Hockey, sadly, has as long a history of annoying clichés as it does of thrilling Stanley Cups.
The current ear-wincer is "The Right Way" – something a failed coach, John Tortorella, popularized and every coach in the NHL now seizes like a verbal life preserver every time a star player is under discussion or, worse, under criticism.
The presumption is that there is a "right way" to play this game, just as there is in baseball, virtually by decree, usually only one acceptable way to play most circumstances and, rarely, a second, high-risk choice.
Hockey, however, is not a calculus equation. It is no slam against analytics to state the obvious: that hockey is a game of multiple options, many of them right and even more of them wrong. There is no specific "right way."
When one hears that new Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz is hoping to get Alexander Ovechkin to play "the right way," one can only chuckle in imagining coach Glen Sather telling Wayne Gretzky to quit wasting his time behind the other team's net and start playing the "right way."
And so we come to Erik Karlsson, chosen Thursday morning as the ninth captain in the new history of the Ottawa Senators.
It was not as simple a decision as might appear from the sudden crush of No. 65 jerseys with the C in the Senators store – and just maybe there was no coincidence that the announcement actually followed another story, Bobby Ryan signing a seven-year, $50.75-million (U.S.) extension, that the team would prefer fans to concentrate on than the suitability of 24-year-old Karlsson to assume the mantle of leadership.
On the one hand, Karlsson is the team's only true star – Ryan has a lot to prove, given that rich deal – and is the critical cog in any hope Ottawa fans have for a year that does not, on first glance, seem to hold a heck of a lot of promise. The Senators stay well under the salary cap, which can be an admirable quality, but the fact remains that they failed to reach the playoffs last season, lost beloved captain Daniel Alfredsson a year ago in an awkward argument over value and lost Jason Spezza, Alfredsson's replacement and their only other star, this summer when he asked out and was let go in a trade to the Dallas Stars.
Spezza was merely the latest in a growing string of Ottawa players who refuse to play "the right way" and who seemingly pay for it in a town that is, curiously, quite savvy when it comes to the national game but quite reluctant to embrace those who dare play the game with a healthy dose of risk.
Ottawa is, obviously, a civil service town and, as former Lord Mayor of London Ken Livingstone once succinctly put it, "The civil service are risk averse."
The string of creative freelancers who have lost the early cheers of Ottawa crowds continued to grow as the blind-passing, fancy-dancing Spezza joined the likes of Alexei Yashin, Martin Havlat, Pavol Demitra, Alexei Kovalev … all magicians who eventually lost the room.
Only one, Kovalev, deserved such disdain, but he, of course, had the misfortune of trying to play his "wrong" game under a young coach, Cory Clouston, who would have made a perfect middle manager in the bureaucracy.
In Ottawa, they tend to distrust anything that doesn't go through the proper channels.
And again, we come to Karlsson, who is so far above his teammates in talent that it should not even have been a discussion, given that he has already won a Norris Trophy as the league's top defenceman and is, game in and game out, the most unpredictable, risk-taking and exciting back-ender to play the game since Paul Coffey.
Coffey, incidentally, was about as far removed from playing "the right way" as it is possible to get.
That would be Paul Coffey, Hall of Famer, three time Norris winner, four time Stanley Cup champion.
Karlsson is now 24 years old, in the prime of his talent, and yet all summer long a debate raged in the nation's capital as to whom should replace Spezza as captain of the Senators.
Should it be Karlsson, who is outspoken, emotional – even mercurial – and openly wanted to be captain? Or should it be trusted long-time veteran defenceman Chris Phillips, 36, who could be the template for doing the job "the right way" but who is, unfortunately, in his final years?
Chris Neal, Phillips's fellow assistant captain, even openly campaigned for Phillips, as did a great number of fans who prefer the tried and steady to the unpredictable and, quite often, sensational.
Those who argued Karlsson is not ready do not know their recent NHL history, where young captains have become increasingly common. Sidney Crosby was named captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins at 19 and soon won a Stanley Cup. Jonathan Toews was given the C in Chicago while still only 20 and became the youngest captain ever to lead his team to the Stanley Cup. Gabriel Landeskog was named captain of the Colorado Avalanche at 19, making him even younger than Crosby (by 11 days) to take on the leadership role.
Karlsson is ready.
The Senators, to their credit, went "The Right Way."
The Senators' new captain, however, will go his own way.
As he should.