Ever since Brian Gionta signed with the Buffalo Sabres, there has been plenty of speculation on who would be the next captain of the Montreal Canadiens. Would it be Max Pacioretty? Andrei Markov? Tomas Plekanec? Or how about Norris winner and face of the franchise, P.K. Subban?
How about all of the above?
Monday, the team announced that each of those players would act as assistant captain this season, instead of selecting one to wear the 'C' full time. Since NHL rules dictate that only three players can wear an 'A' during a game where there is no captain, the four will be on a rotation.
The captaincy is mostly a symbolic role - the natural leaders and big personalities on the team will fill certain leadership roles in the dressing room anyway. So it's no big deal the team is without a captain this season. In fact, the last time the Canadiens left the captaincy vacant was 2009-10, the first season after Saku Koivu went to Anaheim. That year, the Habs went to the Eastern Conference final, losing to the Philadelphia Flyers in five games.
Deciding to go with four assistants instead of committing to a captain was probably the best move for the Canadiens to make right now. Subban, who you have to think will eventually land the captaincy, is still a polarizing figure coming out of a summer where he landed a $9 million cap hit contract that some fans aren't overly happy about. This year, those people will get used to the idea that Subban is here and he's getting paid.
Until the Canadiens do pick the next captain to represent the team, this conversation will keep coming back to Subban. He's not the captain this year - no one is - but is he going to get it next year?
While the on-ice role of the captain is symbolic, off the ice, he's the face of the team in good times and bad. He'll be the one who has to take questions after a hard loss and he'll be the one most media will request. In many ways, Subban already is the face and the voice of this team.
The reason why you don't give it to elder statesman Markov, leading scorer Pacioretty, or veteran Plekanec now, I think, is to leave it open for Subban in the near future. The former three could assume the role of captain and all the extracurriculars that come with it right now - but perhaps the team doesn't believe Subban is ready to assume the full-time duties of the Montreal captain...yet. Either that, or they didn't want to rub the older, more established team leaders the wrong way.
But make no mistake - the next Canadiens captain is going to be Subban. If he wasn't, someone else would have been named captain today.