It seems like just yesterday that Brenden Morrow was given the Dallas Stars' captaincy (2006), signed his big extension (2007), and led the Stars to the Western Conference Finals with a playoff performance as dominant and physical as you'll ever see (2008). Three injury-affected seasons out of four later show just how quickly fortunes can change. The young man seemingly born to be a captain, entering his prime, turns 34 this coming season, finishes his contract, and possibly his time with the franchise that developed him.
"Who's next?" was a hot topic a month ago when, in the wake of the Mike Ribeiro and Steve Ott tades, a Brenden Morrow deal seemed like a very real possibility for the first time. He'll stay with the team heading into the 2012-2013 season, but it's a change that will have to be made sooner rather than later.
Steve Ott felt like a possible replacement, often cited by fans and media alike as "the heart and soul" of the team, but he's moved on. Others in the ranks at the the NHL and AHL level seem like possible replacements down the line, but as was the theme of Dallas' free agent plan - "The youth isn't quite ready yet". So is a stop gap needed here as well?
It appears to be a moot discussion heading into next season, as Morrow will return to the lineup, but what better time to ruminate on such a topic than July 25th?
Discussion continued after the jump...
Does stability and careful transitioning of this leadership position even matter?
In the last 26 years the Detroit Red Wings have had exactly two captains. The Islanders, in the same time span, have seen 14 different captaincy stints, including three "no captain" years. Applying public perception of the two franchises in that time period to those facts may be intellectually hollow, but there's something to be said for having talented individuals with character to steward a franchise and provide continuity.
The Dallas Stars have not had an inordinate number of captains in their existence (compare to the number the TB Lightning boast in a similar time frame for reference).
Mark Tinordi, Neal Broten and Derian Hatcher were all named captains of the Dallas Stars in the calendar year that was 1995, oddly enough. Since then only three men - Hatcher, Modano and Morrow, have led this team.
Discussions of this issue in the National Hockey League generally follow talent first and personality second, however right or wrong that thinking process is. Many will then look to the "core" of the roster as identified by Tom Gaglardi, Jim Lites, Joe Nieuwendyk and company - Kari Lehtonen, Alex Goligoski, Loui Eriksson, Trevor Daley and Jamie Benn.
Kari Lehtonen - Giving a 'C' to a goaltender is not unprecedented, but it's seemingly unadvisable. Goaltenders tend to be on a little bit of an island sometimes, and Kari is no exception. He has a job to do, he'd focused on it, and he's quiet in the locker room from what we can tell.
Alex Goligoski - A key leader (to my eyes anyway) for team USA at the World Championships in May. He's 'A' material for sure. Is he 'face-of-the-franchise-captain' material? That's another story. He is representing the team's interests in the CBA negotiation with the NHLPA, and he's still fairly young. Development is on-going, but we're inclined to think that Joe Nieuwendyk has something else planned.
Loui Eriksson - We're getting closer now, as he's possibly the best all-around player on the team. He's been around for a while, and he'll be around for even longer in the future. For all the comparisons to Jere Lehtinen he's received over the years, this context might provide the most apt one of all. Hard workers. Goal scorers. Kings of the little things. Assistant captains - Sure. Captains? I personally think Loui would sheepishly turn it down if offered, then go run 50 laps around the bowels of the AAC and score a couple of goal in his next outing.
Trevor Daley - If you think I'm crazy for even suggesting it, you haven't been keeping up. Daley has grown into a leader on this team. He's been around long enough to see some things, and he's vocal enough to take such a job on. His game has really rounded into form the last two years, and his contract tells you he'll be around for a while to come. He's the right age, too. Look no further than his participation in prospect camp a couple of weeks ago. That's very "captainy". So why not him? He'd make a good enough stop-gap captain for this Stars' fan, but he's signed for a long, long time. If their plan is to eventually give it to someone else, they'd have to take it away from Tevor - Something we don't think they want to do again.
Jamie Benn - All that brings us to Jamie Benn, who perhaps isn't quite ready right now. He's the face of the franchise in waiting. He's the heir-apparent. He's the beast waiting to be unleashed, if they've constructed their forward group as well as they think they have. Yet he's so green. His PR skills are coming along. His interviews on FSSW are getting better, but when does he change into the responsible, driven, character guy, from the dude who talks about his "flow", smiles and smiles, and pals around Vancouver with Jordie in the off-season? After Jaromir Jagr is done with him?
That leaves us with "Free Agent Acquisition To Be Named Later", or patience. The Stars could indeed believe (wild speculation on my part) that Benn can be their guy here, but he's not quite there yet.
Which brings us to an idea I cannot claim as my own, though may be the best one I've heard put forth. Mike Heika of the DMN voiced his theory during development camp that the Stars name (next season assuming Morrow is gone) Stephane Robidas as captain. He has a built-in "out" in two seasons. He's an obvious leader on the team. He's someone, therefore, fit to do the job, but that they would not have to dramatically strip of the 'C' when the time DID come to give it to "Free Agent/Trade Acquisition" or Benn.
A captaincy in the NHL can at times be likened to quarterbacking an NFL team, in that there can be disproportinate praise and blame for each when things go well, or as they more often are wont to, don't. Bill Oellermann may not issue his famous "THE CAPTAIN!" when announcing a Brenden Morrow cross-checking penalty, but fans are quick to note the disparity between the act and the responsibility the 'C' on his jersey carries.
The best thing for the Stars where the 'C' is concerned right now would be to have Brenden Morrow attack the position with renewed vigor and determination to end things in Dallas on a high note. A healthy Morrow, slotted perhaps more appropriately in a third line role, with power play time complimenting his minutes, could be a huge boost to this roster un-looked for by many who have all but written him off.
If he has solved his back/neck issues and his able to evolve his game and mentality to fit the Stars direction and changing roster, he can still lead from any role he's given. If he welcomes these changes...If he truly embraces them, and experiences a bit of a renaissance this year, it could be the most captain-like chapter of his tenure here.
The perception of Mike Modano was that he could only lead on the ice. Brenden Morrow can do more. If he shows it this year then perhaps Joe Nieuwendyk won't need to find a new captain as soon as everyone thinks, and this issue will get more time to solve itself as things develop.