I realize that ‘revisited’ and ‘again’ are redundant, but I think using both is actually appropriate given the on again off again debate on the Hurricanes captaincy that has spanned a significant period of time now.
Tuesday offered another milepost suggesting that the long offseason was finally coming to a close and that real hockey is on the way soon, really soon.
The team hosted the media for its annual preseason media day. I have good intentions of trying to attend a few more of the formal media events, but pretty unanimously immovable schedule conflicts seem to always arise and serve as a stark reminder that I do what I do covering Carolina Hurricanes hockey as a moonlighter. In my case ‘moonlighter’ has a very literal meaning in that most of the free time that I can devote to Canes and Coffee comes after the rest of life settles down at 10:30 or 11pm at night. I will be petitioning the Hurricanes media relations department for regular player and media availability via phone or Skype at 11pm once or twice per week during the season. 🙂
But the positive about the big formal events is that they tend to pull local hockey and non-hockey sports media alike, so unlike some areas of Hurricanes hockey that lack for coverage, these events are well-attended and covered by multiple outlets. If you have not already done so, I highly recommend a stop at the team website where you can find a large menu of individual player and coach interviews and also a stop at the News & Observer (link below) to catch up on the day’s festivities.
Bill Peters drops the ‘C’ bomb
I will offer broader thoughts on some of the publicly available interviews within the next few days, but will hone in on one specific comment that Coach Bill Peters made today.
Per an article with video at the News & Observer, Coach Bill Peters stated unequivocally that the team will have a captain which is a significant change from where he was when we last checked in at the 2016-17 end of season media gathering in April.
My thoughts on the situation
On July 10, shortly after Justin Williams was signed, I offered fairly in-depth thoughts on Justin Williams arrival and the Hurricanes’ captain situation.
At a basic level, I stand by what I said nearly two months ago. For those who do not care to read another article, the short version is that I could easily see Justin Williams actually wearing the ‘C’ or providing veteran support for a new captain somewhat similar to the role that Ray Whitney played when Eric Staal was named captain many years ago. I also said that my wild guess was that Williams is named the captain. The situation is complex, but my thinking is that if Peters and the Hurricanes brain trust thought that either Jordan Staal or Jeff Skinner was right and ready (and significantly those are two different things) for the job, they would either have it already or at a bare minimum, there would be more inclination that the team was moving in that direction.
Parsing Peters’ comments on Tuesday and the broader situation
Peters seemed pretty definitive which I think is significant in two regards.
First, he more or less assured something would happen. There was no hedging with ‘hope to’, ‘could’, ‘would like to’ or anything else that leaves much gray area or wiggle room. A move now seems imminent.
Second and maybe more significantly, the comment is a pretty radical departure from where he was at the end of the 2016-17 season. At a similar end of year media gathering in April, Peters was very non-commital on the captaincy. He did not even seem to be at a ‘probably’, ‘would like to’ or similar level.
Peters has had time to more fully digest the 2016-17 season, the team’s situation and what lies in front of him. Certainly it is possible that time to think things over in more detail is what yielded a definitive change in plan. But the other thing that happened right in the middle of that time period was the addition of a veteran player who is very much cut out of leadership cloth.
Without the ability to read Peters’ mind one cannot know for certain what yielded the change, but my best guess is that the biggest change in the situation (the addition of Justin Williams) is the most likely explanation for the big change in Peters’ plan.
How could be significantly important than who
While I do think Justin Williams is the right choice for a short-term stint as captain, I do not think it is the only viable path nor do I think the other options are necessarily bad ones.
But naming a newcomer as the captain when other players have theoretically been building toward this role for awhile now can be a sensitive situation. As with any sensitive personnel decision, communication, as much transparency as possible and fairness are critical.
Because of Williams’ resume that includes three Stanley Cup victories, ties and visibility to the brass in Raleigh from his previous Cup-winning stint with the Hurricanes and exposure to multiple winning teams, I think it is possible to name Williams the captain without slighting the other candidates.
As a 35-year old on a two-year contract, Williams being named the captain would not necessarily shut the door on Jeff Skinner or Jordan Staal. It would be very reasonable to tell Williams up front that the goal is for him to carry the torch for something between one and two years with the ultimately goal of helping train a successor. That path prearranges a transition point for Williams such that the move is not awkward. It also makes clear that part of his role is to help groom the next captain. And such a move also makes Williams captaincy part of a more gradual progression for Skinner and Staal and not a final endpoint and failure.
Jordan Staal or Jeff Skinner
As I said in my previous article, I could also see either Staal or Skinner named captain with Justin Williams brought aboard partially (he’s a good hockey player too!) to provide veteran support for a fairly young player taking on a new role as captain.
The tricky part of this is not Williams who lands in a secondary role but rather addressing whichever of Skinner or Staal is not named captain.
A bridge to someone else
Justin Faulk would be a bit of a dark horse but as a long-time ‘A’ would represent a choice from the pool. Anyone else would be a shocker. But another interesting possibility is that the Hurricanes brass just does not see Skinner or Staal either as the right person or maybe just not ready yet. In such a scenario, Williams is a perfect option to build a 1-2-year bridge that allows time for the next generation of players to grow and possible seize leadership roles.
Not at all a fan of the ‘earn it in training camp’ approach
Over the course of a longer period of time, I think merit is a fine way to decide a captain. If the decision was to be between Jordan Staal, Jeff Skinner and possibly Justin Faulk, there is enough run time for each to be fairly evaluated by Peters and the staff. There is always the potential for ruffled feathers with these decisions, but in a case where the brass assessed the players and made a decision, mature players should be able to quickly move forward.
But in the Hurricanes’ current situation, I think a training camp try out approach to making a decision is potentially fraught with peril.
In two weeks of practice and mere exhibition play, is Justin Williams really going to surpass what Jordan Staal and Jeff Skinner have done over multiple seasons in a Hurricanes uniform?
Or if he did win the captaincy, would it look like it was pre-decided in which case the try out was just a charade?
And in terms of uniting the group and the leaders to attack the 2017-18 season as a group, does a training camp captaincy competition have the potential to pit the leaders against each other a bit?
At a basic level, if Justin Williams is going to clearly assert himself as the captain, I think it would take longer than a few weeks of preseason to do so without needing to tread on Skinner and Staal in the process. I also think that that the decision is smoother if Williams is just the guy from the beginning without him needing to defeat Staal and Skinner in a competition.
What say you Caniacs?
In addition to the two polls, please chime in on the Hurricanes captaincy situation in the comments in whatever direction you wish to go.
Who will be the Hurricanes next captain?
- Justin Williams (53%, 91 Votes)
- Jeff Skinner (25%, 43 Votes)
- Jordan Staal (11%, 18 Votes)
- Other (add in comments) (8%, 14 Votes)
- Justin Faulk (3%, 5 Votes)
Total Voters: 171