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The Captaincy Debate: Why no one should be the next captain of the Vancouver Canucks (yet)

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
8 months ago
We’ve reached the end of our four-part series on The Captaincy Debate, and it’s time to pull the ol’ switcheroo on you.
We like to imagine that you’ve been scratching your head trying to figure out who our fourth candidate was going to be. JT Miller, Elias Pettersson, and Quinn Hughes were all pretty obvious. But who the heck were we saving for slot four? What hot take were we about to drop in our concluding article?
Would it be Tyler Myers? Maybe try the goalie-captain thing again with Thatcher Demko? Maybe we were going to predict an impossibly-large step forward from Vasily Podkolzin?
Instead, the answer is none of the above, and when we say that, we include the trio of Miller, Pettersson, and Hughes.
Because the best person to wear the ‘C’ for the Vancouver Canucks in 2023/24 is…no one.
Not yet, anyway.
The Canucks benefitted from a pretty clean captaincy transition the last time around. Henrik Sedin’s retirement was seen coming for a while. Bo Horvat’s growth as a leader of the team was obvious.
Pretty much everyone knew that, when Henrik stepped down, it would be Horvat stepping up. And, indeed, it didn’t take long. The Canucks took a break for 2018/19 with four alternates and no full-time captain, but that was just a holding pattern. When Horvat got the ‘C’ at the start of the 2019/20 campaign, it was already a foregone conclusion.
Things aren’t so clear-cut this time. Horvat’s departure was not nearly so clean as Henrik’s, both in its suddenness and the “told-for-free” controversy that ensued. Nor did the team spend an abundance of time preparing the next captain for the position, which is why we’re standing here now with three solid candidates but no absolute slam-dunks.
Which, in the end, is okay. After all, what did that nice clean transition into Horvat’s captaincy do for the Canucks, in the end? Not much. Sometimes, easy decisions don’t pay off as much as difficult ones. What the Canucks need to focus on right now is making the right decision with their captaincy, and if that takes all of 2023/24 to do, so be it.
No one really knows how any of Miller, Pettersson, or Hughes are going to adjust to a Horvat-less dressing room and the leadership vacuum that exists in his absence (to say nothing of all the other veterans that have exited in recent years). So, let’s find out. Leadership vacuums are tricky, but they’re also the best possible environment for a new leader to step up into, so let’s see who steps up.
All three are going to face more questions from the media this season with Horvat gone, and that will include specific questions about their leadership capacity. Let’s wait and see who handles the increased spotlight best.
Let’s also wait and see how any added responsibility impacts the on-ice play of each player. Does Miller start to take over games even more now with Horvat out the door? Does Pettersson start to pipe up more on the bench? Does Hughes take an even greater interest in his own end of the ice?
These are questions that will be answered in 2023/24, and they’re important ones when it comes to picking out a singular captain.
If any of these players struggle on the ice next year and the coaching staff believes it correlates to additional leadership pressure, it could be seen as an indication that the rigors of the captaincy are best left to someone else. On the other hand, if someone seems to thrive under such conditions, maybe it’s an indication that the ‘C’ might be what it takes to push them to an even higher level of achievement.
There are also practical, financial considerations that must be taken. Miller is signed until 2030, and Hughes is signed until 2027. But Pettersson is a pending RFA, and the contract he is about to sign might just be one of the more important contracts in Canucks’ history. Until the ink is dry on that deal, no hard and fast decisions should be made about the team’s future, and especially the future of its captaincy. Let’s get the core locked in first, and then worry about who’s wearing the fancy letter on their chest.
There are some who will complain because the Canucks are, ostensibly, trying to make the playoffs this season, and there’s a notion that going into a playoff series without a captain is somehow improper.
For one, that’s silly. Teams have won the Cup without a captain before, and it’ll probably happen again. The Kraken went on a fine run without a captain last year, and it didn’t seem to affect them much.
For two, the Canucks are not going to win the Stanley Cup this year. If the only reason they’re handing out a ‘C’ in 2023/24 is in case they need someone to make a key speech in Game 7 of the Conference Finals, that’s almost certainly the wrongheaded approach.
It’s far more about winning a Stanley Cup eventually, and that requires making the correct choice of captain, not the quick one.
A oft-quoted notion in hockey is that one shouldn’t need a letter on their chest to lead, and that remains true. All three of Miller, Pettersson, and Hughes should be given the opportunity to lead in their own way, without a ‘C’, throughout 2023/24.
The coaching staff and management should use this season, which is already a bit of a transition year, to sit back and assess which of the three does the best job of leading this year regardless of letter.
Chances are pretty good that whoever is the best at leading without the ‘C’ is also the one who’s going to be the best at leading with the ‘C.’
In 2024/25, that is.

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