Since the New Jersey Devils traded Jamie Langenbrunner to Dallas for a conditional draft pick in January 2011, the team has not named a team captain. There were as many as three players with 'A's on the front of their jerseys, but no one with a with a 'C.' In retrospect, it made sense at the time. The Devils' main goal at the time was trying to play respectable hockey - an official captain wasn't necessary to do just that. Plus, their interim head coach was Jacques Lemaire, who is a believer that a leader doesn't need a 'C' on their jersey to lead. The Devils ended their 2010-11 season out of the playoffs but played far better in 2011 than they did in 2010, so that goal was accomplished.
The situation has completely changed now. A new season will begin in a few months, there's a brand new head coach, and expectations will be set to at least make the postseason. I'd be surprised if the Devils went captain-less for another season, so who should be named the team captain?
Frankly, it's not really up to you and me to make this decision. It's not meant for the team's best player. There are several examples where the captain wasn't the best player on a championship team. For example, Scott Stevens is the gold standard of captaincy, but you could argue he wasn't the best defenseman named Scott on the team in 2002-03, much less the best player on the whole roster. It's also not some gift to entice a certain player to stick around long-term. Otherwise, you'd see a lot more pending free agents wear 'C's on their respective teams. It's more important that whoever it is can command the players' attention and communicate well with a coaching staff. We're not going to see this on the ice. All we can hope that whoever is selected won't be a malcontent and contribute to problems in the locker room and/or friction with management.
That said, while we have no real say in the matter, there's interest in discussing it. I believe there are certainly a few Devils who could be realistically named as captains for the 2011-12 season. Let's go over them after the jump.
The first candidate that comes into many Devils fans' minds for team captain is Zach Parise. You may have heard of him. He's the left wing wearing #9 who piled up tons of points and when he came on the ice, good things kept happening so much time and time again. Parise missed most of last season with a torn meniscus, and that may have contributed to signing a one-year contract with New Jersey as opposed to a long term deal. At least, I hope that's why a one-year contract was offered and signed.
I can understand the risk involved in giving a pending unrestricted free agent the captaincy. Should he want to leave, then you'll not only be without a player but you'll have to find another captain. That can be difficult to replace if he's truly the one player his teammates would want to be the captain. That said, I'd be willing to take that risk - especially if there will truly be mid-season negotiations on a long-term deal. It's more important to pick the one the other players want to be their leader than to choose someone who will be on the team for a considerable amount of time. If that's Parise, then it should be Parise.
If it's not Parise, then it would not surprise me if Patrik Elias is selected. It's easy to forget that Elias was the team's captain once before, wearing the 'C' through the 2006-07 season. He didn't so much lose the 'C' because of anything he did. Head coach Brent Sutter wanted to give it to Jamie Langenbrunner in 2007 and did so once Langenbrunner was healthy. Regardless, Elias has been an alternate for many seasons, so he's been involved in team leadership in the past. On top of that, he is one of the few Devils on the roster who was on past Devils teams that won the Stanley Cup. Those experiences make Elias a viable option to be a team captain.
The same case can be made for Colin White. He's been a Devils defenseman since 2000 and has been an alternate captain for several seasons. The only difference is that Elias was once a captain and White was not. If Peter DeBoer and Devils management feels experience is an essential requirement for position and his teammates would listen to White more than Elias, then I could see him with a 'C' on his jersey. Incidentally, he was offered it once before by Lemaire in place of Langenbrunner sitting a game back in 2009-10; and he refused it out of respect to Langenbrunner. I would think he'd be more willing to take it if it was offered prior to this season.
Ilya Kovalchuk shouldn't be counted out as a candidate either. He was given the captaincy of the Atlanta Thrashers back early in 2009 when the other alternate captains requested Kovalchuk be given the 'C.' It's heartening when multiple players vouch for someone to be named the team's official leader. I haven't followed Atlanta well enough to know whether he was good at it, though. As for his place in New Jersey, he was eventually named an alternate captain in his first full season as a Devil; so it's clear he commands some respect. Plus, he has been an alternate at the international level with Russia in recent World Championship tournaments. Would it be enough to get it? Who knows.
There's an "outside-the-box" answer too: Martin Brodeur. Why not? The elder statesman of the team has always had a voice in the back and being their starting goaltender since 1994 certainly commands respect through the years. If Roberto Luongo can be named captain of the Canucks and serve in that role for two seasons before volunarily giving it up, then why not Brodeur? Well, probably for the same reason he wasn't named captain in recent seasons, really.
Again, I speak only as someone who only sees what they do on the ice and not so much off the ice. So I could be dead wrong and the right choice could be someone completely different by the time the 2011-12 comes around. Still, would you want the Devils to name a captain for the upcoming season? If so, who would you like to see named as the Devils' captain and why? Please leave your answers in the comments; and thanks for reading.