Unfortunately for the Flyers, Pronger’s retirement, or at least his final game in the NHL, may have come earlier than expected.
Pronger suffered a series of injuries that eventually cost him the remainder of the 2011-12 season and could keep him off the ice for good (source: SB Nation). His presumed absence has not only left a gaping hole on the Flyers’ blue line, but it also leaves the team’s leadership structure missing the top of its pyramid.
It appears that the team needs a new permanent captain to succeed Pronger, and the team has no shortage of candidates.
Kimmo Timonen, Daniel Brière and Claude Giroux all currently wear the “A” on their jerseys, signifying their roles as alternate captains. Timonen and Brière have served as captains for prior franchises, and Max Talbot also occasionally wears the “A.”
All four, as well as recently-extended winger Scott Hartnell, seem to fill natural leadership roles, but would any of them make an ideal choice as “captain” in 2012-13?
For all of Hartnell’s endearing qualities, including his personality and his willingness to stand up for teammates, it seems unlikely he would be the team’s captain. Hartnell’s role is well-defined, as is Talbot’s, and there seems to be no reason to attempt to alter either one’s role to put the “C” on someone’s jersey.
The three official alternate captains appear to be natural successors if the team insists upon naming a captain before the regular season starts.
Timonen is the oldest of the group at 37 and appears to be the most experienced leader of the trio. In times when Pronger had been injured, Timonen became the natural leader of the defensive corps, if not the entire team.
It appeared, in this writer’s opinion, that Timonen unofficially overtook the role of captain after Pronger’s season-ending injury last year. Nashville’s former captain has all the tools to be captain, but longevity becomes an issue.
Timonen’s contract is set to expire at the end of 2012-13, and last season the defenseman began to show his age as the season wore on. Injuries have been a concern for Timonen and his play, while reliable, has not been impactful enough to blatantly warrant an extension. It is very possible that this is Timonen’s last year in a Flyers’ uniform, because the $6.3 million cap hit the team is using on him this season could be better spent.
Of course, Timonen could be re-signed at a much cheaper price, but the uncertainty would seem to dictate that he not have the “C” stitched onto his sweater.
Brière’s situation is similar to Timonen’s. Both have played for the Flyers since 2007 and are among the longest-tenured players on the team.
Once again, experience and ability would seem to make Brière a qualified candidate to wear the “C,” but as an athlete, Brière has been a disappointment in the regular season too often. He is too small to be a physical leader on the ice, and while his two-way play is not lacking, he doesn’t have the same presence as players like Dustin Brown and Ryan Callahan.
Brière is on the ice to score and if he is not putting the puck in the net, he is not doing his job. Burdening him with the responsibilities of being captain is a bad idea. If his production continues to suffer in 2012-13, he might not be the best example to be a locker room leader.
A player must play his role well to be considered for the captaincy.
Eliminating Brière and Timonen leaves us with Giroux, whose performance in 2011-12 was a statement about Giroux’s future as a leader of the franchise. Perhaps his motivation is best summed up by the opening shift of Game 6 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, when Giroux set the tone and apparently told his teammates to “watch this shift” before the puck dropped (source: The New York Times).
One hit on Sidney Crosby, one goal and 32 seconds later, the Flyers were on their way to eliminating the Pens.
Giroux will need to be extended at some point during the 2013-14 season, but it is impossible to imagine that GM Paul Holmgren would not make that move a priority. Giroux is well on his way to being the face of the franchise, but should he be the captain?
The Flyers should let Giroux mature for another season before anointing him captain.
His headshot on New Jersey’s Dainius Zubrus in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals shows that he still has some growing to do. He is the emotional leader of the team, but he still must learn to keep his emotions in check for the good of the team. The Flyers were forced to face an elimination game without their top scorer because of the hit—and the team lost the game.
There is little doubt that Giroux is on the fast track to becoming a member of the exclusive club of Flyers’ captains, but rushing him there does the team no good.
Instead, the Flyers should play 2012-13 without a captain. Not only would it serve as a tribute to Pronger’s leadership, but it would also endorse the team mentality. Philly played most of 2011-12 without a traditional leadership structure, and instead, the personalities of key players served as a kind of hybrid leadership.
Rather than force someone to conform to the role, leadership by committee is best for the team while its undoubted future captain, Claude Giroux, better learns the role.
The captaincy should not be viewed as a necessity that needs to be determined before the team can move forward. It should be an endorsement of a complete, ideal player when that player comes along, and a role that can symbolically be filled by multiple capable leaders before the right player is ready.