The question for Dallas Stars' fans since the departure of former captain Brenden Morrow has been "Is Jamie Benn ready now?"
A popular idea had been to give out three 'A's' this year and get another season's worth of information before naming another captain. Nevertheless, the Stars made it known that they would name a captain at the conclusion of the preseason.
Was it time simply because there is a vacancy, or did they believe him truly ready?
"I hadn't even put the lineup together for game two," Stars head coach Lindy Ruff told The Ticket yesterday, "but Jamie hadn't liked his game [one] and had gone to one of the coaches and asked 'Does the coach have me in for next game?' and the coach asked why. And he said 'Well I want to play, I didn't like the way I played' and for that me that was just another sign that this kid is ready."
And like that the conclusion of camp/preseason simply wouldn't do. "I didn't want to wait until the end of camp," Ruff said. "Let's get him comfortable with the role right now."
So he assumed the responsibilities forthwith Thursday afternoon.
What is an NHL captain, technically, anyway?
6.1 Captain - One Captain shall be appointed by each team, and he alone shall have the privilege of discussing with the Referee any questions relating to interpretation of rules which may arise during the progress of a game. He shall wear the letter "C," approximately three inches (3'') in height and in contrasting color, in a conspicuous position on the front of his sweater. No co-Captains are permitted. Either one Captain and no more than two Alternate Captains, or no Captain an no more than three Alternate Captains are permitted (see 6.2).
Only the Captain, when invited to do so by the Referee, shall have the privilege of discussing any point relating to the interpretation of rules. Any Captain, Alternate Captain or any player who comes off the bench and makes any protest or intervention with the officials for any purpose shall be assessed a minor penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct under Rule 40 - Abuse of Officials. Should this protest continue, he may be assessed a misconduct penalty, and if it further continues, a game misconduct penalty shall be warranted. [NHL Rule Book]
That's a little dry, but they're not going to stipulate leadership or define a hundred years of tradition on paper.
To most an NHL captaincy means having the unquestioned respect of teammates. It means leading by example. It means showing up early and staying late. It means making the right choices away from the rink. It means being the hardest worker in practice and in the weight room.
To younger captains in can sometimes be as much of a challenge as it is a reward and a sign of trust. Is that a component of this decision? Jamie Benn has shown flashes of having "super star" type potential, and cruel though it may be, the organization needs even more from him moving forward if it is to take the next step. The 'C' on his chest could push him just that little bit harder.
"When things aren't going so well, I want to change momentum," Benn gave as an example. "If that means a fight or a goal, I'm willing to do that. Whatever it takes, I want to help our team win games."
The knock on Benn for years has been that he's shy, introverted and bereft of personality when an electronic device is switched to the on position in the same room, but that's changing quickly. The jersey unveiling in June was evidence of that.
That off-ice component has fueled the loudest opposition to the idea of a Benn captaincy in recent years, and it's been a valid concern. For every drill he repeats in practice and for every beer he doesn't drink on a Tuesday night comes the other side of the coin: Public relations, and it's not an unimportant component here. Benn will have to answer more questions moving forward and be held more accountable, but the Stars believe he is ready.
Winning, and winning alone, will sell tickets and create fans in Dallas, but the personalities that go along side help endear the game and the team long term. Asking for another Mike Modano is a bridge too far, perhaps, and Brenden Morrow is a tough act to follow, but in Benn the Stars have their best player front and center once again.
Morrow's candle burned faster than most fans would have liked, but his departure prior to this franchise's line of demarcation that is the summer of 2013 becomes another seamless part of the narrative: The arrival of Jim Nill, Lindy Ruff and Tyler Seguin, the lockout, the realignment, the re-branding of the team - And now the naming of Jamie Benn as the franchise's new captain.
He's ready. Now go get those 'C' patches sewed on those sweaters.