Dispelling the Rumor from My Teal Pedestal

Let me say this first: Marleau was not stripped of his ‘C.’ He was not put to shame. He was not ridiculed, tarred and feathered, or any other negative scenario you have read here, especially here, or anywhere else for that matter. This was not a move of disgrace, anger, or anything else that involves the dozens of outlandish rumors surrounding Marleau (a way of convincing him to waive his NTC, a sign of aggression from the front office, an attempt at lowering his value to other teams, etc.).

So what has happened? In my opinion, it is exactly what should happen at the beginning of each season in twenty-nine organizations in the NHL. Each season starts anew for all but one team in the league. Other than the champions, every team failed to reach the end goal. Sure there are consolation prizes (ranging from a better-than-expected regular season for a team in a rebuilding year to a President’s Trophy), but there is only one first place. And quite simply, every other team lost. You can phrase it however you want, but it is the simple truth. And for all twenty-nine of these teams, the question of the offseason is always “why didn’t our team elevate their play in the post season to compete?”

There are arguably no teams in the NHL whose overall skill level handicaps them enough to not make the playoffs1. Similarly, most, if not all teams do possess the physical ability and skill to believe they have a somewhat legitimate chance. If history has taught us only one thing, it is that anything can happen once the playoffs begin. An eighth seed can upset a one (Anaheim over SJ, in case you forgot), a seventh seed can win the cup (1991 Penguins) and in 1948 the then ‘worst’ seeded Leafs won it all (and before that the Blackhawks). Since the expansion to eight playoff teams in each conference, the eighth seed 2005 Edmonton team topped the one seed Detroit, then San Jose, and finally Anaheim before falling short in a game seven against Carolina. Even more prevalent are the early round upsets have become a fixture of the NHL, as much so as the regular season powerhouses ever-present in all other sports. The reason for all of these, similarly, is leadership.

Every year, there should be twenty-nine teams in Canada and the United States who should be reevaluating their roster and the reason for their defeat. At the end of each season, the only thing that should linger in these players’ minds is defeat. That they were not good enough, and that it is their responsibility to do all that is in their power to not let it happen again. Each year, the players should return to training camp with blank jerseys. The prior captain, assistants, first through fourth liners, and bench players of each team should hold this responsibility upon their shoulders, and should return to the ice come September with only one goal: to prove that they their failure has hit home.

Sadly, this is not the case. It is why a ‘C’ is necessary at all—because there are many who come to camp each year out of shape, having spent their offseason golfing and relaxing, without the chip on their shoulder from their previous shortcomings. It is in camp that those players attempt to restore their prior abilities rather than improve.

However, there are those take it upon themselves to work every day as if it were the post season. Those players like Boyle, Pavelski, Seto, Ehrhoff, Mitchell, and even Marleau who still have the taste bitter defeat in their mouths. Those in which the defeat has for months spread like an untreated disease. The only cure, in their minds, is the fulfillment of their childhood dreams of standing on the ice as fans scream, streamers pour from the ceiling and they pose for pictures with the cup. And it is those players who realize that this takes the entire year to obtain. It is them who have worked out every day since their exit, have skated whenever possible to stay sharp, and show up to the captains practices once they begin.

And now to come full circle. Once official training camp begins, those disease-ridden players are the ones who will soar above the others. It is apparent who has spent their ‘time off’ tormented by defeat. And it is those players who deserve to lead their teams each year. Twenty-nine teams exit each year with little to nothing to show for their efforts. And when they return to official camp, there should be just that to remind them of their past. There should be no ranks, no captains or assistants, not even names on their jerseys. They are all fighting for their spot on the roster, much less a position of leadership.

Those who are truly deserving will rise to the occasion, and they will be rewarded. Many of the captains, if they are truly the leaders on their teams, should have no worries about retaining that title. Similarly, the majority of the skaters will return to the roles in which they served the last season. But by allowing for ‘anything to happen,’ players will be faced with the need to earn their position. And for some, although they might not be the most skilled players on the team, their drive, effort and leadership will result in a chance to elevate their time on the ice or leap into a role of leadership.

And this is just what DW, TM and the rest of the organization have done. The slate has been wiped clean. No one has been shamed, exiled, or ridiculed. The needs of the team have just been cast into the forefront. There is currently no indication that Marleau will not return next year as the captain; he simply must, like the other names associated with the position, prove himself in regards to effort, heart, and the commanding of respect from his teammates.

The other names to watch in these roles have been fairly consistent, but there is one who might be in the running. Thornton returned to camp this year weeks before he has done in the past (last year he took an extended vacation in the Far East), and he has actually appeared distraught about the loss. Regardless of whether this merits a higher position, as fans let’s hope this means he will spend the next season as the angry Joe who will do everything in his power to win. There was also an interview on Sporting News today with Joe Pavelski, in which he addresses the issue of captaincy. Interesting read to say the least.

1 Yes it’s a double negative. I don’t care. It sounds better that way.

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~ by mitchsolomon on August 18, 2009.

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