Picking a Captain could be a "Ruff" Choice
There is a lot to be excited about this upcoming season for the Buffalo Sabres. Something that some fans are begging for is for coach Lindy Ruff to name his new captain. We have gone through the whole dance of dealing with Craig Rivet at helm with four rotating assistants, and then just the four assistants trading off night after night.
On the most basic level, it seems as if this team isn't really sure who it's leaders are. We knew that Danny Briere and Chris Drury were the type of players the Sabres wanted leading their squad when they were here (most fans are still sick they lost not one but both of them). Every time #48 in orange put up a point in the first round of the playoffs last year, we were reminded how good we once had it. There was a sense in Buffalo that even if we were down by one with less then two minutes left, we could rely on a big play to be made.
The team turned to their captains to either set the play up, or be the ones to bury the puck at the buzzer. It was as if when they stepped on the ice for that final shift they were saying "chill out guys, we got this.". As a fan, I am dying to have that security back. It is time for Ruff to pick the player he knows can stay cool under pressure and hold their team together when the game is on the line. Right now, its just too easy for Thomas Vanek to turn to Derek Roy on the bench and say, I wore it last night so tonight the pressure's on you to bail us out.
I am in no way am saying that picking this person is an easy task, especially with this roster. If it were just that easy, there would be a "C" on someone's sweater already. Who are your candidates? Ryan Miller's name has been thrown in but making your goalie your captain has never really been a good idea, they've got enough to worry about keeping you in the game and the puck out of the net. I think we all remember how it worked out in Vancouver.
So who can you consider? Off the top of my head I would say Vanek, Roy, Jason Pominville, Paul Gaustad, and maybe Drew Stafford. Now before you jump down my throat about #21, he has shown great strides of maturity as a player on and off the ice. He has responded well whenever he isn't living up to his potential by coming back after being sat and usual has multiple point nights, that shows determination. He also became a game changer after Roy was injured last season.
Stafford really stepped up for his team to start the amazing second half of the season the Sabres had last year, almost as if to say "chill out guys, I got this." I've heard that no one has worked harder then Drew in training camp and in the off season, and after signing a multiple year deal, he's certainly a player who could grow even further into the leadership role.
As all my friends and now people who have never met me know, I am a huge Roy fan. I have his jersey in both home and away, and was more excited then anyone about his career-setting pace last season until he got injured, and he still came back for game 7. Being a kid that, growing up, was always shorter then my friends and teammates, I know what it's like to be the little guy on the ice. Roy is the player i always wished I could be. (Yes, I know Gerbe is 5'5" but i liked Roy before he got here). But is Derek the kind of player and person to lead this team to their first cup? Against my heart I have to say no. He's a great player and great for the Sabres, he's been there. Roy was on the team for both conference finals and the first round elimination against Boston, but his experience doesn't make up for how big his head can get sometimes, and that can hurt his team. Roy, in my opinion makes a great assistant captain, which he already is. So he's a lock to wear an "A."
Thomas Vanek is the same case as Roy. While his hands are soft and he could pick a dime off the crossbar with his wrist shot, he can be a bit of a head-case. I couldn't have been happier with his leadership towards the end of the season, but as a person I just don't believe that someone can flip the switch and go from losing his mind because of one missed opportunity, to being your clutch player down by one. Vanek is my other lock for an "A" though. I cannot ignore how he wants to be a leader and help his team. But salary doesn't equal leadership to me.
I have said for three years now that I would love to see Paul Gaustad with the "C" on his chest. While he does not put up as many points as the others in the running, he is without a doubt the best all around player the Sabres have. He works hard down low, he can put people through the boards if he needs to, he has one of the best face-off percentages in the league every year, and he's not scared to drop the gloves. He's also recognized in the locker room as one of the most positive, outspoken players on the team. Paul was the one three years ago who made the famous (at least in Buffalo) "this stops now" speech in the room to help turn the team around from a downhill slide and try to make a playoff run. I like the goose and if he can put up a few more points, he's got my vote.
#29. Jason Pominville has a reputation for being the iron man of the team. he had never been out for an injury until last year when he was the recipient of a dirty hit. He's a team player who has a rocket of a slap shot. He can make clutch plays under pressure and throw his body around when the games tempo needs to change. Like Roy, he was part of both play off runs. Vanek was, but was sat for many of the clutch games. He's a player that knows how to play hard and protect himself so that he never has to put his team at a disadvantage.
As far as what Ruff might do, your guess is as good as mine. For all I know, Ruff may choose someone who's contributions aren't as visible, but who is a very positive presence on the bench and the locker room. This team needs a player who can lead by example and not as much with his words. While the occasional "fire 'em up" speech is necessary, I much prefer the leader who puts the puck in the net to save the game. But one thing you can hope for is that he does pick one early in the year.
This is a team who has plugged many of their leaks with good talent through trades, but they need structure. We have finally put enough good solid defenseman in front of Miller that he should be able to keep us in even more games, now that he won't have to stop 40 shots a game. As for that new defensive unit, they are still getting used to each other, and they need leadership to help mold them into a cohesive unit.