Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Red Wings Captaincy Question

This was an inevitable thought process. Once Nicklas Lidstrom retired, it was only a matter of time until every Detroit Red Wings fan would go through this. Whether on your own, online or in person with friends, family and co-workers, we all would eventually have to ask: Who will replace Nicklas Lidstrom as the captain for the Wings?

Good night, sweet prince.
Photo Credit: Rick Osentoski - US Presswire
I found myself waiting to have this thought process, out of respect for Nicklas Lidstrom. It just didn't feel right to jump right in and talk about who to fill the Captain vacancy right away. I mean, how long do you wait to not be an insensitive, disrespectful asshole? It was like thinking about how long until after my wife died that I have to wait until I can start dating again.

I've managed to wait about a week after Lidstrom's retirement to talk about this, and it still doesn't feel okay. But I take solace that I'm not Ryan Field of Fox Sports Detroit who asked Nicklas Lidstrom that question at Lidstrom's retirement press conference. Which is basically like taking a date to your spouse's funeral. Seriously Ryan? The guy just retired and you're asking "Who would you like to take your job?" Fuck you.

I digress. I eventually came to terms like with any position in a professional organization or business, as much as you miss the guy and respect him and wish him the best, you have to fill the position. Someone has to wear the C on their jersey and it's not wrong to start having that discussion. My thought process is probably pretty similar to a lot of people's, but I want to share it and give my rationale for it. Then there are a couple of possibly scenarios that will change the landscape a bit, and I want to walk everyone through those.

Henrik Zetterberg will be the next Captain of the Detroit Red Wings:
There's a couple of points I want to address first. My wife has a few co-workers that are sort of her hockey crew that she talks hockey. Moment of ass kissing: how awesome is my wife that she has hockey friends? Anyway, one of them suggested that Henrik Zetterberg was going to be traded.

Henrik Zetterberg is not going to be traded. For starters, he has a contract that is going to take him into the next decade. Literally, 2020-2011. His cap hit will be roughly 6 million ever year, according to CapGeek and that'd put him around age 40 when his contract ends, roughly around the time he might be thinking of retirement and the Wings needing a new dynamic two-way center. While I'm sure any team would love to have Henrik Zetterberg, what would they have to give up in order to get him? Probably more than they're willing to give, because the Red Wings are certainly going to want to raid the kitchen if they're going to let Z go. That's not even taking into account his skill set and his leadership qualities. So, Zberg is going no where. Secondly, if anyone thinks he's getting the Captain spot because he's Swedish, you're wrong. NotPavelDatsyuk joked the Captain test was going to be on Swedish history. But it's just a joke. If any North American born players on the Red Wings were as important and strong of a leader as Zetterberg is, they'd get it.

Niklas Kronwall will not be getting the Captain job, but will retain his Alternate Captain Role:
It's not an insult to Kronwall that he not the get the Captain job over Zetterberg. If we look at this purely from a seniority standpoint - which we're not, because then Holmstrom would get the C - Zetterberg has a few more years on Kronwall. A lot of people are happy with Kronwall's contributions to the team. He's a hard hitting, physical defenseman who has shown improvement in his own zone and with his offensive talents. He deserves to be a top pair guy and has shown a lot of poise and maturity when dealing with the media.

So much so that I believe he is the Red Wings NHLPA representative. If I recall correctly, when the possibility of reorganization came up back around January, they talked to Kronwall about it because he was the guy for the Red Wings to talk about stuff on behalf of the NHLPA. If I'm wrong about this, or misunderstanding it, please someone share.

Kronwall is going to be important to this team for years to come, but there is one and only one reason why I do not want him wearing the C on his jersey: Niklas Kronwall is going to be suspended for one of his hits someday. You can agree or disagree with that assessment if you want, but it's going to happen. I think that Kronwall plays on the line between acceptable and unacceptable hits, sometimes going over the line, but usually being on the right side of it. And I like that he does. However, the standard set by Oh Captain, My Captain Steve Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom over the past 30 years is that the Captain of the Red Wings is to be a bastion of sportsmanship, respect, honor and dignity, and that could be weakened if I have to read on "Red Wings Captain Nicklas Kronwall Suspended for Illegal Hit"

Giving Kronwall the Captain role would potentially force him to change the way he plays, and I don't want him to so long as his hits are clean. I know Oh Captain, My Captain Steve Yzerman changed his play style to be a better teammate and leader, and a good Captain should be willing and able to do that. But as long as the Red Wings need Kronwall to be the guy he is right now, it would be unfair to the team and to Kronwall to put that weight on his shoulders. Kronner has earned every role he has on the Wings right now and I want to see him continue those roles.

Pavel Datsyuk won't be getting the Captain Role:
I love Datsyuk. But there are two reasons why he won't be the Red Wings Captain. First, he's shy. He's ridiculously shy. While he's opened up more and gotten better about talking with the media, he's still very shy. The second reason, and this may seem really unfair and almost Don Cherry-esqe: Pavel Datsyuk does not have a command of the English language. If you're the Captain of a team in the NHL, you have to be able to communicate with North American media. A lot of European players/captains can speak English well. Lidstrom could. Zetterberg's English is pretty solid. Chara's has the language down pretty well, too. Unfortunately, Datsyuk doesn't.

This leaves two potential Alternate Captain spots left available, and with some potential major free agency dealings in the Red Wings future, we have a number of possible scenarios that can play out. So let's investigate those after the break.

Quick Reminder: 2011-2012, you had 2 forwards and 2 defenseman filling those roles: C: Lidstrom, A's: Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Kronwall

Scenario #1: The Red Wings sign Ryan Suter and Zach Parise or trade for Rick Nash
I have maintained Rick Nash is a possible off-season acquisition for the Red Wings. He may seem like a long shot for some, but I would say at this point Zach Parise seems like a long shot as well. On the one hand, Rick Nash would have to be traded for, and the Red Wings would have to strike a deal that is acceptable to themselves, acceptable to Columbus and acceptable to Nash. On the other, you have to be able to convince Zach Parise that by coming to Detroit he will have as good of a chance to reach Stanley Cup victory and get paid the kind of money he could get elsewhere. And Detroit would have to convince him of this after Parise made it to the Finals. Granted, as I write this it looks like New Jersey is going to get swept by the Kings. But New Jersey is there and the Red Wings are not.

If I was actually Nicklas Lidstrom, would I
be wearing this hat and fake mustache? 
Parise and Nash are both currently the Captains for their respective teams, and Suter was an alternate for Nashville. Will they surrender those roles and/or will the Red Wings allow them to keep their roles? Well, Zetterberg will not lose his Captain role to anyone, including incoming players. Unless that incoming player is the Red Wings' late round draft pick, unknown Swedish defenseman Ricklas Midstrom.

I think Suter, Parise and even Nash would all understand that coming to the Red Wings means they're making some sacrifices for the good of the team, to hopefully have a lot of playoff success over the next part of their careers. I don't think any of them would request or even expect to keep their roles, given the current Red Wings roster and the strength of tradition and respect for veteran players. That being said, I could see allowing Parise or Nash to have an Alternate Captain role as a way of recognizing their sacrifices and dedication to the team. If Brad Stuart elects to stay in Detroit, I could see him earning an Alternate Role, especially if Datsyuk is okay with dropping his - which I've heard many say he would be.

C: Zetterberg
A: Kronwall
A: Parise/Nash
A: Datsyuk or Stuart

Scenario #2: Red Wings sign Ryan Suter, no other major free-agents*
*This is also my prediction if the Red Wings sign Alexander Semin

Let's assume the Red Wings get Suter, lose Brad Stuart and the biggest forward they sign is Alexander Semin (or they don't sign any). Again, Zetterberg is going to get the C. Kronwall is going to keep his A.  I think if we sign Suter, as a show of good faith and encouragement, the Red Wings could bestow an Alternate Captain Role to Ryan Suter. I don't think there is a forward the Red Wings would sign this year, outside of Parise or Nash, that would command the respect and possess the leadership qualities to earn an Alternate Spot from current Red Wings.

So who would fill the last spot? If Datsyuk wants it, or if the Red Wings really want him to keep it, then it's a pretty easy decision to let him keep it. But if other people are correct, and Datsyuk is willing to relinquish the spot, there is only one player in my mind who deserves the spot. The man I lovingly refer to as Dirty Darren Helm.

Darren Helm is the replacement for Kris Draper. He just needs to keep getting better at face offs and improve his goal scoring skills to make better use of his speed. But to say this guy is a work horse is an understatement. Some people might feel like bestowing an Alternate Captain spot to motivate someone is a bad reason, that you only give these kinds of honors to people who have shown they earn it. I think Helm is both of those things. I think he's shown a ton of potential, he's shown that he can be an impact player for the Red Wings, and he needs something to push him to that next level.

C: Zetterberg
A: Kronwall
A: Datsyuk or Helm 

A: Suter

Scenario #3: Red Wings sign no major free-agents:
This is the least likely. I think the Red Wings will at least get Suter. But assuming they don't get anyone this off-season, we still have to shuffle around some cards. If Brad Stuart decides to stay to help fil the gap Lidstrom is leaving, I could see him getting an Alternate Captain role. If he were to leave, and the Wings want to keep 2 forwards and 2 defenseman, I could see rewarding Ian White with the A position. I'm not nearly as unhappy with White's performance as others have been, although he does need to improve. Like Darren Helm, I think he's shown what he is, shown what he can be, and could use a motivational lift to get him there.

Datsyuk and Helm would both be in the running for the last spot, or they would get both spots and they'd have 3 forwards and 1 defenceman.

C: Zetterberg
A: Kronwall
Last 2 A's: Combination of Datsyuk, Helm, Stuart and White

And finally, here are a few guys who won't and/or shouldn't be given an Alternate Role

Jimmy Howard: Howard won't get it because Roberto Luongo basically ruined it for goalies.
Valtteri Filppula: He showed a ton of improvement this year, and really opened up offensively. However, one good year does not necessarily warrant a leadership role. He still seems to be unsure of himself.
Justin Abdelkader: The Red Wings don't have a problem with giving an Alternate Captain to role to a bottom line guy. Kris Draper earned it with a ridiculous amount of hard work and by being a leader. Abdelkader still has some growing up to do and needs to be a bigger role player for the Red Wings.

Agree or disagree? Lemme know in the comments.


  1. Nash is NOT coming here...Do you think Columbus would trade him to a team in their own division and the Jackets would want WAY to much for him. Z will be the next captain and Datsyuk and Kronwall will wear the A's. The sweepstakes for Parise and Suter will be intresting and I think the Wings will have a good shot at landing both..Semin could be intresting also, I know he has a tendency to disappear and not play hard at times but he could be a possible good fit with Datsyuk though Parise would be my first choice.

    1. Nash coming here isn't a done deal, but it's possible. Nash has made it known that he wants out of Columbus. He wants to go somewhere that he's going to have a chance at winning. Unless Columbus can convince Nash that including him in their rebuild is best for him, he's going to be going somewhere. Who knows, maybe if he doesn't get a trade he pulls a Carson Palmer and "retires" until he does get a trade. But he wants out of Columbus and I have to believe he'd be okay with coming to Detroit.

      I still maintain, however, that Nash coming to Detroit is about as likely as Parise coming to Detroit. When I wrote this post, I expected New Jersey to get swept. Now it's a 3-2 series and Parise has been a big contributor to the Devil's two wins. It's going to be hard to sell that he'd be better off in Detroit, especially if NJ ends up winning the Cup.

      You're absolutely right that Columbus will want a lot for Nash, but if a trade to Detroit is an option, he may lean on them to take a deal so he can go. Parise would be an excellent fit, and I'm not too thrilled about Semin. I think his problem is he doesn't like being behind Ovechkin and Backstrom, he wants to be THE guy. And if he comes to Detroit, he'll be behind Datsyuk and Zetterberg. But Datsyuk, Nyquist and Semin could be interesting.

      Thanks for your comment.