Image via Neontommy.com.
Image via Neontommy.com.
Most sports have captains of one kind or another—some of my earliest sports memories are of a P.A. roaring "Number two...The Captain...Alex English!" before the Lego Skyline Nuggets proceeded to spazz around McNichols Arena for a couple hours—but in no sport is the position so revered as in hockey. Weird edifices of ideology are constructed around the captaincy, and questions abound as to whether a European can shoulder the burden (yes), whether a goalie can play the role (according to the rule book, no, but see the 2010-11 Vancouver Canucks), about leaders in the room versus stars on the ice (no correlation yet found). Everybody—every fan, every player, every anonymous squeaker on a message board—has something to say about the captain of his or her team.
And so, since this offseason has cratered inevitably into what looks like a long and possibly season-blanking lockout, it feels natural that we turn our lonely eyes to our leaders. Not, this time, for leadership: there is no hockey team to lead. The question we must ask of our captains, now, is what pastimes they have found to fill their hours and ours.
Anaheim Ducks: Ryan Getzlaf—Abstractedly answering the questions of his life-coach, fidgeting on his couch, telling himself again and again to "say yes to the very next thing anybody asks." If only anybody would.
Buffalo Sabres: Jason Pominville—Takes his leadership role hella seriously, and so has been working endlessly on a frankly inept address in the style of Kurt Vonnegut's "Dammit, babies" piece or David Foster Wallace's "the inner life of the woman next to you in a traffic jam" speech, the premise of which address is a clumsy parallel between life and a not-very-well-understood manual for writing teleplays.
"Life is like a cold open," Pominville's oration begins, "a hook that's intriguing but leaves you lost. Only later do your parents start to give you the exposition you need—but, by then, conflict has been introduced." It continues in this vein for some 2,200 words, and he's still stuck on how to resolve the conflict for the protagonist. Until he has a breakthrough, though, Pominville will practice what he does have in the mirror, again and again, in hope that he'll be ready for those mid-season intermissions when he'll be called upon to inspire and drive.
Calgary Flames: Jarome Iginla—Jarome Iginla, probably his generation's stand-uppest dude, has been systematically let down by his team for so many seasons that his off-time essentially has to be less a respite than a prelude to unexplored depths of horror: a coffee break for Sisyphus, only the coffee is awful and the dude who handed it over was just stirring it with his comb.
By day, Iginla goes about the business of maintaining his middle-thirties body for the rigors of being the league's most reliable power forward. By night, surely, it's endless typing, a grinding process of writing, reflecting, editing, and revision that will one day turn out to be a Saddledome-high stack of pages all reading "ALL WORK AND NO DECENT CENTER PLAY MAKES JAROME A DULLED STAR".
Colorado Avalanche: Gabriel Landeskog—While the Avalanche have only had four captains in franchise history, that's a little like noting that Apple hasn't had that many CEOs. Each institution has had, effectively, one: Joe Sakic/Steve Jobs; some others. Transitional belt-holders like snarling Adam Foote and supremely classy veteran—and likely first-ballot member of The Hall of Nearly Great, NHL Edition—Milan Hejduk have passed into the briny depths of the before-now, and handed the crown to boy wonder Gabriel Landeskog, who displaced some dude named Sidney Crosby as the youngest regular captain in NHL history.
While much has been made over Landeskog's eerie perfection—Katie Baker nails his Swedish flawlessness with her "#SwedeBorg" hashtag—this observer is reasonably certain that nothing good can stay, that the man can't really be the (extremely) caucasoid Jarome Iginla, and that Landeskog's inevitable descent into a violent, drug-drenched haze of lust and nihilism is even now ripping its way out of the pages of Bret Easton Ellis and into the streets of Denver. Someone surely is getting a terrifying earful about Huey Lewis and the News right now.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Vacant—In the aftermath of Rick Nash's escape/banishment, the team has not yet named a captain. Nash, now a Ranger and reasonably certain not to displace Ryan Callahan from his captaincy in New York, still hasn't relocated to NYC. He's haunting Nationwide Arena like the dead 322, down in the murky pit of the courtyard where the fog, in this clammy autumn weather, never lifts, sporting the team's untouchably great third jerseys, drinking Buffalo Trace from a paper bag, grimacing, his face soured by long memory of barren seasons. The arena looms over him, sinister, picturesque, symbolic of a tremendous truth about the meaning of existence, if only he could hold down enough of the sour whiskey to get there.
New York has no idea what they've traded for, ignorant of a reckless, fatal streak in his character, a capacity for pure sudden flashes of rage against the hopelessness of his life. And Columbus knows they've lost a captain and more. It's an open question whether the spurned season will save Nash or doom him utterly.
Dallas Stars: Brenden Morrow—Worries more and more every day that he has somehow failed to put right what once went wrong, and is coming to believe that he will never manage to solve the ineffable riddle of Brenden Morrow, never manage to make that next leap, the leap that might take him...home.
Detroit Red Wings: Vacant—Having lost tiresomely classy generation-defining D-man Nicklas Lidstrom, who never missed the playoffs and won the Norris Trophy for league's best defenseman a third of the years he played professional hockey, the Winged Wheel will no doubt be hard-pressed to replace him with any player of even remotely similar stature and achievement, unless of course they tap Pavel Datsyuk, who is probably occupying himself with whatever the man with the best hands in the NHL does with his time when he's not leading the league in takeaways again or performing essentially impossible feats in vanishingly small slivers of time and space or charming everybody with award-show bummerisms. Hard out here for a Wing, you know?
Edmonton Oilers: Shawn Horcoff—Horcoff has spent his summer teaching himself to play all the bass lines on Tool's first album, and realized last week that it was an incredible mistake to learn how to play all of them sitting down. But, as might be expected from such a competent leader and diligent man, he has rededicated himself to mastering the licks standing up. He should buy a new set of strings, though.
He's really starting to think about answering a Craigslist ad, too: it would be a real kick to play music with some other dudes, probably.
Florida Panthers: Vacant—Not sure what's funnier: the Panthers firing their mascot three whole days into the lockout; that they have no captain at the moment; or that notorious flakeroo and (admittedly gifted) matador impressionist Brian Campbell is probably no worse than even money to fill that position for them.
Campbell has spent his summer, as he generally does, working endlessly on his nollie-backside-noseblunt, nollie-backside-heel-backside-lipslide and listening to "Pennywise, but only the early stuff."
Los Angeles Kings: Dustin Brown—Three things on the agenda for the captain of the defending champs. One: have a good time. All. The. Time. Two: bring the Stanley Cup to your town; help you party down. Three: be absolutely incapable of coming to terms with the fact of owners so violently short-sighted that they'd murder a season right after Los Angeles won a cup—a season, moreover, with better-than-average odds that New York might compete for that prize. Who wants or needs a league whose best teams are homed in the planet's media capitals? Not, apparently, the NHL, whose owners are apparently willing to let this literally unprecedented window close uncapitalized-upon. This odd fact drives Brown on in his grinding frenzy, his John-I'm-only-dancing tight-jaw-stare fixed-eye-grin paroxysms of FUN DAMNIT WE'RE HAVING FUN.
This is, to be fair, as good and sensible a response as any.
Minnesota Wild: Mikko Koivu—"Nothing is true; everything is permitted," has become the family-sized Finn's mantra. He won't tell you he believes, exactly, in magic. He's just seen things, and has come to expect a certain kind of occluded causality from his practices. His eyes have gotten really hard to read, and he says "collapse of meaning" and "carnalvore" at frequent but unpredictable intervals.
The team, however, insists that his workout routines have obliterated every franchise record for squats and notes that he's "sworn a blood, breath, and lust oath" to be the league's top faceoff man in the coming year. So there's that.
Montreal Canadiens: Brian Gionta—Agent Gionta arose from hard-earned slumber and hurled his gaze-darts to every cranny of his plush surround. Finding little in the way of threat, he allowed his spring-steel spine to relax slightly while he unrucked the sheets from his broad hips. These diplomatic missions are generally smotherous affairs, but Brian Gionta is not a man for whom letting the guard down is an easy piece of work, or even something that sounds like reasonable behavior. He'd wisely escorted his brief night companion out upon close of business, so he could sleep unarmed, but, noting the relative lateness of the morning hour, he knew it was time to gird his loins and retake the field of Ambassadorial Corps battle. The thinnest of sighs escaped his moist lips. Formalwear and a fixed-blade knife. Another cold steel summer for Brian Gionta, freelance solution to some of his government's more pressing problems.