The C-Word

By Chris

It’s no secret that leadership has been a problem for the Sabres since the summer of 2007. After You-Know-Who and You-Know-Who-2 left, there was no clear-cut captain on the roster to replace them. Lindy Ruff re-instituted the Captain of the Month Club but the “C” didn’t stick with anyone on the roster (we weren’t big fans of it, either).

Craig Rivet joined the team in July in a trade that’s pretty much worked out to be Brian Campbell for Tyler Ennis and Rivet. Darcy Regier lauded Rivet’s leadership skills from Day One and a few months later, he was named the first sole full-time captain of the Sabres since Stu Barnes.

It screamed of “Hey New Guy, We Really Don’t Believe in Anyone Here, So Can You Be Our Captain?” but because both fans and the players were desperate for a leader, everyone accepted it and hoped for the best.

And from all accounts, Rivet wasn’t a bad captain. He seemed like a guy that was respected in the locker room and tried to keep his guys accountable. Part of the problem was that there were/are players on the team who simply didn’t/don’t feel threatened by him — or any of the veterans on the team, really.

The other part of the problem was Rivet’s performance on the ice. He fought through multiple injuries during his tenure here and it all seemed to fall to pieces last season. He played through a shoulder injury that made him look 39 years older and also made it seem like Chris Butler shouldn’t be in the league anymore, either. He was very very very very bad.

When it was announced he was having surgery in the off-season and may not be ready for training camp this past summer, it was almost a relief. Craig Rivet not on the ice seemed like a good thing, even in jest.

And I still had concerns about his health even when he did recover in time. How likely is he to re-injure himself? Holy crap is that why he’s looked so bad this season so far? I thought he was healthy.

Well apparently he was just playing that poorly. No injuries to report.

And before the Thrashers game, Ruff made one of the boldest decisions of his coaching tenure in Buffalo. He made his captain a healthy scratch. If you don’t know the history of Lindy and benched captains, there will probably be two dozen stories out about it by the time you read this, so I’ll link to this well-written account and say this: in the words of Joe Biden, it’s a big effing deal.

Now it sounds like I’m writing an obituary for Rivet, and in all honesty, as far as his days in Buffalo go, I probably am. His coach has come out and said he’s not good enough to suit up next to his troops, so how can he possibly lead them?

Which brings us now to our first Potential Captain Power Rankings. I’m not usually a fan of lists and such, but I think this will help to give us all a better idea of which players on the roster stand the best chance of being named captain if Ruff strips the “C” from Rivet.

I’m basing these rankings on a combination of the likelihood they will be named captain (Vegas odds as it were) and if I think that player fits the role.

And I’m only ranking skaters. A lot of people will want to make the argument for Ryan Miller and it’s a valid argument, but there is a zero percent chance it happens. Not only is it technically against the rules, but the next captain needs to be a player who sits on the bench with the team and can accurately gauge their emotions as the game progresses (while that makes it sound like Patrick Lalime could be a candidate, I’m leaving him out too. Sorry, folks).

1. Thomas Vanek
If he really is the team’s best forward (and I believe he is), then give him that responsibility. While it is interesting that he’s never worn a letter for the team yet (and that may speak volumes), I’d be OK with handing the keys over to Atlas and seeing where it goes.

2. Jason Pominville
He’d definitely be No. 1 if he wasn’t injured but there’s no timetable for his return and I’m sure the Sabres will want to end the captaincy speculation sooner rather than later. But if he was healthy, he’s most certainly the favorite — and I wonder if even that is a good thing. He’s respectful (Lady Byng finalist), accountable (when he wore the “C” in March 2008, he did TV interviews and everything following losses), is talented (even though he may never hit those 2007 numbers again) and plays in all situations.

3. Derek Roy
Similar to the argument for Vanek except Roy really has been the best Sabre so far this season. He’s doing pretty much everything I wanted to see from him following that dreadful playoff performance. He came back this season — after all the “Roy Stinks” and “Trade Roy” talk — with a chip on his shoulder and has put up numbers. Through 10 games, he has 11 points. That’s good for a share of 11th place in the NHL. Other players with 11 points thus far: Marian Hossa, Paul Stastny, Henrik Zetterberg and Henrik Sedin.

4. Jochen Hecht
The players like him and he was the first player to be named captain (by the players no less) after the Summer of ’07 (when I bought my first real six-string at the Five-And-Dime). He’s been in the organization forever and wears a letter for a reason.

5. Mike Grier
He was right. Only problem is his play this season hasn’t been good. If his production was better (relative to his standards) then maybe he jumps over Hecht. Grier’s a favorite, but you can’t have your captain miss glorious, wide-open opportunities like he did against Montreal at home a few weeks ago.

6. Rob Niedermayer
He’s the only guy in the room with a ring and they signed him for his leadership skills. However, naming Niedermayer captain would definitely be a short-term fix and the team needs more than that right now. Also, slapping the “C” on a new guy who isn’t a top six forward or top four defenseman reeks of Rivetism.

7. Paul Gaustad
Now the site is named after him, so you’d think I’d have him ranked way higher. We were strong advocates for a Goose captaincy pre-Rivet but, like Grier, Gaustad really hasn’t been good enough on the ice. He is really good at faceoffs, but he’s also really good at falling down. And like Pat Kaleta, who’s even farther down the list, he’s more bark than bite. I fear Gaustad hit his ceiling awhile ago and while he’s a decent player, I’m not sure he can progress any further than the “A” he currently shares with Hecht, Roy and Pominville.

8. Steve Montador
Why Montador over Myers? Because Montador has more experience and while he isn’t that talented, he plays with his heart on his sleeve. Looking at the defensemen the team has had over the last few years, Toni Lydman would probably fall in this slot if the Sabres had re-signed him.

9. Tyler Myers
He’s still learning and isn’t ready for the extra pressure. He’s having a tough enough time now fixing his own game let alone worrying about why Tim Connolly won’t go into the corners. Myers has potential but he’s not there yet.

10. Drew Stafford
He still hasn’t come into his own yet and I fear he never will. I’m not sure why there are rumblings of people comparing him to You-Know-Who-Number-2. Other than the fact that they’re both American and Stafford was the first one in after the Chris Neil hit, there are very few characteristics (the first word I typed was “similaristics” which may not be such a bad made-up word) that they share. I have trouble seeing Stafford as a top line winger right now (although he is putting together a surprisingly good season) let alone a true leader.

11. Chris Butler
Rivet’s partner for much of the last two seasons. He had a great start last season (when, coincidentally (?) Rivet was injured) and then fell off the map. He hasn’t quite recovered since but I still think he has the potential to be a leader on this team.

12. Andrej Sekera
I can’t believe he’s this high on the list either. We weren’t kidding when we said this team had leadership issues. He looked good in the Olympics last February, though, didn’t he?

13. Patrick Kaleta
All bark and little bite. He plays hard and we appreciate that about him, but he’s more of an agitator than anything else. When I think “Captain” I think of someone who can stand toe-to-toe mentally with Crosby and Toews. I’m not saying Kaleta is dumb. I’m saying he tends to take himself out of the play more often than not for a hit or a cheapshot. That can hurt your team more than help it. And I don’t want a turtle for a captain unless his name is Leonardo.

14. Cody McCormick
Hard worker but he’s too new and doesn’t play enough minutes.

15. Shaone Morrisonn
Still don’t know enough about him to form a valid opinion about his play let alone if he should be leading the team into battle. Also, I’m sure Harrington and Vogl would hate to have to spell his name in every game story when they quote the captain.

16. Jordan Leopold
See Morrisonn except Leopold’s name is much easier to spell.

17. Tyler Ennis
Too young and doesn’t play enough significant minutes (yet).

18. Nathan Gerbe
See above.

19. Mike Weber
See Ennis.

20. Tim Connolly
This is probably too low but I don’t care. I don’t want to see him wear a letter for any team I cheer for.

21. Craig Rivet
If he’s stripped of the “C,” then there’s absolutely no chance he’s getting it back. Is it fair? Probably not, but that’s the way it is sometimes.

Of course there still is that chance that Ruff will put Rivet back in the lineup tonight when the Sabres face the Stars. He can use last night as a scare tactic to the locker room, telling them that no one is safe, not even the guy they’re supposed to trust the most.

I don’t buy that though. Ruff is looking for a spark and accomplished a few things by scratching Rivet.

First and foremost, he took his worst defenseman out of the lineup. He also immediately changed the culture in a locker room that had grown to comfortable and complacent. Suddenly they can’t count on the guy they’re supposed to trust the most.

Rivet’s been neutered by the coach and now the players should be forced to look deep within themselves because they should feel partially (or mostly) responsible for him getting the press box treatment. Maybe they’ll be able to rally around that guilt. While Rivet wasn’t good enough on the ice, his teammates offered him up to be a sacrificial lamb because they haven’t been good enough as a team.

It can be viewed as a desperate move by Ruff. With his job potentially on the line, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that. I see it more as a move of necessity.

The next true long-term captain of this team may not even be on the roster right now. It’s not a comforting, but in a season where nothing has gone right so far, there are few things you should feel good about.


  1. Becky

    In previous years I haven’t particularly been a fan of Derek Roy, but that has changed this season. Roy should be #1, followed by Pominville. Vanek? No way.

  2. Captain Roy seems like a bad idea to me, but I’ll admit he does have the production. I think a lot of people are excessively hard on him just because they don’t like him, but I dunno.

    Vanek would be interesting. If he rose to the occasion it would be awesome on many levels, but if he withered under the pressure, yikes.

    I don’t think Pominville’s is salty enough.

    I think I’d go with Montador.

  3. I like Montador or Grier as well though I do see your concerns about Grier’s level of play. I’d be okay with Roy, I guess, if he keeps up this play a little longer, but I am VERY leery about putting a letter on Vanek. He’s such a head case about his own play that I’m not sure I want to put the pressure to be responsible for everyone else on him too. I’d kind of prefer to just him worry about himself. It’s not that I don’t think he doesn’t WANT to be a leader, but I’m not convinced he really has it in him. (And I’m fine with that for the record.) Like Kate said, if it worked, it’d be great, but if it didn’t, it’d be a DISASTER… and I lean more toward it being the latter in the end.

  4. brian s.

    I trend towards Vanek, kind of the same way the Canes gave Staal the “C” last year and all of a sudden he was playing like he did coming out of the lockout.

    Heather – it looks like you made the right call with what Lindy was going to do. Too bad it didn’t help much yesterday.

  5. Probably the most depressing post in the history of the blog. Good grief.

  6. Mike

    I think Lindy has to go, even though I think he’s a great coach. After a fashion, his ability as a coach is irrelevant. He lost the team. Awhile ago. I’m not sure he can get them to respond all the time. I think if Regier was to understand that it was the only way he could save his job (and it might be), then he would pull the trigger. I really put this all on Quinn.
    It is truly depressing though Ryan. The Sabres are, after a fashion, more depressing to think about then the Bills. The Sabres SHOULD be better. We all knew the Bills would be godawful and at least they’re giving effort in recent weeks. The Sabres seem to either rest on the laurels or get so down on themselves that it’s a tailspin of self-confidence that dwindles to nothing. They should be somewhere in the middle and I think we all thought that bringing in more vets would help stabilize things. Well we’ve done that now and it’s hurt the situation. So what now? This team really needs a personnelectomy, but since that can’t happen, getting rid of Lindy is easy, and I like what Dineen would bring to the table.

  7. Count me in the Vanek camp, I agree with every point you made, and every point Koziol makes when he talks about it in the postgame, haha.