Dixon blog on captains: Leaders of men

September 9, 2011, 10:15 PM

BY RYAN DIXON

SPORTSNET STAFF

Ex-NHLer Marty McSorley opens up on what should go into the decison to name a team captain.

By all accounts, the St. Louis Blues made a fine choice on Friday when they tabbed David Backes to take the team captaincy that’s been vacant since Eric Brewer was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning in February.

Marty McSorley, however, recalls a much more dubious letter assignment.

When the former NHLer and Hockeycentral analyst was sent to the L.A. Kings from Edmonton with Wayne Gretzky in 1988, Dave Taylor was wearing the ‘C’ for Tinseltown’s team and he retained that status, while ‘The Great One’ wore an ‘A’.

The other assistant designation floated around the team, according to McSorley, on less-than-credible reasoning from coach Robbie Ftorek.

“He put velcro on everybody’s shoulder and he was rotating the ‘A’ around like it was flavour of the month,” McSorley recalled. “That was like he was treating us like kids. We know who our leaders are; don’t reward somebody because they went and got you coffee.”

In case you missed the King-sized point, McSorley believes the decision to stitch a letter on somebody’s jersey requires a lot more consideration than who’s sitting closest to trainer’s needle and thread. Even the issue of who decides on the leaders is a critical one; will it come from above or will the players vote amongst themselves?

“If a coach picks the captain and the assistants, is he doing it so things he wants repeated in the locker room get repeated?” McSorley said. “The players sniff that out.”

Another misstep teams need to be mindful of is giving a young guy a letter before he’s due. In a lot of instances, especially with the ultra-prepared, well-rounded young athletes coming into the league now, players are ready to assume that leadership role early on. But when clubs stick a letter on a green guy with the hopes it instills something new instead of endorsing an existing trait, it has the potential to ruffle feathers.

“With some of the veterans, that doesn’t necessarily fit very well,” McSorley said.

McSorley noted players need a captain they can trust, a guy they know, when things are rough, has the quiet authority to slip into the coach’s office, close the door behind him and express the players’ point of view.

“A captain who’s basically appointed to be a coach’s repeater or a mimicker doesn’t necessarily have all that in mind,” McSorley said.

Near the end of his career, when he was with the Sharks, McSorley said he came into contact with the kind of bench boss who just seems unwilling to allow players the autonomy he believes they need to occasionally sort issues out amongst themselves.

“When I was in San Jose with Darryl Sutter, he left all the doors open in the coach’s room and locker room so he could hear every word in the locker room,” he said. “You’ve brought leaders into the locker room; let them be leaders. And if you don’t have that leadership in the locker room, you better go get some.”

Bringing it home to Backes, the Blues obviously believe the feisty American has the stones to say what needs to be said, whether that’s to coach Davis Payne on behalf of the players or, just as significantly, to his teammates when Payne throws the ball in his court.

“You’ve got to allow leadership in the locker room, first and foremost,” McSorley said. “There’s times a real good coach will say, ‘You guys have got to figure this out.’ Throw it to them, give them the responsibility; these are good young men. These guys will figure it out and that’s part of the whole growing process.”

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