With Pavel Datsyuk having departed, the Red Wings are left with an open spot among their contingent of captains. I brought this up on Twitter a month ago and WiiM did a post on it a couple weeks ago. I went back through the team’s recent history to see if anything can be gleaned from it to show us who might be picked.
The 2015-16 season was unique for the Red Wings in that captain Henrik Zetterberg and alternates Datsyuk and Niklas Kronwall were the only players to wear letters for the team all year. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t opportunity – both Datsyuk and Kronwall missed significant time due to injury – it means that there were 34 games where Detroit didn’t even bother sewing an “A” on anyone else’s sweater.
Captains are the only players who can speak to on-ice officials but the Red Wings’ going with fewer than the allowed number of captains shows how unimportant that rule. Of note: Teams may have no more than three lettered players on the roster but there is nothing saying that they have to have that number.
We have to go back to the 2015 season to find replacement captains used by the Red Wings. Despite ten games with only two captains dressed, seven players still managed to wear a letter throughout the year. The injured Johan Franzen wore it for ten games, Jonathan Ericsson and Daniel Cleary each wore it for three, and Darren Helm wore it for one.
If he were healthy, I think Franzen would get the A, but he’ll never play again. Cleary may very well return to the organization and get a letter in Grand Rapids, but I think he can be ruled out in Detroit. That leaves Ericsson and the recently-re-signed Helm.
Going back one more season to 2014 adds no new names to the list, as the now-retired Daniel Alfredsson was the most-frequent extra alternate, wearing an A for 36 games to Franzen’s 31 and Cleary’s 8. Five games were spent with only two captains.
The lockout-shortened 2013 – Zetterberg’s first as captain – featured three games with only two captains but no replacement alternates. It was also the first season since the 2007-08 campaign, when Datsyuk was given an A along with Zetterberg and Kris Draper, that the team had only three captains.
Even with four captains on the books in 2012, Tomas Holmstrom wore the A for eight games. The team dressed three captains for every game.
In the last seven years there have been ten players to wear the C or A with the Red Wings. Two of them – Zetterberg and Kronwall – still do. Only two of the remaining eight are still with the team: Ericsson and Helm.
At three games to one, Ericsson has more experience wearing the letter than Helm. Maybe that gives him an edge.
So can anything be pulled from these numbers? I think the only thing they show is that it’s time for someone new. The old standbys are gone.
While newcomers Frans Nielsen, Thomas Vanek, and Steve Ott have all worn letters elsewhere in their career – Nielsen had an A with the Islanders last season while Vanek and Ott co-captained the Sabres back in the 2013-14 season – the Red Wings haven’t given the alternate captaincy directly to a newcomer since trading for Brendan Shanahan in 1996.
By my count, the Wings haven’t had two defenseman with letters since before the Steve Yzerman era, which would seemingly rule out Ericsson or any of the other blueliners, so long as Kronwall wears the A.
I think – almost from lack of better options – that we’ll see Justin Abdelkader get the A.
Of course, that could change if the mythical “trade for a top defenseman” ever emerges. We’ll see.