It’s a letter that has no physical weight, but to Roberto Luongo, the “C” that was stitched on his jersey (er, painted on his mask) must’ve felt like the weight of the world on his shoulders.
And in so doing, the Vancouver Canucks’ goaltender and 12th team captain in franchise history ended his two-year reign as the official leader of the club, an era which for himself was filled with as much personal languish playoff performances as there was controversy when he was first named captain on September 30, 2008.
It was a decision that you have no choice but to applaud Luongo for making. For the franchise netminder who has toiled with questions surrounding his ability to lead the club, it takes courage to swallow your pride and admit that it was a mistake. As the first goalie captain since 1947, this not-so-successful era proves that in the modern NHL of media hype and criticism, combined with a rabid fan base, being both a goaltender and team captain is next to impossible. But hey, a pat on the back for Luongo for giving it the ol’ college try.
Moving forward, Luongo will continue to be the focal point for the team, captaincy or no captaincy; he just won’t have to be charged with the duty of being the first one to do post-game interviews, or the man who has to answer to every question, right down to the littlest detail. More importantly, however, it allows the team to officially distribute those tasks to other players on the team. Players like Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler are fully capable of fielding those questions and putting to rest any dilemmas that may come the Canucks way, while allowing Luongo to focus (almost) solely on stopping pucks.
Whether fans have heard it from general manager Mike Gillis or players like Sedin and Kesler and Luongo, the reality is that no matter who has the “C” stitched on their jersey, he will not face the media and fans on his own. All of the names mentioned above have in one form or another discussed that the team has “plenty of leadership in that dressing room” and that “there are a ton of guys capable of leading”.
In other words, it doesn’t take a letter on your chest to be a leader. Leading by example should, by now, come naturally on a team where veteran leadership is abundant and youthful exuberance is aplenty. The end result from here on out will be the same: This Canucks club, which is poised to win a Stanley Cup for the first time in team history, must and will get timely leadership from sources beyond the man who assumes the captaincy.
Therefore it’s easy to make the argument that team captaincy, especially for the Canucks, is overrated. Sure, other NHL teams like the Blackhawks (Toews) and Penguins (Crosby) have their man in the spotlight who leads by example on and off the ice, but they’re buoyed by a supporting cast who are there to nurture them in their captaincy; neither has a problem answering questions as much as a handful of other players on their team.
So whether it’s Henrik, Kesler, or even a darkhorse candidate like Dan Hamhuis, the “C” will be what it is … a letter on the chest, and a burden which will be shared among the rest of the team core.