The Thrashers have been captainless since Ilya Kovalchuk was traded to the New Jersey Devils in February. The four assistant captains - Zach Bogosian, Ron Hainsey, Slava Kozlov, and Colby Armstrong - were looked to for leadership on the ice, but this season two of those players are gone. There seems to be room for not only a new captain, but also for some new assistants. The question is, who? Rawhide tackled this earlier today in yet another case of someone scooping me before I got around to writing something, but I'm soldiering on here.
Many fans have the attitude of "it's just a letter." Yes, it's a letter sewn onto a uniform, but many NHL players consider it to be one of the highest honors in the game. It can change your outlook, it can improve your game, or it can be a weight on your shoulders. Roberto Luongo's a good example of a player whose wearing of the "C" changed his game last season, and not for the better. Teams can rally around the captain, or the captain can carry the team. It's a letter, but it's a letter that makes a lot of difference.
It's a careful process choosing the assistants and the captain. Seniority, play on the ice, voice in the locker room, and communication with the refs and media are all factors that play into the decision by the coaching staff and general manager to hand out the letters. Last season Kozlov was chosen for seniority and the fact that he'd been an "A" for quite some time. Armstrong was chosen for his locker room presence. Bogosian was picked for the fact that he's a member of the youth movement and the most prominent member of it. Hainsey's notable for being forthcoming with the media as well as his responsible play on the ice, and responsibility and leadership are what coach Craig Ramsay mentioned he was looking for in his next captain.
He suggested that the Thrashers will start the season off rotating the As to give more than one player a chance to have a stake in the leadership of the team - to reinforce the idea that the team belongs to everyone, as does leadership responsibilities. Do we need someone who will be here long term and add some consistency to the role that it's never seemed to have? It'd be nice, but not necessary.
I don't like to come out and say "this is the guy who needs to be captain," because I'm not a member of the team. I believe that there's a dynamic in the locker room that is extremely important to this decision, and while rumors might leak out or opinions might be formed, I think it's unfair to judge the players without being able to see the most important piece of the puzzle.
So, not taking that into consideration, here are my top candidates based on supposition and assumptions. Take from it what you will:
Ron Hainsey - solid leader on and off the ice; often the voice speaking out in TV and newspaper interviews on the teams' games. Has one more year left on his quite large contract after this season, so he'll be here for a while.
Nik Antropov - wore the A closer towards the end of the year when players were scratched/hurt. A big body on the ice, and the team's top remaining scorer, the first line center led by example
Bryan Little - still young and has a lot of pressure on him for this year to be a rebound one. He's not a candidate for the C, but possibly an A might work its way onto his uniform. Wore one Tuesday night.
Rich Peverley - great story still with his two solid seasons in Atlanta - always works hard on the ice.
Tobias Enstrom - the franchise record-holder for most assists by a defenseman in a season is a quiet example for what the defensive corps needs to be. Is he too quiet to have a letter? I wonder about his volume when it comes to locker room discussions.
Zach Bogosian - his numbers suffered last season, but not from the A. His injured wrist kept his numbers down, but they should rebound. Still young, but will be with the franchise for a while - he's still a building piece to build on, and to groom.
Jim Slater - the longest tenured Thrasher has often opined about consistency being a problem with this team. He, Boulton, and Thorburn are the closest that the team has to consistency right now. I'm not advocating Slater for the captaincy, but he works hard every night, every shift. Last season was a marked improvement for the center, and you can't argue with the fact that he leads by example.
Any other suggestions? Want to advocate for an individual player? Comments, por favor.