You can debate the importance of the captaincy in the NHL and hear persuasive arguments from each side. It is simply a question of perspective. Some place little importance in the C and proclaim it to be nothing more than a letter. Others believe the C has a limited place when the troops need rallying and leadership on the ice, especially in times of adversity. There are those who declare the captaincy to be representative of the heart and soul of the franchise. I come from another perspective – the C represents the team’s identity, what the team is or, for one still finding its place, what it wants to become. My perspective asks the following question – “when you think of the [insert team name here], what player exemplifies its identity?”
Let’s look at the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins and work backwards.
The Boston Bruins’ identity is that of a skilled, lunch pale and hard hat team with a mean streak that will punish you at both ends of the ice with its speed or size and strength. I just described Zdeno Chara, who nobody in this league wants to cross or fight for good reason. Their identity is that of a bear and they have the perfect captain to symbolize the grizzly persona.
Work this same analysis backward with the Chicago Blackhawks and Jonathan Toews, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Sidney Crosby, the Detroit Red Wings and Nicklas Lidstrom, the Anaheim Ducks and Scott Niedermayer and continue until you pass Steve Yzerman and the Red Wings, Mark Messier and the New York Rangers, get to Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers and by all means, keep going…
Then think about the “elite” or notable teams in the league. Doesn’t Henrik Sedin represent the Vancouver Canucks’ identity? An ugly, dirty but highly skilled team? He is the Canucks and everything we loathe (and envy) about them.
Look at other teams that have somehow (despite so many limitations) found consistent success (though not necessarily a Cup) and their identity. Shea Weber and the Nashville Predators. The Phoenix Coyotes and Shane Doan.
How about the Sharks? They took the C away from Patrick Marleau for a reason and, despite what they may claim, I believe it was because Patrick did not represent the identity the San Jose Sharks wanted for themselves. Does Joe Thornton? A big, skilled but relatively mild-mannered (though certainly no longer “soft”) forward? There are arguments both ways. There is also the argument the lack of the C “fitting” with the identity is why the Sharks cannot get over the hump.
Almost without exception, past or present, franchises that have found success have done so with a captain that personified the team’s greatest strengths. When a team, as a whole, looks at its reflection, it should see its captain’s face staring back.
Is the reverse also true? Does a captain also reflect the team’s weaknesses? A reflection isn’t always flattering so the short answer is yes, but not always.
That brings us to the L.A. Kings. What are the L.A. Kings? A defensively elite team that consistently suffocates the opposing team’s offense but cannot generate enough of its own to win on a consistent basis. What player personifies everything the L.A. Kings are? Did the voice inside your head say, “Willie Mitchell.” Mine did at first. But I don’t always listen to it and I like to ask questions. If you immediately went to a forward, what player fits that defense first, Selke-like model? My head went Anze Kopitar first and Mike Richards second.
The more important question is what do the L.A. Kings want to become? My opinion, with Dean Lombardi at the helm, is a team that wins with elite goaltending, a deep and talented defense from 1-6 (with a defensive defenseman and an offensive one on each pairing) and a forward crop that, from top to bottom, fits the consistent mold of defensive responsible, mean, edgy, smart, smash mouth group that can skate, hit, fight and score 20-30 goals per forward in the top 6, an average of 10-15 goals per forward on the third line and a bruising energy infused fourth line. Dustin Brown is average, at best, defensively. He can hit. He is not mean. He is not edgy. He is smash mouth in his hitting only. He cannot fight. He is good for 15-25 goals per season and is wildly inconsistent from week to week. His hockey IQ is questionable.
Is he the L.A. Kings’ intended identity? I don’t believe so. I don’t believe Dustin Brown represents what Dean Lombardi wants this team to become. That is not to say Lombardi is right but don’t think for a second Mike Richards’ arrival here was a happy accident. Richards is exactly what Dean wants. The player who is to the Kings what the Leonidas character was to the Spartans in the movie 300. At the risk of injecting some humor, does Dustin Brown look like this guy?
Does this guy, to someone like Dean Lombardi, look captain material?
I told Jacob this evening that, if Dean Lombardi is still the L.A. Kings GM after this season, Dustin Brown will be playing elsewhere by the start of next season. I am not stating I agree with it but it is what I believe will occur.
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