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.
A year after Daniel Alfredsson left Ottawa for Detroit, the Senators will have their second captain in two seasons after trading Jason Spezza to the Dallas Stars. Defenceman Erik Karlsson reiterated Tuesday he'd gladly accept that honour and figures to be in the discussion along with Chris Phillips and Chris Neil.
Karlsson lived with Alfredsson, who was captain from 1999 through 2013, but said he doesn't think he'll mimic his friend's style.
"I will never be the same leader as Alfie was," Karlsson said. "He had his own way and Jason Spezza had his own way and Chris Neil and Chris Phillips and all the other guys have their own ways, as well. Everybody's a little bit different. But I think just being around such a good group of guys, hopefully that can help me develop as a player and as a person and as a leader for the better."
Buffalo went with co-captains to start the 2013-14 season and subsequently traded Thomas Vanek and Steve Ott. Gionta said there has been no talk of assuming that role with the Sabres.
"You don't go to a place with the expectation or the hope that something like that's going to happen," Gionta said. "You go in, you try to integrate yourself with the players that are there and try to learn from them what's going on."
New York made it to the Stanley Cup final without a captain after trading Ryan Callahan to the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Rangers' most senior alternate, Brad Richards, was bought out and signed with the Chicago Blackhawks, leaving defencemen Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal and wingers Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis as the most likely replacements.
Sharks coach Todd McLellan recently told San Jose reporters that Joe Thornton wouldn't be the captain and Patrick Marleau wouldn't be an alternate at least at the beginning of camp, calling it a "fresh slate" of leadership. Centre Logan Couture or forward Joe Pavelski figure to be in the hunt.
Florida used a compliance buyout on captain Ed Jovanovski. The young Panthers, if they choose to name a replacement, could turn to defenceman Brian Campbell or hand the reins to one of the kids, like Jonathan Huberdeau or Nick Bjugstad.
The Blue Jackets haven't had a captain since trading Nash to New York in the summer of 2012. In no rush to sew a "C" on someone's jersey, Columbus — which rotated alternates between Brandon Dubinsky, Jack Johnson and others — could go without yet again.
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."
— With files from Neil Davidson in Toronto