Quick. What do you think of when you hear these names:
Florida Panthers, Minnesota Wild, Montreal Canadiens, NY Islanders, San Jose Sharks, Toronto Mapleleafs.
Teams likely to miss the playoffs? (SJ doesn't quite fit)
Cool Jerseys? (Islanders are kind a lame)
Teams that disappointed last season? (True, though Toronto didn't have high expectations)
These are all teams that are entering the pre-season without a captain in their lineup. And, it's probably not a coincidence that most of these teams seem to be just a little lost among their NHL brethren. Consider the teams with solid, undisputed captains in their lineup, and how steady those franchises are: Iginla in Calgary, Niedermeyer in Anaheim, Chara in Boston, Lidstrom in Detroit, etc. Meanwhile, the teams without a C on a sweater each have problems to deal with that often center around character and team identity. It shows the importance of having a strong captain on the roster. Some of these teams may begin (and possibly finish) the season with no captain. History shows that doesn't result in success. Here is a team-by-team look at the teams in need of a leader.
The Panthers have been without a captain since trading Olli Jokinen in 2008. Prior to that, they had no captain for a season. The team hasn't had a quality leader since Scott Mellanby left in 2001. Of all the teams in this list, the Panthers may be the team most in need of a strong captain. The team is running with 3 assistants: Bryan Allen, Cory Stillman, and Stephen Weiss. Perhaps they're waiting for one of the younger stars to emerge, but it hasn't happened yet. Stillman, Allen, or Keith Ballard seem like the most likely candidates to assume the position at some point, but Florida seems to be content to shun the letter altogether.
Best Bet: Cory Stillman
The Wild have never had a permanent captain in their history. They've also never had much success in the playoffs. They have steadily rotated the C, almost on a monthly basis. Perhaps that will change with the new regime entering the state. Over the last several years, Mikko Koivu has held the role more often than any other and seems to be the most likely player to get the honor, if the philosophy changes. He has demonstrated quality leadership on the team and would certainly make a good captain.
Best Bet: Mikko Koivu
The captaincy of the Canadiens has been a hot topic lately, as it always is when the position opens up. The Canadiens hold this designation in high regard, and many players run from the responsibility. Just ask Andrei Markov. With a total overhaul of the team, there are a number of possible candidates, and it seems likely that Gainey will wait a few months to see who emerges from the pack.
Best Bet: Mike Cammalleri
The Islanders lost their captain when Bill Guerin was moved to the Penguins last season. The Islanders traditionally fill the role quickly, but have gone a couple seasons in their history with no captain. It seems likely the role will ultimately go to John Tavares, but don't expect it to happen this year. It would be silly to lay that burden on a guy who's already expected to save a franchise as a teenager. Most likely, the team will either hold off on naming a guy, or they'll bridge the gap with a veteran for a year or two until Tavares is deemed ready.
Best Bet: Brendan Witt
It's anybody's guess what the Sharks management will do next in an attempt to reverse the ugly trend of crushed expectations. After ripping the C off of Marleau's chest this summer, it was surprising to see that he wasn't in the deal that brought Heatley across. Is it finally time for Joe Thornton to step up and take the captaincy? If not, why? Thornton is 30 now and without excuse. He is the leader of the Sharks, C or no C. It's possible that the Sharks could turn to more of a role player as their captain, but it seems like it's Joe's time - now or never.
Best Bet: Joe Thornton
Mats Sundin held the C for over a decade, and it has yet to find a new home. In fact, at this point, only Tomas Kaberle is listed as an assistant. The team seems headed in the right direction, but is in need of an identity and a clear-cut leader. It may be too much to ask at the age of 19, but all signs seem to point to Luke Schenn being the face of this franchise for many years to come. Much like the situation in New York, it may be best to keep the seat warm for a year or two before sewing it on Schenn's sweater. Look for the job to be handed to a veteran this fall.
Best Bet: Tomas Kaberle