Edmonton Oilers: Who Should Be The New Captain?


The Edmonton Oilers have been graced with great captains throughout their history. Guys like Lee Fogolin, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Kevin Lowe, Craig MacTavish and Doug Weight have led the copper and blue during some very successful times as well as some trying seasons. Some of these men led with their skill, some with their character, some with both. The common denominator was that they bled Oil drops through and through and had the ability to rally their teammates when the situation called for it. Ryan Smyth, the physical manifestation of “never give up, never surrender” and love for the crest wore the C, if even for one game and always led by example, on and off the ice.

One of the first mistakes Dallas Eakins made was to name Andrew Ference as captain. The former Bruins d man was a new hire and had yet to prove anything to his teammates or the market. We know about his success in Boston and his character but, even though he is an Edmonton native, none of that changed the fact he was the new guy in the room. Giving Andrew the captaincy was another symptom of the long standing illness plaguing this franchise: the culture of entitlement and rewarding people for things they have yet to prove they have earned.

The reasoning behind the decision is not without its merits: Ference had won a Stanley cup fairly recently, he is known for engaging with the community, and he is a veteran voice on a team with a young core. I feel however, these reasons do not outweigh the negatives brought on by the team culture mentioned earlier. What made giving Ference the letter more baffling was the fact Eakins indeed showed he understood that players needed to prove themselves deserving of the responsibility by naming a large number of alternates who would rotate as the season went along.

Be it age or improper use of his abilities by the head coach, Andrew has played poorly on most nights. Being the fittest guy in the locker room or the guy who wakes up the earliest to exercise should not be the mos important factor when deciding who the captain should be. Leading by example does not mean doing the most sit ups or the most bench presses. This is a team sport. Having skill and being able to use it on a consistent basis, leaving it all on the ice, showing your teammates you will not back down no matter the situation, these qualities are what it means to lead by example.

The best thing for the team was to leave it without a captain until someone would rise to the occasion. At the time the names of Sam Gagner and Taylor Hall were being floated around as the strongest candidates. But neither guy was ready for that responsibility and at least one of them might never be.

Since that decision, the Edmoton Oilers have finished 28th overall and the guy who made the call is no longer behind the bench. Andrew Ference, for all intents and purposes has failed to be a leader others can stand by, seemingly creating more divide than consensus between the younger guys and the more seasoned team mates. He is not the most skilled player on the team and he is not the most consistent player either.

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At the end of the day, Andrew Ference did not decide to be the captain, he was given the job. He works hard, engages with the community and I am sure he has tried to inspire his teammates. He just seems to lack the charisma and the consistency and skill other teammates have shown through these difficult times. In fact, being able to bring out these factors when things have gone as bad for the Edmonton Oilers as they have is what makes someone worthy of being named the next captain of the Edmonton Oilers.

Now that we have discussed what makes a good captain, we can go back to the original question and see who in that locker room has what it takes to lead the team moving forward. At this point I believe it is all but certain that whoever the new coach is come opening night next October, he will definitively change the letters in the sweaters.

Right now the Edmonton Oilers’ official leadership is Andrew Ference as captain with Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall serving as alternates. Despite Hall and Ebs leading the team in goals and points, neither of these 3 gentlemen have stepped up in a significant way and their performance has either disappeared for long stretches or has been flat-out awful. The man who gave them the responsibilities is now gone.

Edmonton Oilers Captain: The Candidates

If we use consistency, skill and longevity with the team as the most important factors to consider when selecting the leadership, 3 names come to mind: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Boyd Gordon and Matt Hendricks.

First let’s take a look at the NHL All-Star:

Nuge has played a stronger game this season, winning more battles along the boards and driving the net more often. As of this writing he co-leads the team in goals (12) and points(29). He looks like a silent type who leads by example by giving it his all on the ice, going so far as to dropping the mitts for the first time in his NHL career. He has also been identified as one of the core guys moving forwards and has shown enough to make everyone comfortable with the idea that he will be a top six Oiler for years to come. Nuge is poised and doesn’t fall into despair easily. He also has a pretty good chance at reaching 20 goals for the first time in his career (currently projects to reach 19).

Next up is Boyd Gordon. At the time of his hiring, many were worried he would turn into the next Eric Belanger. He has proven that notion wrong beyond any doubt. In his first year as an Oiler, he matched his career high in goals (8) and had 21 points. He would have had more but was shut down for stretches due to injury. Not bad for a guy getting the lion’s share of defensive zone starts. Like Nuge, he plays to the best of his abilities on most nights and rarely takes a shift, let alone a night, off. He quietly goes about his business and doesn’t throw the towel even if the team is being blown out. Gordon also happens to be the only player from the Edmonton Oilers  in the top 20 of any statistical category league wide with a 56% winning percentage on the face off circle.

Finally we have Mr. Matt Hendricks. Acquired in a trade from Nashville (those former predators seem to be finding their way here in the YEG) last season, he’s been stellar as Gordon’s wingman on the best defensive/4th line the Oilers have seen in forever. Hendricks hits, stands up for his teammates, scores, kills penalties. He is also second in FO% behind Boyd Gordon in the team. Despite being part of that heavily defensive zone oriented unit, the guy is enjoying his most prolific season points-wise in the last five years, only 3 goals away from matching his career best. Like the other two candidates, Hendricks brings his A game night in and night out and has proven himself in this market and in this locker room.

Nuge is signed for a while, Gordon will be a free agent at the end of next season and Hendricks has two more years. Gordon  is still young enough and effective enough that the Edmonton Oilers should really consider offering him an extension. If he does fit into future plans, I would personally go with Hendricks and Gordon as alternates and Nugent-Hopkins as captain.

The Nuge has the draft pedigree, skill set and that “leave it all on the ice” attitude. Gordon and Hendricks are just as impressive, if not more on the latter, but lack on the skill department.

I know there are many in Oil Country who see Taylor Hall as the second coming of Mark Messier, but this an unfair burden to saddle Hall with. He is not The Moose, and he will never be The Moose. He is Taylor Hall, with his own advantages and limitations. He has disappeared when the team has needed leadership the most, he makes selfish plays and throws tantrums on the ice showing his immaturity. Hall is only 23, so there is plenty of time for him to become an outstanding leader. He’s just not there yet and right now there are others more deserving of the honor and more capable of shouldering the responsibility. Besides, a good leader doesn’t need a letter on his sweater.

As for Jordan Eberle, he’s never been a guy to rally the troops, he does his thing (and it’s a very good thing) but also tends to disappear when the going gets tough. Again, he’s young but right now he doesn’t deserve the letter either.

True leaders emerge during  trying times.

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