Eichel is ready to be captain
I get it. Phil Housley wants to spend time with his players on the ice during training camp and preseason before making any decisions about the captaincy. It’s a thought process that makes perfect sense.
But it’s just as well if this is a formality and the new Sabres coach already has designs on bestowing the honor on his franchise center. No breaking news or chatter from little birdies here, just a hypothetical.
Granted, the importance of who the captain is on an NHL team seems to have lessened over the years.
Buffalo’s big brother to the north in Toronto hasn’t had one since trading Dion Phaneuf more than 19 months ago, and it’s recently been announced that they won’t have one this season. Craig Rivet, former Sabres captain who now co-hosts “The Instigators” radio program, said on the air that it’s more important these days to have a core leadership group of a few players.
The circumstances in Buffalo, however, are not typical.
The Sabres went through two years of horror show hockey to align themselves at or near the top of the draft, and Jack Eichel was their big prize. A lot of time, maneuvering and patience were necessary to get him. Plenty has been invested here.
While it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to delay the decision, thus going the same route as the Leafs, it really isn’t a necessity for Housley to wait. Consider all of the flawed takes on assigning an important leadership role to the player your franchise is counting on to become an elite NHL star:
Take 1: Eichel shouldn’t be captain until he gets a contract extension.
This makes sense logically, but let’s have a reality check here. Every sane person in the hockey universe can reasonably conclude that he isn’t going anywhere.
Take 2: Eichel is too young to be captain.
It’s almost never too early in the 21st century NHL. Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, Jonathan Toews, Vinny Lecavalier and Gabriel Landeskog were younger than Eichel is now when they were initiated. The debate in Toronto this summer was whether to hand the ‘C’ to Auston Matthews before this season or wait until next year. Matthews is about a year younger than Eichel.
Take 3: Eichel is immature and not enough of a leader to be captain.
This one is the worst of all. After all of the garbage thrown in Eichel’s direction after he had the audacity to show anger after a losing season, he got rave reviews for his performance at the podium Thursday. If “I’ve proven nothing” isn’t the sign of a leader showing accountability and taking some responsibility, then it’s hard to imagine what is.
Take 4: Let a veteran player be captain until Eichel is ready.
Kind of an offshoot of Take 2, this is a warm and fuzzy approach that doesn’t hold water. How many wins did Buffalo rack up last season with Brian Gionta as captain? And which veteran would get the gig? If it’s Ryan O’Reilly, then you have to strip it from him in a year or two, and that’s a really bad look. Jason Pominville is a nice pickup for Jason Botterill, but he isn’t captain material, as evidenced by his last term with that title in Buffalo.
The bottom line is, there are two desirable options here — either Eichel is announced as the captain for this season, or he gets it later and the spot is left vacant for the time being.
Buffalo’s projected rise to prominence over the next few seasons will only advance as far as Eichel will take them. Naming him captain is not a question of if, but when. It’s his team now, so might as well make it official.