Monday, September 20, 2010

Roberto Luongo relenquishes Canucks' Captaincy

As has been long speculated, the Vancouver Canucks Goaltender Roberto Luongo has surrendered his captaincy before the start of the upcoming 2010-11 season.  As TSN is reporting, Luongo decided to step down to reduce distractions and focus on winning a championship.

Luongo was criticized unfairly last year for comments he made about the team play, but when you're team captain and asked what went wrong, how much are you allowed to say as a goaltender?

In a market like Vancouver, Luongo's words were scrutinized regularly. If he made a comment about the team's defence, some people believed he was criticizing the players' performance.

"That was a tough part of doing that," said Luongo. "I'm always the first to admit when I feel I can be better.
"When you are captain you are asked where the team can do better. What do you say? You don't want to look like you are throwing your teammates under the bus. Sometimes it came off the wrong way."

During this year's playoffs, when the Canucks trailed Chicago 3-1, Luongo said he would no longer do interviews prior to a game. It's common for goaltenders not to talk on game day but captains are usually expected to speak.

Luongo described the decision with the following: "I want to put my whole focus on goaltending ... I wouldn't say it was a distraction. I think I could put something less on my plate. The less distractions as a goaltender (the better)."

So now the question remains, who takes over?

Henrik Sedin
Pro: Henrik is coming off a dream season where he captured the Art Ross and Hart Memorial Trophies and would likely be the frontrunner for a few reasons.  Henrik appears to be a quiet, lead by example type of player who has proved to be (along with his brother) one of the most consistent scorers in the league.  The Sedins seldom go an evening without scoring at least one goal.  Henrik is a veteran and wants to win.

Con: Henrik is not the most outspoken player and it remains to be seen publicly whether he demands excellence from his teammates and can lead them through a tough playoff series.  Henrik may suffer from a Markus Naslund hangover effect in Vancouver.  The city has recently seen the outcome of a quiet, Swedish captain, and whether warranted or not, the city grew tired of Naslund's apathetic veneer.  Despite the fire that burned inside him, it seldom was apparent in interviews or in his on ice play.  The trouble with picking a top scorer as a captain is that they so seldomly display a broad enough skillset to help the team in all areas.  If Sedin is slumping, there's not a lot he can do to rally his team.  Sedin won't land a big hit, sacrifice his body to block a shot, pick a fight, or otherwise create energy like a Mike Richards or Jarome Iginla.  He would lead through offense, which isn't always possible, and probably why Markus Naslund received some criticism.  That kind of leadership is a tough sell for Western Canadian hockey fans who are used to more physicality.

Ryan Kesler
Pro: For all the reasons why Henrik Sedin is wrong, Ryan Kesler is right.  Kesler wears his heart on his sleeve.  Killing penalties, blocking shots, picking fights, hitting the opposition or scoring a key goal, or rushing the puck with speed, Kesler can be a game changer with is attitude. 

Con: Kesler may be too volatile and young to bring the stability this Canucks group needs under fire.  Kesler, due to injuries and youth, has yet to break out in the playoffs, despite some great regular seasons of late.  Perhaps the Canucks could use some of that youfthul determination and spirit, but he would be leading a veteran squad where he may not be the natural candidate.  Kesler at times appears to be too hard on himself, and rides the highs and lows.  A captain acknowledges the lows but doesn't get caught up in them.

Dan Hamhuis
Pro: Hamhuis brings grit and stability to the Canucks back end.  On a team where defence will be an improved area of focus, nothing would reinforce that more than naming a rear guard captain.  Hamhuis has toiled in Nashville (NHL obscurity) for years, and it a hometown (province) boy eager to win.  He's hungry and a solid, reliable defenseman.

Con: What Hamhuis lacks is experience with the team.  Taking a new player and making him captain may signal a 'new era' on the team, or the suggestion that the previous ways were not working.  At worst, it could appear as a slight to the Sedins, Kesler, and other veterans of the team who exemplify heart and determination.

Conclusion: All in all, the easy choice is to name Henrik Sedin captain.  He has the skill, experience, the role on the team, and the respect of his teammates.  That being said, Ryan Kesler should be your darkhorse candidate if the Canucks feel they want their personality to involve a little more sandpaper.  They've learned from the Luongo experience how much added pressure pre and post-game media scrums can be, where your every word is scrutinized.  Will Henrik want the added pressure on top of his new found spotlight due to his scoring championship?  Will Kesler want the intense scrutiny on him if he goes into a scoring slump, or plays second fiddle to the Sedin twins in situations where they need a goal?

Time will tell - but expect a decision to be made before the regular season.

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