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. 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, as this NHL offseason has cratered inevitably into what looks like a long and possibly season-blanking lockout, it feels only natural that we turn our lonely eyes to our leaders. Not, this time, for leadership: there is no hockey team to lead. Now, we wonder what pastimes these captains have found to fill their hours and ours. Part One of this exploration is here.
Nashville Predators: Shea Weber—Weber, a huge man and violent hitter, once shot a puck so hard it tore through the goal netting. This summer, however, he made headlines for signing an offer sheet from the ever-predatory Philadelphia Flyers, before the offer was matched and his services thus retained by the poster child for a mid-tier organization being squeezed into bad decisions by richer franchises. It is unknown if this makes him the first Canadian ever to want to move from Nashville to Philadelphia and be prevented from so doing.
However, there's much more to this man than hockey. He curated a well-received "Roots of Mumblecore" series at this year's Toronto International Film Festival and is active in his charity, London WeberBoys, a scraper bike club in the Ontario city where he summers.
New Jersey Devils: Vacant—New Jersey currently has no captain. What they do have is an infinite loss staring at them through the season-void, because, if time stretches enough, it seems likely that ancient pillars like goalie Martin Brodeur and the incomparable Patrik Elias may call it quits, or, worse, come back at a dramatically lower level than that to which we and they have been accustomed. Both shone and sputtered variously in the team's unexpected run to the Cup finals last season, fueling both partisan hope for another sterling turn in the saddle and nervousness about how much might be left in the tank. Brodeur's mid-season conversion to modern-sized pads will probably buy him at least another year; here's hoping Elias has some similar mojo at his disposal: the league's a fairer place when he's there.
New York Islanders: Mark Streit—Smooth offensive-minded defenseman Mark Streit presided over one of the most thrilling underdog runs in recent memory when he commandeered the Swiss national team to a win over Canada in the 2006 Winter Olympics. The Swiss team didn't medal, but wins over the Czech Republic and Canada will mean a lot to Swiss hockey fans for a long, long time.
Unfortunately, the Islanders seem even more overmatched against NHL-type competition than the Swiss once did against Olympic-caliber teams, meaning any wins they eke out are savory and redolent of virtue. Streit sandwiched seasons where he played every available game around one where he missed every game with a shoulder injury. Whatever he's up to, he's applying high levels of skill and nearly infinite devotion, for the craft is ever its own reward when you're on some Seven Samurai shit like he is.
New York Rangers: Ryan Callahan—Oddly, and, for Ranger fans, perhaps ominously, the famously blue-collar shot-blocking grinder Ryan Callahan has spent his summer with exiled and retired Sean Avery, learning about Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young, and fashion.
"Wait, Sean," Ryan asks, "is this...denim over denim? Isn't that a little—"
"It's chambray, moron," he's told.
"Oh. Should we talk about seersucker at some point?" A slap rings out and the handprint on Callahan's cheek matched the passionate flush on both of Avery's.
"Seersucker is not a fabric for fall, Ryan."
Ottawa Senators: Daniel Alfredsson—Is coming back, if indeed there will ever again be ice to come back to, and there is literally nothing wrong with that. We're all fitter, happier, healthier spectacle-enthusiasts when aging second-tier talents with first-rank values stick around for a little longer.
Phoenix Coyotes: Shane Doan—The Coyotes may be neither the Coyotes nor associated with Phoenix any minute now, but since Gary Bettman has apparently been named the NHL's snide, sneering prickly smirk-in-charge for life, they probably won't contract, and Doan did just re-up in the desert, so let's just go with it.
Anyhow, he's spending his summer the way he spends every summer: working as a Men's Rights Advocate in underprivileged communities. His charity Caps for the Cut has bought and delivered over 1,000 fedoras to the tragic wounded veterans of the War on Masculinity, those children whose foreskins were from their tiny penises untimely plucked. Also he's got a ranch in Alberta or something.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Sidney Crosby—Unknown, but he's probably doing it really, really well.
Okay, okay, he's--as always--working out six hours a day, so when he comes back, he'll still be something on the order of half again as good as everybody else.
St. Louis Blues: David Backes—Finally getting around to Koyaanisqatsi, after his college girlfriend's mom put the soundtrack on his iPod back in Mankato. Usually he just skips it whenever it comes on, but some end-summer nights lately everything's quiet and he puts it on loud, thinking of whiskey hours in the Ostrander tower with Karen.
He finds the movie a downer, honestly, and frowns at his dying cigar. He should call somebody. He doesn't want to call anybody. He doesn't want to call Karen. He wants to think about the time he drove over, then threw up on her lawn and her mom came out, gave him a towel, held on to his keys for a couple days. How nice she was at the food court, giving him his keys back, saying how sorry she was about Toews, asking about his dog. He doesn't want to call anybody. He doesn't want to watch Koyaanisqatsi again. He wonders if she ever gave his letter to Karen. He wonders why he doesn't hate Toews anymore. His phone's in his hand, somehow. He puts it down and hits PLAY again, thinking about relighting his cigar.
San Jose Sharks: Joe Thornton—Joetho Rnton, Scimitar of the Southern Wastes, Vast Lord of the Gatlalian Smatet, and Crude Owner of the Turkey-Leg Ride, has of late grown weary of the "pusillanimous larvae infesting" his ancestral demesnes. Wiping his brow free of the honest sweat born of bestriding our narrow earth like a colossus, Rnton cedes his place to what peers and vassals may overrun the fruited plains by right his own and simply strides away. His gait is powerful, even deliberate, and betrays not a single hesitation. And yet, and yet...surely he could walk faster, if he wanted to.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Vincent Lecavalier—His smooth palm rests cool on your flushed throat, and he murmurs "Please do come inside." You pause, drenched in his curls, falling into the thrum of your own pulse restrained delicately under his scorer's hands. The castle looms above you. Its shadows creep forward and engulf you, and as everything falls into darkness you see that Lecavalier and the castle are one, one bloodslick maw swallowing you, body and soul, and you know that the last thing you will ever know is...
Toronto Maple Leafs: Dion Phaneuf—Just got home and grimly, silently ate from a variety of cheap cheeses before discovering a disturbingly pale hair in one wedge. He's still standing in his dark kitchen, the heat-softening dairy lump in his hand, his mammoth-club of a jaw working, working.
Washington Capitals: Alexander Ovechkin—Shaved his head and noted that he was ready to go to war for the NHLPA. And isn't at all terrifying now that he's giving off a powerful vibe of Pvt. Pyle, entering a World Of Shit at the hands of chiselling owners with exactly no-one's best interests at heart, preventing him from surging forth into the 'Nam-like season, and keeping us from thrilling to his sniping and the inestimably violent way he clears out room for himself on the ice, like a squad going room-to-room through the ruins of Saigon. Because hockey is like war.
Winnipeg Jets: Andrew Ladd—As he has done everywhere he has played, Ladd has thrown himself body and soul into the local scene of his new city. He's booked house and club shows for traveling bands, tabled at countless events for his books-for-prisoners charity, Ladd's Mags, and founded a cooperatively run non-profit coffee/record/book shop/show space called Daydream Nation. So far, of his teammates, only goalie Ondrej Pavelec has answered any of his texts and allowed Ladd to stick-and-poke an I Spy lyric onto his hand.
In his spare time, Ladd is said to be "getting really into vegan baking."