Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill announced today that the team would go a second consecutive season without naming a captain.
The move comes contrary to rumors that flew all summer about Detroit star Dylan Larkin being named as the successor to Henrik Zetterberg, whose playing career is over due to back issues but will remain under contract with the club for two more seasons. While Larkin may indeed be the Red Wings next captain, that won’t happen this season.
While a new captain will not be named defensive specialist Luke Glendening was added to the rotation of alternate captains (alongside Larkin, Justin Abdelkader, and Frans Nielsen), giving the Red Wings four players wearing the A.
The captaincy is something that is very tradition-heavy in the NHL. Steve Yzerman’s retired jersey banner includes the C in recognition of his tenure as Detroit’s captain. Joe Sakic’s does as well, as the Avalanche have never had an original thought.
It was a big deal when the Vancouver Canucks named goalie Roberto Luongo as their captain in 2008, skirting NHL rules to do so. Similarly, it was something of a shock when, just five years ago, the San Jose Sharks stripped Joe Thornton of their captaincy.
Now, it seems that some of the gravitas behind the captaincy is gone.
Per the NHL rulebook, only players with letters are allowed to talk to the referees. That rule is ignored on a nightly basis. If any player can talk to the refs, there’s no in-game reason to designate one as captain.
The Red Wings showed how unnecessary on-ice captains are during the 2015-16 season. For 34 games that year they dressed two or fewer captains due to injury, opting not to name replacements on a game-by-game basis, knowing there was no need to. A season earlier they did that ten times, while also using four alternate-alternate captains.
Compare the current decade to the 1990s.
From 1990-91 to 1999-2000, there were six instances of a team going an entire season without a captain. Three of those were the first seasons of the expansion Tampa Bay Lightning.
There will be as many cases of teams going captain-less this season, same as last season. There will be 25 instances of teams not naming a captain between 2010-11 and 2019-20. Three of those were the first seasons of the expansion Vegas Golden Knights.
Teams are instead opting to name a “leadership group,” as the Golden Knights called it in 2017 and the Canucks did in 2018 and the Red Wings have seemingly done this year.
It may just be that the captaincy doesn’t carry the importance it used to. If a letter isn’t required on the ice, and if leaders make themselves known in the dressing room regardless of whether or not they’re a captain, then why name one at all?