LAVAL, Que. — Debate raged all summer over who would be the next captain of the Montreal Canadiens.
And when the decision was announced Monday it was … nobody.
General manager Marc Bergevin said the team will go with four alternate captains rather than have one player wear the C.
“It’s not the end of the world,” he said. “The way we’re going will be good for our team.”
The four alternates will be defencemen Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban and forwards Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty. Markov and Plekanec already wore the A, and Pacioretty had one briefly last season.
Only three will wear a letter at any time. Veterans Markov and Plekanec are to have it every game, but Subban and Pacioretty will wear an A alternately — Subban in home games and Pacioretty on the road for the first half of the season, and vice versa in the second half of the campaign.
Bergevin and coach Michel Therrien want to ease Subban and Pacioretty, the team’s top younger stars, into leadership roles.
“It’ll be a transition year as far as leadership,” Bergevin said at the club’s annual charity golf tournament. “When Gionta and (Josh) Gorges left, there was a gap and I felt our young players were able to step up. It’s a chance for them to show their leadership. We feel we picked the right guys.”
He said it was important to settle the captaincy situation before the start of training camp to avoid it becoming a distraction, and he is not concerned that, among fans and the media, it may only prolong the speculation for another year.
“Not at all,” said Bergevin. “It’s done. We laid it out. We talked to our players. Everybody’s on board and we’re moving forward.”
If goaltenders were allowed under NHL rules to wear a letter, Carey Price would have one too.Price will sit in when Therrien has meetings with his alternate captains.
“He’s part of that group,” said Therrien. “Carey’s a good leader for us.”
That suits Price.
“The starting goalie is always regarded as a leader on the team,” he said. “It’s part of the position. The guys we have selected as alternate captains are great selections.”
Many fans felt Subban would get the nod as captain after signing an eight-year, US$72-million contract, the richest in team history, but management felt the flamboyant 25-year-old is not quite ready for the job.
The 35-year-old Markov, a Canadien since 2000, would have been a natural choice, although the Russian is not a vocal leader. Same for 31-year-old Plekanec.
“It’s a good decision for everybody,” said Markov. “Now we can focus on hockey.”
Pacioretty said this week he’d love to be captain, but the big winger who led the team with 39 goals is happy to split duties with Subban for now.
“I consider P.K. a very close friend and an unbelievable player, so it’s an honour for me to share a letter with him,” said Pacioretty. “We have so many guys in this room who can step up and be leaders, so this is a good feeling now.”
He said putting off naming a captain until next year won’t be on his mind in this season.
“If you look at it as an audition, you might change your personality or get outside who you are,” he said. “I’ve been advised to keep working on what I do on and off the ice, and stay myself.
“I think the reason I’m in this position is because of how I’ve handled things the past couple of years.”
Subban’s take on the announcement was: “We’re confident that we have many leaders, not just one. I think it’s a step forward for the team. And this way, it’s not a distraction.”
It is not the first time the Canadiens have been without a captain.
A tradition that dated to Jack Laviolette in 1909 was broken in 2009-10 when former coach Jacques Martin did not assign a C after Saku Koivu was not offered a contract and signed with the Anaheim Ducks.
The Canadiens reached the Eastern Conference final with Markov, Gionta and Hal Gill as the three alternates, but Gionta was promoted to captain the following season.
And they are not the only team to go without a captain. The Columbus Blue Jackets haven’t had one since Rick Nash left in 2012. The Ottawa Senators do not currently have a captain and will consider going the same route as Montreal.
Bergevin also put to rest any notion that 42-year-old future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur will sign as a free agent with his hometown team as backup to Price.
Incumbent Peter Budaj and Dustin Tokarski, who was impressive when he got the nod over Budaj when Price was injured during the playoffs, are to battle for the job when camp opens on Thursday.
“I have a lot of respect for Marty. He’s a great person. But at this time we are comfortable with what we have,” said Bergevin.
Team president Geoff Molson hopes to have some kind of celebration for Koivu, who announced his retirement last week. The 38-year-old spent his first 13 NHL seasons in Montreal and remains a popular figure for his play on the ice and his good works off it. Many fans feel the team should retire his No. 11.
“First of all, I want to congratulate Saku for an unbelievable career,” said Molson. “ He was a great Montreal Canadien.
“He was captain of our team for 10 years and he represents more than hockey to us. So, at the right moment, we look forward to hosting Saku in Montreal and giving him a good Montreal show.”