In hockey, team captains are designated with the letter ‘C’ sewn into their jersey on the left side, right over the heart.
But for certain teams competing in this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, spectators don’t need a letter to tell who their captain is.
Take the Los Angeles Kings’ captain Dustin Brown for instance. Brown finished the regular season 76th in the league with 56 points. At the trade deadline, with the Kings struggling to produce offence, Brown’s name appeared in multiple trade rumours. According to hockey analysts and insiders, Brown was the kind of guy LA might be willing to part with in order to obtain more scoring to help them in the playoffs.
Now that the playoffs are underway, we’re seeing what kind of guy they would have given up.
Dustin Brown is not LA’s most talented player. Not if we’re talking about pure offensive talent. But typically, you don’t get to be captain of an NHL franchise just by being the best player on the team. Sure, Sidney Crosby is the best player on the Pittsburgh Penguins, but Ryan Callahan is not the best player on the New York Rangers. Not even close.
Every good captain—whether or not they’re gifted with the ability to rally their troops in the dressing room before the puck drops—raises his level come playoff time, and provides his team with an example to follow.
That’s what we’ve seen from Dustin Brown so far.
It’s not just that Brown leveled Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin Sunday night, and then scored the game-winning goal to put LA up three games to none in the series. (Despite my assertion that Brown is not his team’s best offensive player, he leads the Kings with five points in the first three games of the playoffs).
But it’s the other ways he leads the Kings. It’s what he said and did after hitting Henrik that make him a real captain. He accepted his fate—fate being a euphemism for getting tackled by Kevin Bieksa. Then, on the next shift, he received a clean hip-check from Bieksa, and what did he do? He got up and continued to play hockey. No slash at Bieksa’s knees, no punch aimed at the back of his head. Not even a single taunt aimed at his aggressor.
Surely Alex Burrows watched wide-eyed from the Vancouver bench, unable to comprehend a body check that didn’t result in a solid 10 seconds of face-washing.
And after the game was over, and Brown was asked about the response he received for slamming Sedin, he showed no lack of respect for his opponent, saying “They reacted like any team would when one of their better players gets hit like that. That’s part of playoff hockey”.
As simple, and perhaps cliché, as his words may seem, that’s the kind of player you want representing your hockey team. The kind of guy you don’t trade away because he strives with every play, and every action, to embody the spirit of a winning hockey team.
We need only look at the other eighth-seeded team in this year’s playoffs to find another example worth following:
In game 2 of the Senators-Rangers series, rookie Carl Hagelin delivered an armoured elbow to the head of Senators’ captain Daniel Alfredsson, knocking him from the game.
Alfredsson spoke to reporters the next day, and after confirming that he had suffered a concussion on the hit, and expressing doubt on whether he’d be available to play in game 3, he addressed the hit itself: “Carl is not that kind of player,” Alfredsson said. “In the intensity of a playoff game, things happen. It’s one thing the league is preaching, no blows to the head… he got his elbow up… things happen, it’s playoff hockey.”
Just like that, with that familiar refrain, Alfredsson sent a clear message to the rest of the Senators: there will be no Matt Carkner-on-Brian Boyle type retribution—partly because both Carkner and Hagelin would be suspended for game 3—but also because that’s not how the Senators are going to win this series, and Alfie knows it. If anyone knows the Ottawa Senators, it’s Daniel Alfredsson.
That’s why he’s still here. Those of us with good memories may remember that Ottawa was supposed to be rebuilding this season. But even before their successful season, when Sens fans were bracing themselves for a long and painful rebuilding process, there was never much—if any—talk of trading Alfredsson. Why not? Rebuilding your franchise is supposed to start with trading away your best players for draft picks, isn’t it?
Because no matter where you are in the standings, you don’t part with natural leaders, and you certainly don’t tarnish a legacy.
Leaf fans will recall the Sundin debacle. There’s no need to get into it again. Those wounds are still fresh.
The Senators know what they have in Alfredsson. They’ve had it for over ten years. And now that the conversation about having seen Alfie’s last playoff game can begin—even if he returns for another season, there is no guarantee that this Senators team can surprise everyone by making it back to the post-season next year—we can be sure that he’ll go out as the captain of the Ottawa Senators.
Here’s hoping he’s got a few more games left in him.
Written by Roy Herron.