With Andy Greene likely nearing the end of his tenure in New Jersey, whether that occurs before the trade deadline, this summer, or, perhaps, a season or so down the road if management chooses to re-up him short term, one way or another, the Devils will be without a captain sometime in the near future. With Greene advancing in age, speculation about the future of the captaincy has swirled for the past year or so now. So who should the next captain be whenever Greene does move on? I think for many, that answer is beginning to become clear with the developments from the past few months. In short, Nico Hischier, appropriately representing the team at the NHL All-Star Game this weekend, shouldbe the next captain of the New Jersey Devils.
Andy Greene has, unfortunately for him, overseen a rough stretch of Devils history as the captain of this team. Greene was in the conversation for the best skater on the team when the captaincy was conferred upon him back in 2015 (though Mike Cammalleri, Adam Henrique, and Travis Zajac each probably had claims to that as well). He succeeded Bryce Salvador in that role, who had his term was marred by injuries and his decline as a player. Since 2015, the success for this Devils team has obviously been limited. Greene was a stalwart defender and a respected leader in the locker room when he was appointed to the captaincy. His stoic and reserved demeanor has caught some criticism from fans who like more overt fire from their captain, but it's difficult to claim that any captain would lead to appreciably better results. No amount of yelling or shaming was likely to turn these Devils into a powerhouse and I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a more respected member of the Devils' locker room than Greene.
Greene was a player, like Salvador before him, that was entering (or at least nearing) the twilight of his career when he was given the captaincy. He was always destined to be a transitional captain, especially with the rebuild the Devils had ahead of them in 2015. Now, as Greene closes in on the end of his tenure, the Devils have a chance to go in the direction of appointing a captain for the long haul. The team attempted to do this back in 2011 when they handed the "C" to Zach Parise in his final year before unrestricted free agency. It obviously didn't work out that way, as Parise bolted for Minnesota the following summer. Now as the team now truly has a foundation they are building on for the future, the Devils have a new opportunity to appoint a captain who will lead the team through the next decade as one of its undisputable cornerstones. This is something the Devils haven't had since Scott Stevens (and might have had with Patrik Elias if Brent Sutter didn't strip him of the title in 2007 to give it to a guy destined to basically mutiny on the team less than four years later).
With Nico Hischier, the Devils again have that opportunity to appoint a bedrock player for the franchise to the captaincy. Before Taylor Hall's departure, I think Hall might have had the inside track to the title if he re-signed in New Jersey. Now with Hall gone, Hischier has to be the favorite. Hischier is almost certainly the best player on the team right now and he could have that title (or more-or-less share the title) for the next decade or more. Listening to teammates talk about him, he already elicits a type of reverence from his fellow players that makes it seem like he's already on that track to becoming a leader and guy who players look to when things get tough.
There's no reason to overthink things here. I think among the rest of the current roster, Kyle Palmieri is one of the only guys who could have a decent case in his own right, but with Hischier at age 21, signed long term, and already playing at the high level he is, Nico just makes more sense as a candidate. He offers an opportunity for stability in the captaincy not seen since the dynastic years of the early 2000s.
Greene is a player I have tremendous respect for and I think his peak years are highly underappreciated around the league, but I think even if he does stick around this summer on a short deal, the Devils should consider putting the "C" on Nico's chest. As the Devils look to find an identity on their way to hopefully another era of success some time soon, they'd have a hard time finding a better centerpiece than Hischier.