Adam Gold

Odds are, the next Canes captain will be...?

Posted July 3

Kevin Dineen, Keith Primeau, Ron Francis, Rod Brind'Amour, Eric Staal...

Who is the next captain of the Carolina Hurricanes?

The 2017-18 version of the Canes has a greater leadership pool than last year’s edition and that can only help going forward. Twelve months ago it was hard to see three or four players worthy of wearing a letter. Today? It’s going to be more difficult narrowing the field down to just three or four.

A year ago it was Jordan Staal and Justin Faulk who were holdover letter-carriers. After the departure of captain Eric Staal in a deadline trade in 2016 the team opted not to name a captain, instead claiming that it wasn’t necessary and that it would remain “C-less” for the entirety of the 2016-17 season. Whether it mattered or not is conjecture. You could argue that the team was never good enough and someone wearing a “C” wouldn’t have added any points to the column and you’d be right. You could argue that the type of leadership brought by a captain, one who commands the room, might have helped to lessen the valleys that cost the team dearly last year and you’d also be right.

There is no correct answer to that question.

Traditionally, NHL teams have each had a captain. A player who sets the tone on the ice, in the room, in the gym, in the offseason, etc., holding the group accountable and keeping their collective focus in the right direction. Based on conversations had with both head coach Bill Peters and general manager Ron Francis, this team will have a designated “C”.

But who?

Well, it’s certainly appears to be an easier call with Justin Williams in the locker room as of Saturday. But, while it seems logical to many and it may end up that way come October, having the “C” simply bestowed on any player without having ever been in the same locker room with his teammates is a risky proposition. With that said, let’s have a little fun and handicap the leadership for the 2017-18 Hurricanes.

Justin Williams

Hard to believe but Williams has spent almost half of his life as a professional hockey player. He entered the league at age 19 and will turn 36 three days before the puck drops against the Minnesota Wild at PNC Arena on October 7. In none of those 17 professional seasons was Williams even an alternate captain. Though he’s been huge parts of three Stanley Cup champions and a pair of President’s Trophy teams in Washington, others wore the “C’s” and “A’s”.  That doesn’t mean Williams wasn’t part of a leadership core, nor does it mean that he’s not leadership material.

Williams was brought to Raleigh for more than a 50-point season — something, it’s worth pointing out, that he’s done only once in the last four full seasons. He was brought in to inject credibility and a winning attitude into a dressing room that hasn’t had either of those things in almost a decade. But, it’s hard to come in as a free agent and just have leadership granted to you. It’s very possible that Williams could be a leader without even wearing a letter, though I’m not in any way suggesting that will happen. Erik Cole was never part of the Canes’ leadership but he was very much a leader during his time in Carolina.

Odds: 7 to 2 (Captain); 2 to 1 (Alternate).

Jordan Staal

Let’s be honest, if Staal’s last name were Jones or Smith or Brown or Ruotsalainen he’d already be the captain. As I was told by several people close to the day-to-day of the team a year ago, Jordan was the captain without actually wearing the letter. Problem is that no one wants to do that to Jordan and I’m not entirely certain that he doesn’t want to do that to himself. Such was the toxicity of his brother Eric’s tenure as captain. If you want to argue that Staal would have never been given the “A” were Eric not the captain, I won’t fight you. But, I will point out that he showed up in Raleigh with 73 career playoff games under his belt and his name on the Stanley Cup.

Jordan earned his leadership.

Skinner scores only goal in Carolina's 2-1 OT loss to Colorado

Jordan has also been the single most reliable Hurricanes player in the last three years. Game in game out, Staal’s presence is felt everywhere on the ice. He’s a plus player on a minus team. He wins nearly 60% of his face offs. He’s the best penalty-killer on one of the best units in the league.  Should I continue? 

If I adopted him*, and he took my last name, he’s the captain. Otherwise, there’s likely no change in his leadership status.

Odds: 5 to 1 (C); off the board (A)

*Jordan “Gold” is even money to be Hurricanes captain. Plus I would get an extra tax deduction.

Justin Faulk

Faulk is the unquestioned leader of one of the youngest, most talented blue lines in the NHL. He’s become a 40-point annual lock and should take that up a notch if he can stay healthy. With Ron Hainsey gone from the locker room, Faulk is the now the elder statesman of the core group at 25 — well, unless Jake Chelios sneaks up and makes the team out of training camp (shhhh). Chelios, and his hall of fame bloodlines, is 26. Faulk’s worn the “A” for several years and before last year it seemed a foregone conclusion that he or Staal would be the next captain.

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Too bad, Justin’s 2016-17 season was so uneven. Sometimes it was hard to tell if the defensive breakdowns were his fault, his partner’s (for most of the year, Hainsey) or if the goaltender just didn’t bail him out. When Faulk was on his game he was great, when it went on walkabout, man it was an adventure. Something tells me that Justin is about to enter into the best stretch of his career, however. There's no hiding from that responsibility any longer. Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce might be the two best defensemen on the team and Noah Hanifin has the tools to be a star, but it’s Faulk that is arguably the team’s most important player on the blue line.

Odds: 7 to 1 (C); off the board (A)

Jeff Skinner

Sometimes responsibility brings out the best in people. I’ve found this to be true with both of my kids, for what that’s worth. Give them a job, give them something that they need to take ownership of and they rise to the occasion. Skinner responded to wearing his “A” — even if it was only on an alternating basis — with the best season of his career.  But, it wasn’t just that Skinner was scoring, it was when he was scoring. 29 of his 37 goals either tied the game or gave Carolina the lead. Could be that this isn’t unusual in a sport that is often tight on the scoreboard, but as my my man, David Fizdale would say, “Take that for data!” Maybe it was my imagination, but it seemed Jeff is returning to the pain-in-the-(expletive deleted) player that scored 31 goals and won the Calder Trophy eight years ago.

Yes, Jeff Skinner is entering his eighth NHL season. Do you feel old?

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In addition, no one, I mean no one, is more fun to watch at practice than 53. For the fans who come out to watch the team work out on a regular basis you know what I’m talking about. Skinner has fun EVERY day. Practices the right way, talks trash and works hard.  If it were my decision….

Odds: 15 to 1 (C); 5 to 1 (A)

Note: Joe Lunardi has Skinner in his “First Four Out”.

Victor Rask

Earned the right to split the letter with Skinner at the outset of the season though it didn’t do for Victor what it did for Jeff. Rask got off to a hot start, but there were too many long stretches where search parties and helicopters with flood lights were necessary to find his game. It can’t be overlooked that Rask was playing with a substantial amount of pressure on his shoulders. Coming off a 48-point sophomore effort, he signed a 6-year/$24 million contract that secured his financial future. Victor wouldn’t be the first player who struggled in trying to justify a salary and he won’t be the last.

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It occurs to me that Rask is exactly the player upon whom Williams’ presence could have the greatest impact. Kind of intrigued by a Skinner-Rask-Williams line, for what that’s worth.

Odds: 50 to 1 (C); 18 to 1 (A)

Jaccob Slavin

If Slavin becomes more offensively dangerous, and he’s shown flashes of threatening behavior in the offensive zone, he’s going to make a (blank)-ton of money. He may anyway. He’s the team’s best pure defenseman, but he’s also the most quiet. That isn’t a knock, it’s just who Slavin is.

Odds: 100 to 1 (C); 50 to 1 (A)

Note: Let’s revisit this in a couple of years, okay?

Elias Lindholm

Oh, I wish I could fast-forward to the end of the season just to see how — or if — Lindholm built upon last year’s breakout performance. From Christmas through the end of the season Lindholm was on a 65-point pace, was a plus player and won 55% of his face offs.

Canes rally to beat Boston in OT, 3-2

Lindholm also embraced a physical, agitating style that was fun to watch. He can play the middle if needed, kills penalties and no one in the league was flat out robbed of more goals than Lindholm. If you watched even a quarter of Carolina’s games last year you saw him lose a goal in a bizarre way. How many times did the top of the shaft of a goalie stick deny him?  Never mind.

Odds: 100 to 1 (C); 75 to 1 (A)

Note: Lindholm, Sebastian Aho and Brett Pesce are all interesting futures bets to be part of the leadership down the road. Not sure the book at MGM is taking action on that right now.

Last season, it was hard to look around the room and spot leaders. This year, that depth chart is deeper than it has been in years. Who emerges will work itself out between now and October 7.

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