To “C” Or Not To “C”?

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There has been a lot of criticism of Craig Rivet’s play over this past season, and let’s be honest: most of it had merit. There has also been some recent unrest in his captaincy and leadership of the team. Should Rivet be the Captain? How has he done so far? And who could take his place? Let’s take a look.

Craig Rivet came to the Sabres in the summer of 2008 after Darcy Regier pulled a “just kidding” on the San Jose Sharks and got a mulligan on the Steve Bernier trade. Almost immediately he was given the captaincy of the team (traded July 4th – Made Captian October 8th) replacing the rotating captaincy system.

Rivet has been the captain for 2 seasons, let’s look at the stats. Rivet posted reasonable enough numbers in 2008-09 with 24 points and a +4 rating. He also added some sandpaper to the lineup. This past season however, he fell off the map with 15 points and a -6 rating.

His overall defensive play was lacking and it looked like he lost a step. At the end of last season Rivet admitted to playing injured for most of the season. He had torn his double labrum and was fighting through the pain for his teammates.

Rivet has been the Captain of what were essentially two playoff teams. Although they missed the postseason in his 1st season as captain, they likely would have made it if not for several key injuries. This past year they won the Northeast Division. Not a bad track record. Let’s also remember that despite his injury he was a +2 with a goal in the playoffs.

It is also important to recognize some of the other contributions Rivet has made to the team. First of all he helped bring Mike Grier back to the team, which has established a group of go to veterans in the locker room. I can’t say anything to Rivet’s leadership style, but if it is anything like his interactions with the media, he is direct and to the point.

This is a good thing in a room that includes personalities like Derek Roy and Drew Stafford. Rivetm along with Grier, have been dealing with the discipline and motivation issues over the last season and it looks like the players are improving.

He also adds toughness to the team. Who defends the Sabres? Paul Gaustad, Steve Montador, Pat Kaleta, Cody McCormick and Craig Rivet. Five guys. I loved the playoff game where it took 3 of the 5 to take down Chara, in fact later in the brawl, two Bruins were holding Rivet back, and he was injured! He scares people and makes them think twice about messing with the Sabres.

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Let’s now look at some of the other captains currently in the NHL. There are a few trends to look at. The “He’s our Offensive Superstar” trend. Perfect examples: Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Rick Nash, Eric Staal and Vincent Lecavalier. This trend has been growing in the past few years. In cases like Crosby or Nash it has worked out and caused the superstar to elevate their play. With others the jury is still out.

Another trend is “This Player is the Face of the Franchise – he Needs a ‘C’”. Players falling into this category are: Zdeno Chara, Roberto Luongo, Dion Phaenuf, Jarome Iginla, Shane Doan, Daniel Alfredsson and Mikko Koivu. This also occasionally works out ala Shane Doan and Iginla. Other times (Luongo) it doesn’t.

There’s the “Young Guy who Stepped up and Earned it” trend. Players like: Mike Richards, Jonathan Toews, Shea Weber, Eric Brewer and Dustin Brown. Frequently this works, although sometimes players like Brewer and Brown get overshadowed by their teammates and lose some pull in the locker room.

Finally there is the “Old-Time Veteran” category. The cagey veteran that was brought in for leadership experience and mental toughness. Rivet is in this group that also includes: Adam Foote, Bryan McCabe, Brendan Morrow, Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Drury and Jamie Langenbrunner. These guys are mostly hits, but when they start to lose it, it’s hard to bench your captain.

If we’ve learned anything from this excursion from my original theme; it’s that there is no formula to a great captain. All of the groups have great captains, all of them have poor captains. But how does this apply to the Sabres?

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The final part of the captain predicament is: who would be a suitable replacement? I will try to go through all the qualified parties. We’ll start with the four current alternate captains in no particular order.

Paul Gaustad: Many people think that he is the logical next step in captaincy. Gaustad is a vocal leader in the community and the locker room. He has a nonstop motor on the ice and defends his teammates, especially Ryan Miller. However, is Gaustad a skilled enough player to make it off the 4th line? Can you really have an effective captain who plays less than 10 minutes per game?

Jason Pominville: A soft-spoken leader who leads by example and plays the game clean. The former Lady Byng nominee has been a leader of the Sabres before during the rotating captaincy. He is also a part of the “Core” that Darcy Regier has put in place and he is well liked by his teammates. But, is he really what the already soft and underachieving Sabres need right now?

Jochen Hecht: A little less quiet that Pominville he too has been a captain for Buffalo before. One of the Sabres’ most clutch performers, he too works hard and leads by example. He is also known to be straightforward and tell it like it is. What is Hecht’s future with the Sabres? Is his token 1 fight per season enough to win over his teammates?

Derek Roy: No. Derek Roy should not even be an assistant captain. I know I had a formula for the last three but I really can’t stand Roy in a leadership position. “Holy Diver” represents everything that is wrong with this team. I don’t mind him being on the team too much. I just need him to stop being any form of a captain until he grows up.

Let’s take a look at some other players that could be worthy of the “C”:

Mike Grier: Grier played really well last year and is clearly one of the better leaders in the locker room. He adds intelligence and grit to the lineup and if you watched him at all in the playoffs you know why people want him to wear a letter next year. Lindy Ruff has said that having Grier on the bench is like “having another assistant coach”. Can you make a player on a 1-year contract your captain?

Steve Montador: A great character guy who the team loves. He adds grit and determination to the lineup. He’ll step up and defend his teammates. Is he really an upgrade from Rivet?

Thomas Vanek: Vanek clearly cares, that much is clear. He’s an offensive talent that hasn’t really taken off yet. Being the captain could motivate him to a new level. For a player that is already choking on a big contract this added pressure could make him worse.

Rob Niedermayer: He’s been around the league and he knows his stuff. He has a great hockey pedigree and is probably one of the most knowledgeable players in the league. Can you really make a new 1-year player your captain?

Jordan Leopold: Has leadership experience. Plays hard at both ends of the ice. Is another “we just got him, now he’s captain” good for this team?

Tim Connolly: Has been referred to as a “good locker room guy”. Could finally realize his potential. Seems to have some good character with the media. Can you have a captain who is always injured? Is a player this streaky really your best option?

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So there you have it. An in depth look at why Craig Rivet should and shouldn’t be the captain of the Buffalo Sabres. I hope you have gleaned some immeasurable truth from all of this, because I sure haven’t. My final thought is this: I like Craig Rivet, I really do. However, if he becomes a liability on the ice he needs to be replaced. Is there a really good option on the team? No, everyone has their flaws.

The situation I would like to see next season is as follows:

Captain: Craig Rivet

Assistant Captains: Jochen Hecht, Mike Grier

If Rivet proves he cannot play then send him to the press box add Montador or Gaustad and roll three assistant captains per game. What would you do?

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