Montreal, QUEBEC — Of the 28 players who have captained the Montreal Canadiens since 1909, 13 have led them to a combined 24 Stanley Cup victories, 18 are in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and eight have had their jersey numbers retired by the organization.
This is about legacy.
Saku Koivu set the silver standard to Jean Beliveau’s gold. Both men share the distinct honour of being the longest serving captain in franchise history (10 seasons), and while both inspired people with their generosity, the former will be remembered for his indomitable will, the latter for his greatness.
Greatness on the ice saw Beliveau lead the Canadiens to five Stanley Cups from 1961-1971, grace off of it affirmed his legacy and garnered the admiration and respect of everyone.
“I think of the classiest guy that ever played in the National Hockey League,” said long-time opponent and Chicago Blackhawks legend Bobby Hull in veneration of Beliveau, who passed away on December 2, 2014.
It is in Beliveau’s long shadow that any captain of the Canadiens must operate, and in Koivu’s benevolent spirit they’re expected to conduct themselves. To do those legends justice, one must be prolific in every sense of the word. Only three members of the current edition of the team are likely to fit that description over the course of their respective careers.
“[Carey Price] is the leader,” said candidate Max Pacioretty, when the Canadiens named him one of four alternate captains at their annual golf tournament last September. “He’s the guy on this team.”
The Canadiens wouldn’t be the first team to break NHL rule 6.1 by naming their goaltender captain. If there was ever a candidate worth doing it for, it’s Price.
Price won a World Junior Championship with Team Canada in 2006, took MVP honours from an AHL Calder Cup Championship in 2007, and was named the top goaltender at the 2014 Sochi Olympics after Canada won gold. But his humility and accountability have done as much as his accomplishments to shape his image as the most respected Canadien.
After setting a franchise record in 2014-15 with 43 wins in a single season, Price shifted the credit to his teammates. When Montreal was dismissed from the post-season by the Tampa Bay Lightning, Price took sole responsibility for the loss.
He’s a quiet leader whose words carry great weight, and regardless of whom the Canadiens elect as their next captain he figures to be the central figure in many Stanley Cup Playoff runs to come.
If Price is subdued, his friend Subban is anything but.
But it’s not his agility, power, or his dangles that make him most eligible to wear the captain’s “C”; it’s his ability to come through in the clutch.
For three straight years, Subban has led Montreal in playoff scoring, and in the spring of 2014 he proved he was worth investing eight years and $72-million into - the contract he later signed in August. With the Canadiens an underdog in their 2014 second round series against rival Boston, Subban took control with four goals and three assists, helping Montreal prevail in seven games.
Off the ice, Subban’s maturity is noteworthy. He’s gone from cocky and disrespectful in the eyes of some to a widely respected player, labeled one of the “world’s most thrilling athletes” by the New Yorker and a trailblazer by 60 Minutes Sports.
“I think I’d embrace [being captain],” Subban said before this season. “I think I’ve accomplished a lot in a short time in this league and I’ve earned the respect of my peers and my opponents to command the respect a captain deserves.”
With a 2013 Norris Trophy on his mantle and another nomination for the award in 2015, who would argue the point?
Subban was also a part of two championship teams at the world juniors, and was the seventh defenceman for Canada’s Olympic gold medal win in Sochi, Russia.
If the team won’t break from tradition and award Price the captaincy, Subban is the most worthy candidate.
After Chris Chelios (co-captain with Guy Carbonneau in 1989-90) and Brian Gionta, Pacioretty is in line to become the third American captain in Canadiens history.
The native of New Canaan, Connecticut has carved out an impressive career since being drafted 22nd overall in 2007, though it’s not quite as decorated as those of Price and Subban.
Over the past two seasons, only Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks has recorded more goals at even strength than Pacioretty.
In addition to scoring goals, Pacioretty has developed an exceptional defensive game, finishing tied with Nikita Kucherov of the Lightning for the NHL’s best plus-minus rating this season (+38) and excelling as a penalty killer (finished tied for fifth in shorthanded points).
Fans will admire his perseverance and gentlemanly persona.
“He’s the same breed as Jean,” said Beliveau’s wife Elise to french language broadcaster TVA Sports in March. “When I saw him the morning of [Jean’s] funeral, I said to him, ‘I hope you’ll be the captain. You’re the one for it,’ and he was almost shy about it.
“On Valentine’s Day, when I got to the Bell Centre he offered to usher me to my seat and approached me with a bouquet of magnificent roses. It really touched me.”
That’s quite an endorsement.
Though Pacioretty hasn’t officially lobbied to be captain, he admits it’s a role he’d gladly accept. And his raison d'être goes deeper than wearing a letter.
“I just want to be in absolute pain, be not able to feel my legs, be just so exhausted—and lift the Cup,” Pacioretty told Dave Stubbs of the Montreal Gazette in late March.