FERRARIO: Leadership Doesn't Need a 'C'

The letter may seem important on paper, but in reality, it's little more than that: a letter on paper.

Alex Ferrario
November 29, 2018 - 10:41 am
t. Louis Blues center Ryan O'Reilly (90) talks with defenseman Alex Pietrangelo.

(Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports)

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The letter “C” is known around professional sports as the sign of a leader, especially in the NHL. When you think of former captains in the NHL you think of guys like Yzerman, Sakic, and (here in St. Louis) Pronger and Hull. For the Blues, this roller coaster ride of a season has sent fans screaming in the direction of Alex Pietrangelo and “the leadership group.” But is it fair to place the blame on the shoulders of three or four guys when a whole team is struggling? 

In my opinion, no. Leadership falls on the shoulders of everyone wearing a sweater — whether that sweater has a "C" on it or not.

Blues GM Doug Armstrong joined me and Amy Marxkors Monday evening on Chili's Week in Hockey to talk about the Blues' first quarter struggles. Many have asked if the leadership needs to change. Doug pointed out that it's not so much one player, but a group of players in the locker room:

“It's up to everyone in that room to find a way to turn things around in the season. Everyone is capable of being a leader. It's just in a different way. I have full faith that Alex and the group of guys can lead everyone through these struggles." 

Even Ryan O'Reilly, who doesn't have a letter, talked about how difficult it is to “lead through adversity like his team is going through right now." He said that rather than be silent, everyone needs to be more vocal or communicate.

Look at teams like Toronto and Las Vegas. The Maple Leafs have three very competent leaders in Matthews, Tavares, and Marner. Still, Mike Babcock decided it made more sense to have a “leadership by committee” group that has led their squad to a top-three spot in the league, despite injuries and subpar goaltending. Then there's Vegas, the expansion team that made it known they wouldn't put a “C” on anyone during season one. Even if the Golden Knights did place a “C” on 40-plus-goalscorer William Karlsson or top defenseman Nate Schmidt, would anyone have argued that Marc-Andre Fleury is not a leader on the team, or even the preeminent leader? 

Then there is San Jose and Los Angeles. The Sharks named Joe Thorton captain in 2010, a role he held until 2014-15. Then head coach Todd McClellan stripped the “C” from Thornton and opted for leadership by committee until the team named Joe Pavelski captain. The Sharks went on to make the playoffs three of the next four years, including a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. 

Dustin Brown captained the Los Angeles Kings for eight seasons and two Stanley Cup championships. Still, his success didn't stop the Kings from handing the C to Anze Kopitar after the team acquired the superstar. Brown remained on the team. The Kings remained a successful franchise. Stripping the C from one player and handing it to another didn't change the play on the ice or the atmosphere in the locker room. 

Finally, look at the Penguins. I think we can all agree that Sidney Crosby is the leader of that team. But a three-year span of concussion problems for Crosby didn't hinder the success of that group. Even though Crosby played only 99 regular season games from 2010 to 2014, the Penguins made the postseason every year behind the leadership of other players on the team like Malkin, Fleury, and Letang (all had an "A") and players without letters, like Staal and Kuntiz.

The letter may seem important on paper, but in reality, it's little more than that: a letter on paper. Ask any player on the Blues roster-- or on any other roster around the league for that matter-- and he will tell you the team is led by multiple guys. The captain may hold a letter, but everyone in that locker room holds the responsibility of competing and putting together a successful season.