the 26-year-old Swede is no exception.
He proved proficient as the team’s top centre last season, spearheading power-play and penalty-killing units while also providing a sound defensive game Sutter cherishes.
Respected and liked by his teammates, he’s also on the relatively quiet side both in the room and with the media.
That said, he’s always available following a win or loss, never shirks responsibilities and has a long, bright future ahead of him, which includes three more years locked up as a Flame.
The 33-year-old doesn’t need to wear a letter of any sort to be one of the biggest leaders of this team.
As a matter of fact, Lucic has spoken openly about how debilitating the pressure was on him to be a leader in Edmonton, under the weight of a hefty contract.
He preferred coming to Calgary in a secondary role where he could avoid the spotlight, all the while being the team’s biggest rock star when it comes to dealing with the media and providing mentorship.
His history with Sutter in L.A. suggests the coach will lean heavily on Lucic to provide stability and guidance for a team the sturdy winger said fell short last year due to its mental approach.
Third or fourth line wingers nearing the end of their careers aren’t generally considered captain material, as they’re expected to lead anyway.
Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter speaks with Matthew Tkachuk during a morning practice in Calgary, Tuesday, March 9, 2021. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)
If the 23-year-old muckraker was anywhere close to coming to terms on a sizeable contract extension, you can bet the press conference would likely include his No. 19 jersey with ‘C’ stitched above his heart.
However, as he made light of with his recent comments on brother Brady’s contract stalemate in Ottawa, Matthew will be tough to sign anytime soon.
“We know where he’s at — we’re certainly not close to announcing anything,” said Treliving when asked about where contact talks are with Tkachuk, who has one year left on a $7-million deal, followed by just one more year of control before he’s eligible for unrestricted free agency.
“We stay in pretty close contact with his representative.”
Either way, things didn’t exactly go swimmingly under Sutter last season, setting the table for a reset this season that should see the talented winger bounce back.
When he’s playing his game, few NHLers are more engaged. Alas, that wasn’t the case for a good chunk last season.
The man who has been an alternate captain for the last three years still seems a few years away from being a captain… somewhere.
An alternate captain the last six seasons, Monahan is a big part of the team’s core leadership group.
The perennial 20-to-30 goal scorer was demoted to the second line last year where he struggled after suffering a hip injury that required off-season surgery.
Sutter has yet to see him at his best on the ice, but likely has a good sense of how highly he’s regarded in the room.
The 32-year-old Swede has been an alternate captain the last three years, leading by example with a work ethic and consistency that has made him the team’s best defensive forward.
He has long fared well against the opposition’s top players, selflessly focusing on his own end while flourishing in spurts offensively.
The type of well-rounded player, and quiet leader, Sutter should covet.