The Montreal Canadiens organization, as every hockey fan knows, is the most decorated in the history of the NHL. With over 100 years of tradition that has seen them hoist the Stanley Cup on 24 different occasions the Habs are a proud team that has seen some of the game's greatest legends grace their roster.
Many of those all-time greats wore the 'C' for the Habs, leading the Canadiens to Stanley Cup glory in decades gone by. Greats like Newsy Lalonde, Toe Blake, Maurice Richard, Jean Beliveau and Bob Gainey have all helmed the mighty Canadiens. Hockey Hall of Famers, every one of them, who lived up to the proud tradition of those who went before them.
In recent years the Habs haven't had the success they once enjoyed as an organization, but great players like Guy Carbonneau, Vincent Damphousse and most recently Saku Koivu acquitted themselves well in the role, handling the immense pressure and scrutiny in the hockey-mad city of Montreal with aplomb, while still managing to deliver on the ice on a nightly basis.
However, with the off-season departure of long-time captain Saku Koivu, who has now gone to the San Jose Sharks the Habs are left with a vacancy for the post of team captain. Even worse, it is a challenge to name a player who could be considered a strong candidate for the role.
A big part of the problem is the huge turnover in the roster of the Canadiens. This is a totally different team than the one that was ushered out of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs by the Boston Bruins last spring. Stars like Koivu, Mike Komisarek, Alexei Kovalev, Christopher Higgins, Alex Tanguay and Robert Lang are all gone. Some of the players who've taken their place include Mike Cammalleri, Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta, Travis Moen, and Hal Gill. Habs fans are going to have to check their programs very carefully at the Canadiens' home opener to try and pin down who's who out on the ice.
With leaders like Koivu, Kovalev and Komisarek out of the mix there is a definite dearth of Habs remaining from last year's team that would be a good fit as team captain. Andrei Markov would be the first name that leaps to mind, but newspaper reports state that the quiet Russian star was indeed offered the post, but has declined to take the team up on their offer.
Scott Gomez's name has been bandied about in musings as well. He will be the Habs' highest paid player, and has a ton of experience as a member of two Stanley Cup winning teams in New Jersey. However, expectations are going to be sky high this season for Gomez to produce offensively. Add to that the enormous pressure of being a captain in Montreal, and the fact that he has yet to play a game in a Habs uniform and it seems like a pretty unfair burden to put on him no matter how much money he will be making.
It is indeed a conundrum with no clear solution, and is mute evidence that the legendary tradition and leadership of the Canadiens' organization has fallen a long way since the days of Maurice Richard and Jean Beliveau. Hopefully for the sake of the team and for the sport itself Gainey can right the ship in the not-too-distant future.