You can’t have two captains on a hockey team. You have one captain, or you have no captain at all, or at least that’s been the case for a century.
The Carolina Hurricanes will instead have co-captains, either of whom could have been the captain last year, which means they will essentially go a second straight season with no captain at all.
Jordan Staal will be the “home” captain and Justin Faulk the “road” captain, at least that’s the geography to start. Both were part of the captainless leadership group last year, which means nothing has really changed but the letter on their jersey.
“Not really, to be honest with you, in that regard,” Hurricanes coach Bill Peters acknowledged.
It’s a head-scratcher. Justin Williams, brought in for his leadership, would have made sense. Jeff Skinner was growing into the role, if perhaps not ready yet. (He’ll be an alternate captain, home and road.) Instead, they picked two guys who were here last season when the Hurricanes decided they didn’t want a captain.
Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis said players suggested in their exit meetings after last season that the team needed a captain. Now they have two, in name, but still don’t have that one voice.
“With our leadership group it doesn’t have to be a burden on anyone to lead this team,” Peters said. “Now is the right time to name co-captains because we’re ready to make a push.”
There are many hockey traditions that are anachronisms, easily disproved by data analysis or downright dangerous. So many demand change – and will change, in due time. The captaincy isn’t one of them.
While in some sports the job is strictly ceremonial – like in the NFL, with multiple players wearing those silly patches – in hockey and, to a lesser extent, soccer, it has a clearly defined role and purpose. It’s no coincidence Gov. Roy Cooper was standing in the back Thursday. It matters who wears that C. We don’t have co-governors.
The hockey dressing room is different from any other sport. It was long ago determined that having one voice at the top of the food chain is essential to getting everyone pulling on the same rope in a sport where teamwork and effort can trump talent, and often do, and where momentum can swing a playoff series in unexpected directions and change the entire vector of a season. Rod Brind’Amour’s leadership during the 2006 playoffs remains one of the finest examples of managing adversity, steering the Hurricanes in the right direction at several crucial junctures.
The Hurricanes haven’t made the playoffs since Brind’Amour was forced to relinquish the captaincy to Eric Staal in January 2010, and while that doesn’t mean Staal was a bad captain, it does mean he didn’t have what it took to get that specific group of teammates playing to its full potential. (Staal, like Kirk Muller, was dealt a bad hand.)
It’s possible to go without a captain – as the Hurricanes did last season – and sometimes it’s better, if there isn’t a dominant voice in the room capable of handling that task. But having one person in the role creates accountability that propagates down the roster. The buck has to stop somewhere before it gets to the coaching staff. A leadership role shared is a leadership role unfilled.
“There are things the group inside the room will make decisions on,” Faulk said. “It’s been happening anyway. It’s a group effort to come to those minor decisions. We’ve been handling it.”
“We’ll be on the same page,” Staal promised.
If the Hurricanes win the President’s Trophy or the Stanley Cup with two captains, Francis and Peters will be hailed as visionaries, and rightly so. The possibility certainly exists that the modern captain’s role is better filled by two people.
“It’s different from when I played and you had a captain and two A’s and that was it,” Francis said. “Now you see more and more there are multiple leaders in the locker room.”
But let’s not underestimate the scale of this gamble: In an absolutely pivotal season for the Hurricanes, where so many things need to go right and there are so many unknowns, they have decided to introduce uncertainty into a variable that was easily controlled.
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock