C What I Did There? (Or, O Captain, My Captain)

There’s been a lot of chatter the last couple days that new Caps Coach Dale Hunter should strip the captaincy from Alex Ovechkin and give it to someone like Our Man Mike.

As arguably Knuble’s most ardent, blindly-devoted fans, we are inclined to think he deserves the “C.” We lobbied for him to get it back in 2010. He’s an experienced veteran, and as fans we’ve had some opportunities to see his leadership in action. These brief glimpses point to the likelihood that he’s an even more active leader in ways fans never see. But that doesn’t mean we think Hunter should take the “C” from Ovi and give it to Knoobs.

It may have been a mistake to give the captaincy to Ovi  expecting it to inspire him to be a better leader of men, but what’s done is done. Do the pros of a new coach stripping a much-loved (if currently frustrating) superstar of the “C” and giving it to a more proven leader outweigh the potential cons?

We may be missing something, but it seems the main argument for transferring the “C” is that Knuble or Laich or someone else deserves it more because they exhibit more locker-room leadership than Ovi. Although we as fans are privy to extremely little locker room leadership, that might be a fair point. But Knuble, Laich and presumably others are exhibiting that leadership without the “C” already. Would giving them the “C” make them more of a leader?

It’s not as if Knuble says, “I guess I can’t/shouldn’t be a leader in this locker room because all I’ve got on my sweater is this measly old ‘A’ patch.” We know that’s not the case. He is known for speaking his mind behind closed doors and to the media. Nor would I expect that other guys in the locker room refuse to listen to Knuble because he wears an “A” patch rather than the “C,” or that they don’t listen to Laich because he doesn’t wear a patch at all.

Giving the “C” to Knuble wouldn’t achieve much aside from a symbolic recognition of his leadership. Giving it to Laich wouldn’t achieve much aside from a symbolic recognition of the role he’s played and is expected to play over the coming years as a strong leader on and off the ice and a well-grounded, consistent player (compared to the flashy and recently inconsistent play from the superstar). The pros feel good, but the cons may outweigh them.

We saw how Ovi responded to being “benched” … immaturely. Do we really believe he’ll respond to being stripped of the “C” by playing harder? Or, will he be annoyed/offended by it and play even lazier? Beyond the psychological effects on Ovi (and no, he shouldn’t react badly to it, but it’s always a risk), what about the image the new coach wants to present to his team? There’s likely enough unease and tension in the locker room after Boudreau’s firing without also asking the players to reconsider whether Ovi deserves the “C.” As something that’s generally regarded as the players recognizing and honoring their teammate, does Coach Hunter really want to come in and give the impression he’s trying to turn them against one another? There are much more productive ways to enact accountability and inspire better performance.

The official role of the captain is to communicate with referees on the ice. Ovi seems to take that role seriously and do a good job of sticking up for his team in dealing with the zebras. Unless he fails at that job, he should keep it. The “C” patch obviously takes on a more symbolic role in terms of representing and recognizing behind-the-scenes leadership, but should it?

Leaders are leaders regardless of the official designations. Giving Ovi the “C” didn’t make him a better leader, and giving it to Knuble won’t make him a better a leader either. The fact of the matter is Knuble represents the symbolic elements of the captain without the patch and acts as a captain of the team without being asked to – which to us is a mark of true leader.


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