For the segment of the Canadian hockey public that believes you cannot win a Stanley Cup with a European captain, Henrik Sedin had a succinct reply.
"Lidstrom," the Vancouver Canucks new leader said, invoking his fellow Swede and the Cup-winning captain and defenceman for the Detroit Red Wings.
Sedin, appointed Vancouver's 13th captain in a ceremony preceding a 2-1 shootout loss to the Los Angeles Kings in the Canucks' season opener, was deeply retrospective about his journey to the standing ovation that greeted his coronation at Rogers Arena on Saturday. He revealed that former Canucks captains Trevor Linden and Markus Naslund were responsible for "saving" the careers of he and twin brother Daniel heading into the 2003-04 season.
"For me, it's a tremendous honour having [been around]guys like Trevor," he said about a period when the twins were not developing as second- and third-overall draft choices should. "We were pretty much at the bottom of our hockey life. We didn't have much going for us, and Trevor told us to relax, and play the game, and be ourselves. I think that's when it changed.
"We realized that if they are going to send us down [to the minors]or trade us or whatever, it's got to be because of the way we play and not [because]we changed our game," he continued. "It was like an ongoing discussion … and it took a while for us to realize that."
Less than two years ago, it was not uncommon to hear Canucks fans proclaiming the twins second-line players forever, and not productive enough to carry the offensive load on a title contender. But the 10-year veterans finished second and third to Alex Ovechkin in points-per-game in a breakthrough 2009-10 season, and Henrik became the first Vancouver player to win the Hart and Art Ross trophies.
"It's his time," head coach Alain Vigneault said of the captaincy.
The Cup is presented annually to the winning team's captain and until 1999, when the American-born Derian Hatcher raised it above his head as captain of the Dallas Stars, it was the exclusive purview of Canadians. Nine years later, Lidstrom became the first European to lead his team to an NHL championship. Henrik Sedin shares his countryman's speak-infrequently-and-carry-weight style. They won gold medals together at the 2006 Olympics.
"I've played with Lidstrom and he doesn't say much - he's just out there playing great," Sedin said. "[As captain]you're not doing these speeches any more that you hear about. A lot of guys in here can do that."
The centre was told of his selection by Vigneault and general manager Mike Gillis in a Tuesday meeting, and was asked for suggestions on alternates.
"He came back with the idea of having two at home, and two on the road," Vigneault said. "He felt strongly about the four people he suggested to me."
Vigneault and Sedin both said that modern NHL dressing rooms are run by committees, and the latter added that he wanted alternates that represented all constituencies, and who could bring various traits to the leadership group. Sedin chose his brother Daniel, centre Ryan Kesler, six-year Canuck Kevin Bieksa, and newcomer Manny Malhotra.
"When it comes down to it, you need guys that care about different parts of the dressing room," Sedin said.
Kesler, the No. 2 candidate for captaincy, is the win-at-all-costs competitor on the ice, and the sore loser off it. He is the type of personality who can maintain standards with his relentless edge.
Daniel Sedin is a mirror image of the captain, and is accustomed to Henrik being team spokesman since they were seven-year-old soccer players in Ornskoldsvik, Sweden.
Bieksa is a familiar voice who frequently speaks to the room, and is someone "the guys like," according to the captain.
Malhotra, 30, is new to the team, but impressed everyone by proactively organizing pre-training camp workouts. The outspoken veteran can also help unite seven new faces.
"He is a take-charge guy," Vigneault said. "He seems to say it like it is, and he's a very bright individual. The few meeting that we have had so far … he's made some real strong points, and I think his teammates have picked up on that."