I've never been a believer in the mystique of the NHL Captain. In some quarters, notably the mainstream media, the NHL Captain is revered and exalted like some religious figure, and that they grace fans with their mere presence on the ice is noteworthy. For all of the legendary captains that have valiantly dragged their teams to a Stanley Cup Finals victory, there are hundreds of men, many of them better leaders than their cup-winning counterparts, that have never won a Cup, nor been to a final series. Millions of words have been written about Captains, but of course none of those words mention the luck involved in winning a Stanley Cup.
Some of the greatest have gone about their business quietly, words never outstripping their play on the ice. Some have always been loud, brash, and bold, drawing attention to themselves in every situation, both good and bad. In most cases, the Captain is the best player on the team, however certain circumstances have led to more inspirational choices as the team leader. Lesser-skilled men with a game based more on effort than skill often ascend to the leadership role on lesser-talented teams. This practice isn't the the norm, but it seems it's been the normal practice in Edmonton since the dynasty days. It should be noted that a team with one of the lesser skilled men at the helm hasn't won a Cup since there were only six teams in the league. It's rare, the 2006 Edmonton Oilers being an exception, that they make the finals.
Now that one of those lesser-skilled men has departed Edmonton and left a vacancy at the head of the table, Tom Renney must name a new Captain, one that will be tasked with leading a team already filled with young players.
Below is a list of all Oiler Captains since the franchise was founded. The part of the list set apart from the rest the are those names since 1992. With the exception of a couple of seasons from Doug Weight, it's been all pluggers and muggers leading the Oilers.
|1972 - 1976
|1976 - 1977
|1977 - 1979
|1979 - 1980
|1980 - 1981
|1981 - 1983
|1983 - 1988
|1989 - 1991
|1991 - 1992
|1992 - 1994
|1994 - 1995
|1995 - 1999
|1999 - 2001
|2001 - 2007
|2007 - 2010
The candidates this time around are a bit different. Outside of Shawn Horcoff, this year's group is less plugger and much more skilled than recent candidates in Edmonton. Below is a look at each candidate presumably in the running.
Sam Gagner - He's the youngest man on the list, but handing over the Captaincy to a youngster is somewhat en vogue in the NHL lately - Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews both led their respective squads to the Stanley Cup at the hockey age of 21. The team has been trotting Gagner out to events since he was drafted, and he's already been through the pressure of playing in the league at age 18.
Tom Gilbert - He's young, sure, but he's the best defenseman on the team and he's been assumed leader of the 1st generation of kids ever since they all stayed in his house. He's quiet and unassuming, but plays in all situations so he's always on the ice. He would be the third American-born Captain of the Oilers.
Ales Hemsky - He's the offensive superstar in Edmonton and he's been the only one of those since Doug Weight. He's worn the 'A' already and the entire team lives through his hands on the power play. He would be the first European-born Captain of the Oilers. The Prince of Pardubice has history on his side as well -- Tom Renney's New York Rangers were Captained by Czech Jaromir Jagr.
- Shawn Horcoff - The veteran is the obvious choice for the job given the fan discussion over the last month. He plays in all situations and does the dirty work for the Oilers. There is no harder worker on the team and his leadership is unquestioned. He's likely going to end up babysitting at least one winger on the ice this year, it's not a stretch to think that he will be asked to babysit half of the team. One interesting note - he's a strong union man, and with the end of the CBA looming, do the Oilers send any sort of message to the rest of the league by elevating Horcoff?
- Dustin Penner - Penner has been through more in his short time than anyone on the roster. He's been slagged on by the entire Edmonton media, he's been very publicly trashed by his coach, he's been blamed by the fans for the Oilers' misfortunes. And through it all he's maintained the same public and on-ice demeanor. In fact, he maintains the same demeanor whether he's scoring a goal, taking a penalty or one-punching Landon Wilson. A team as young as the OIlers could benefit from an even keel like Penner. He dragged the entire team through the 2009-2010 season on his own and asking him to lead the 2010-2011 version of the team is not a stretch.
- Ryan Whitney - Another American-born defenseman who plays in all situations. Whitney is meaner than Gilbert, but he's only been an Oiler for six months. If he's named Captain, it will show just how pervasive his personality is within the Oilers' locker room.
The changing of the guard is going to be a positive this season. Gone are the days of a team led by men who made it to the NHL for reasons other than skill and going forward this team should have a talented leader.