NEW YORK — With Brian Gionta gone the Montreal Canadiens need a new captain — and there is no shortage of candidates.
A pair of 25-year-old stars, 2013 Norris Trophy-winning defenceman P.K. Subban and U.S. Olympic forward Max Pacioretty, each said they’d love to wear the “C” beginning this season. Veteran defenceman Andrei Markov and veteran centre Tomas Plekanec are also considered among the top possibilities.
Subban, one of the faces of the franchise along with goaltender Carey Price, recently signed a US$72-million, eight-year contract after going to arbitration as a restricted free agent. At the NHL/NHLPA player media tour Tuesday, he made a case for why he should be the captain.
“I think that I’d embrace it,” Subban said.
“Added responsibility to me makes a player better, and 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 that a captain deserves. I really believe that I’ve earned a lot of respect in this league, both on and off the ice.”
In addition to the Norris during the lockout-shortened season, Subban has now played 284 NHL games and won a gold medal at the Sochi Olympics as Team Canada’s eighth defenceman. He added that he sees a captain as someone who’s “able to perform on the ice and bring it for their teammates in … the toughest moments.”
Pacioretty similarly jumped at the notion of succeeding Gionta as captain.
“I think anyone who wants to be a leader on their team would want to be a captain of a team, especially with a franchise with such history like that,” said Pacioretty, who added that he’d be completely on board if the team went in another direction.
During an EA Sports demo event last week in Toronto, the NHL15 video game had the “C” on Pacioretty’s chest.
“I was joking around I think someone at EA Sports deserves a promotion for doing that,” Pacioretty said with a smile. “I didn’t know about that before. But it’s cool.”
Asked at the player media tour in New York who he thought should be captain if it wasn’t him, Pacioretty stumped for Markov, the Russian defenceman who is going into his 14th season in Montreal and is signed for three more years.
“He’s a guy that leads by example, and he’s been around Montreal for a while,” Pacioretty said. “Behind closed doors he’s one of the hardest workers I’ve seen and I think that goes a long way, especially with some of the young guys, as well.”
Gionta had been captain since the start of the 2010-11 season, replacing the longest-serving player in that job, Saku Koivu. Koivu, the captain from 1999 through 2009, announced his retirement Wednesday after an 18-year NHL career.
“I feel I was truly lucky to have a chance to play for the legendary Canadiens for so many years and serve as captain, and share that great honour with many truly legendary captains from before my time,” Koivu said in a statement.
Gionta, who left in free agency to sign a US$12.75-million, three-year contract with the Buffalo Sabres, pointed to Plekanec, fourth-liner Travis Moen and Price as big voices in the locker room.
“Those are the guys that are kind of going to bridge that gap to the younger core that’s coming up now,” Gionta said.
The Habs could feature an entirely new leadership group, as alternate captain Josh Gorges was traded to the Sabres. Markov wore the other “A” last season.
Montreal is one of seven teams without a captain going into training camp, along with the Ottawa Senators, Sabres, New York Rangers, San Jose Sharks, Florida Panthers and Columbus Blue Jackets.
Assuming the Habs go the traditional route, Subban hopes he gets the nod. After signing a face-of-the-franchise contract in early August, the Toronto native said he didn’t want the coaching staff or teammates to view him differently and repeated that this week, captaincy or not.
“I want people to see me as a player that competes hard, is respectful, that’s trustworthy and that’s a leader,” Subban said. “That’s what I want people to see me for.”