Lindy Ruff has made his decision: Jason Pominville will be the Sabres’ captain this year. Guess what? It’s just a letter. Being named captain doesn’t change anything.
Captains get to talk to the referees sometimes. That’s it. There are no special privileges that come with wearing a letter on your chest. Your jersey sales might go up and you might get more recognition because your sweater is visibly different from everyone else’s, but nothing changes.
Captains aren’t really “picked.” Those individuals wear letters because they possess the leadership qualities necessary to head a team, not the other way around. Wearing a “C” doesn’t change who you are. It doesn’t make you a better player.
Some players are natural leaders, others grow into the role through experience. Either way, they will have the same qualities to them regardless of what their uniform says.
Players who come to mind when I think of “captain” are Mark Messier and Ray Bourque. They wore letters most of their careers, even after switching teams. They were given those letters because of the qualities they possessed. If you took the letters away, they’d still be the exact same people with the exact same traits. They would still lead by example and show everyone else the way.
The players know who the leaders are in the dressing room. You would know, too, if you were with the team everyday. It’s nice to be recognized by a team vote or a coach selection, whichever a particular team decides to employ, but remember this guy already has the captain qualities to him before that letter gets stitched on. He doesn’t care about feeding the ego.
A lot of people thought Thomas Vanek should be captain, but I get the feeling he doesn’t really want to be it. Some players don’t want the responsibility. Sure, Lindy could have tried to push his buttons by giving him the “C,” and maybe that would have been a good idea. The team seems to go as Vanek does.
Both Pominville and Vanek are going into their seventh full season with the Sabres and both have three years left in their contracts. Vanek was a goal-scoring machine in last year’s postseason, but was also minus-7. Pominville actually averages more points per game in the playoffs throughout his career.
Both players are still going to be looked up to in the locker room. Both players are going to be counted on to lead the team, in more ways than one. A young guy isn’t going to skip over Vanek to go find Pominville if he has a question just because Lindy gave Jason the “C.”
Vanek will probably get an “A” anyway. He’ll be just as much of a leader with an “A” as he would be with a “C” or without any letter at all. There’s noting special about Sneetches with stars upon thars, it’s about what’s inside that counts.
A captain is more of a figurehead in today’s NHL. That “C” (or “A”) is there to show the officials who is the designated player to speak with. A referee never stepped onto the ice without knowing who Nick Lidstrom was. It’s ceremonial.
The team knows who its leaders long before the official announcement is made during a players- and coaches-only dinner in a foreign country. Leaders are leaders whether they’re wearing an “A” or a “C” or no shirt at all.
Getting a letter doesn’t give you any special powers you don’t already have; it’s the other way around.