Jacques Demers is a politician. Always was, even before he was appointed to the Senate.
Like most politicians, he tends to waffle a bit and to avoid the kind of clear, unequivocal statements that can come back to bite you in the behind.
So when Demers (the last Canadiens coach to win a Stanley Cup, after all) comes out and says, as he did last week, that Andrei Markov should be next to wear the ‘C’ for the Habs, you sit up and pay attention.
Demers just might be right — but I suspect that Markov would rather eat ground glass.
Markov has come a long way from the shy guy who wouldn’t say nyet in either Russian or English when I first met him in Moscow in 1999. Back then, Markov was content to stand back and let his Moscow Dynamo teammates, Maxim Afinogenov and Nik Antropov, do all the talking.
Since then, a very different Markov has emerged, a highly intelligent observer with a quick, dry wit and a sly grin. Which doesn’t mean that he wants to stand in the room and answer 79 mostly stupid questions from the media horde after every game. (“Uh, Andrei, would you say the guys were giving it 110 per cent tonight or was it more like 109 per cent?” “Uh, Andrei, how great was Carey Price tonight?”)
Don’t get me wrong: I agree with Demers. In the room and on the ice, Markov might be the best choice to replace Brian Gionta as captain. He has the talent, the respect, the calm demeanor, the experience and that mysterious quality of leadership the position demands.
Markov would be (with his buddy, Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals) one of only two Russian captains in the NHL. I just think he’s too smart to take the job.
In a Canadiens career that goes back to the 2000-2001 season, Markov has seen it all: good teams and bad, playoff runs and years when the season was over by March 1, highs and lows, lockouts, career-threatening injuries and triumphs that have still fallen short of that elusive next Stanley Cup.
Markov remains as the lone, brilliant draft pick of the Réjean Houle era. He was chosen in the sixth round of the 1998 draft, 162nd overall. At the time, he was about to switch from Voskresensk Khimik to Moscow Dynamo and he was making another transition, from forward to the blue line. Since then, among other accomplishments, Markov has made a whole lot of money for defence partners ranging from Patrice Brisebois to Mike Komisarek to P.K. Subban and Alexei Emelin.
And if the ‘C’ doesn’t go to Markov, where does it go? The Canadiens are fortunate to have several potentially good possibilities, even with Gionta and Josh Gorges in Buffalo.
Assuming that Markov wants no part of the job, the club could do worse than to pin the letter on the broad chest of Brandon Prust, as natural a leader as you can find. If he can stay healthy and contribute as he did during his first campaign with the Canadiens, Prust would make an excellent captain.
Marc Bergevin and Michel Therrien also have about 72 million reasons to make P.K. Subban captain – and as many reasons not to make him captain, if you believe that the extra duties constitute an unwelcome distraction.
There are examples all over the league of young stars anointed captain, from Jamie Benn to Gabriel Landeskog to Sidney Crosby, who could barely shave when he first wore the ‘C’.
During the season, when I was asked on Hockey Inside/Out who the next captain should be, I went with Subban. On sober second thought, I prefer to see the honour go to players with more experience, in part to allow the youngsters to focus on their games. I still think Pernell Karl is destined for the job some day. I simply hope that time isn’t now.
After Markov and Prust, my next choice would be Tomas Plekanec, for many of the same reasons I would choose Markov. Then there is Carey Price, except that the NHL rules say otherwise. Rule 6.1 specifically states: “No playing Coach or playing Manager or goalkeeper shall be permitted to act as Captain or Alternate Captain.”
The rule is blamed (fairly or not) on former Habs goalie Bill Durnan, who supposedly spent so much time talking to the refs when he was captain for a time in 1948 that the games got too long and the league had to act. (For the record, goalies John “Little Napoleon” Ross Roach, Roy “Shrimp” Worters, George Hainsworth, Alec “Fireman” Connell and Charlie Gardiner also wore the C before the rule came into play — and Gardiner’s Blackhawks in 1934 the only team to win a Stanley Cup with a goalie as captain.)
When the Vancouver Canucks made Roberto Luongo captain back in 2008, they got around the rule by having Willie Mitchell and Mattias Ohlund share the captain’s duties on the ice, while Luongo (presumably) handled the duties in the room and with the voracious media mob on the Left Coast. Luongo gave up the C two years later.
At any rate, we suspect that Price would rather share a few bites of Markov’s ground glass than take on more duties that involve answering dumb questions. (“So, Carey, would you describe the shot that hit you in the family jewels as hard or extremely hard?”)
Who else? Brendan Gallagher? Definitely. But not now. Gallagher will captain some team at some point in his career and no one is a better leader on the ice, but the kid is only 22.
There was a time when the captain’s ‘C’ was a curse in these parts, when Guy Carbonneau, Kirk Muller, Mike Keane and Pierre Turgeon were packed out of town in short order. But Vincent Damphousse survived for three years, and Saku Koivu matched Jean Béliveau’s 10-year stint before Gionta took over.
Now the job once again carries enormous prestige along with the enormous responsibility. Markov, if he’s named, won’t be captain for 10 years. But he would be a very good captain as long as he plays. You can’t ask for more than that, even if he approaches media sessions like a running back about to weave through a minefield.
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