Calgary Flames: To “C” or not to “C”

For the second year in a row, the Calgary Flames will start training camp (and likely the season) without a team captain.  Do they need one?  If so, who should it be?  I have some thoughts.

It’s an odd time in Calgary Flames history.

For the second consecutive year, and for the first time since 2003, the team will likely begin the season without a captain.  Now, let me be clear here.  By “captain”, I mean a long-standing, clear-cut, nobody-else-for-job team leader.

Few teams have enjoyed the continuity and consistency that came with 9 seasons with Jarome Iginla at the helm followed by eight under Mark Giordano. So it was, perhaps, unrealistic to expect the trend to continue.

We kinda did though, I think.

At this time last year, it wasn’t unrealistic to speculate that Matthew Tkachuk was the presumptive favourite to wear the C.  I certainly thought that.  To me, it was a foregone conclusion that he’d agreeably sign a team friendly contract extension and become our captain for the next decade.  Stanley Cups would follow year after year, champagne would fall from the skies and we’d all live happily ever after.

Joke’s on me, I guess.

Do the Calgary Flames need a captain?

There is a fair argument to say that they don’t.

Coming out of last season’s training camp alternate captaincies were assigned to Mikael Backlund, Sean Monahan, Matthew Tkachuk, and Chris Tanev.  And that seemed to work out pretty well.  The team handily won the Pacific Division with 111 points, which would also be good enough for 3rd in the Western Conference and 6th in the League.  Not too shabby.

It’s not clear whether Head Coach Darryl Sutter agrees or not.  In a recent interview, he was asked about his mindset on naming a captain and whether it has changed since last year.  He replied:

I don’t think my mind has changed. You go back to last year, and while there were up and comers, anybody who was a consideration for it wasn’t under contract. So, really, it wouldn’t make much sense to be naming a captain when he’s only going to be here a year or two.

It’s still a growth part of this team.

I don’t think the captain thing is something I thought a lot about. I think I learned a lot about the players last year and we’ll just go from there

I take that to mean he’s comfortable with the situation as it sits right now. But his feelings on the ultimate need for a captain remain unsaid.  What is definitive is that, whoever the next captain is, he’ll have have some term to his contract.

I think the Calgary Flames’ need for a captain is more imperative, especially if the Stanley Cup is the endgame.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – CIRCA 1980: Lanny McDonald of the Calgary Flames circa 1980 in New York, New York. (Photo by Robert Shaver/Bruce Bennett Collection/Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images)

Consider this: no team has won the Cup with a vacant captaincy since the 1971-72 Boston Bruins.  For those not interested in doing the math, that’s fifty-one years.  Bringing it closer home, when the Flames won in 1989, there were two captains: Lanny McDonald and Jim Peplinski.

Teams can certainly make to the finals without a C.  Just ask the 2018 Vegas Golden Knights.  But they, and all before them, went home empty handed.

Implied in this statistic is that a team cannot win a championship without the continuity and consistency of leadership.  I find that compelling.  And I fear that, should Sutter and the team not pay attention to history, they are doomed to repeat it.

So who should be captain?

There’s a decent list of candidates if you assume that Sutter’s criteria of a longer contract term remains true.

Of all of them, I think the most likely candidate for the next Calgary Flames captain is Nazim Kadri.  He checks off all the boxes.  He’s committed to the team for the next seven seasons.  It seems like Sutter already loves him and has him penciled in to lead.

You say he’s a Darryl Sutter type player. He’s a winner. He finished, what, tenth in scoring last year. He plays in a lot of situations and still has a little bit of old school in him. One thing him and I talked about is that once you’ve won you just want to win again.

I think he’s a guy that understands what it takes to win. I think our team, at the end of the day, has been looking for leadership not just last year but the last few years, and Brad bringing in these guys this summer will really help us in that area.

However, far be it from me to contradict Sutter, I think Kadri eventually will be captain.  That is not to say I think he should.

It certainly isn’t that I think he isn’t qualified, or wouldn’t do a good job.  He’d represent the community well.  He has experience facing the Canadian hockey media.  And I am fully supportive of the Flames naming what, if I’m not mistaken, would be the first Muslim captain in  NHL history.

It’s just that my heart lies elsewhere.

I have long been of the opinion that, since Mark Giordano’s departure, Milan Lucic should have been awarded the C.  Indeed, I was very disappointed when he wasn’t made one of the alternates at the start of last season.  I was even more disappointed when Johnny Gaudreau came out with an A on his sweater in game 7 of round one of the playoffs last year after Chris Tanev’s injury.

May 11, 2022; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames left wing Milan Lucic (17) against the Dallas Stars during the second period in game five of the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

I think Lucic flat-out leads this group.  I think he makes his presence known in the dressing room and on the ice.  I think the fans love him.  And I don’t think he gets nearly enough internal recognition for it.

Never have I thought the captain of a team needs to be their best player.  And Lucic’s contract term, which expires at the end of the 2022-2023 season, neither guarantees he’ll be a Flame for much longer nor meets Sutter’s stated criteria.  So, he’ll likely never get considered.

But he’s still my guy.