As you may have heard, a certain teenager just became the youngest Captain in NHL history. Gabriel Landeskog's promotion was out of the blue (and in true Avs form) caught everyone by surprise. While it's a move that many believed was inevitably coming, I don't think any of us expected it to come so soon - especially after Hejduk signed on for another season.
This drastic change in the leadership personnel for the Avalanche is bound to have some interesting repercussions. While it solves one major question - who is going to be the Avs' long-term Captain - it creates a whole slew of others. Let's break it down piece by piece.
How is this going to affect the Avalanche Organization and its future?
On the most basic level, this move should help eliminate the glaring lack of leadership that has plagued the team since Sakic left. Landeskog is such a natural leader that he somehow managed to establish himself as one of the primary voices in the locker room by midway through his rookie year, so if anyone can stabilize and unify this inconsistent club moving forward, it's him.
But Landy was chosen for far more than just his leadership abilities: he was selected because he fits the identity that this team wants to create. From his youth to his physical 2-way play, skating skills, and his ability to score the big goals, he represents everything the club has been striving towards for the past 3 years. The Avs have lacked a true sense of who they are since Sakic left, and by promoting Landeskog at such a young age, management has made a clear statement as to what they want "Avalanche Hockey" to be. Landy's not just the new face of the franchise, he's the embodiment of it, and he'll probably come to mean as much to this generation of Avalanche players as Sakic meant to the last. Add in the fact that the position of Avalanche Captain is almost sacred at this point - Landeskog's VERY unlikely to ever be traded or stripped of that C - and chances are good that he'll be shaping the direction of this franchise for the next two decades.
This move also signals that the time of the first generation of Avalanche players - Sakic's generation - has officially passed and that it's time for the next group to take over the destiny of the franchise. For better or worse, we just entered into a the Second Era of Avs hockey - an era that is going to revolve around this unusually mature and extremely dynamic young Swede.
How will this affect Landeskog and what sort of a season should we expect from him?
Landy has an uphill battle in front of him. First and foremost, he's going to need to find a way to deal with the pressures that go along with that C. The only reason he was even considered for the the Captaincy was his almost super-human consistency last year. No matter what game it was, no matter how he was feeling, Landy showed up ready to compete and play a full 60+ minutes. That's what allowed him to start acting like a leader in the locker room - since he got it done on the ice, he set the example and was able to call out to his teammates when they weren't carrying their weight. Despite his age, the older members of the team (which were all of them) began to respect him and were willing to follow his lead because of it. In order for him to maintain that position of leadership, he needs to maintain that consistency - which is far from an easy job when you're actively trying to lead a team.
It's not uncommon for young players to struggle under the weight of the C for their first few months. For example, once Jonathan Toews put on the C for Chicago at the ripe old age of 20, he felt he had to be the hero every night and ended up placing too much pressure on himself to lead the team on the ice. Because of this unrealistic expectation, he promptly fell into a miserable 13 game goalless streak and didn't fully settle down until late December that year.
Landy's reaction will of course depend on his personality type, but it's not unlikely that he'll find himself in a similar mindset or situation. He's already experienced a scoring drought in his career - he went 18 games without finding the back of the net in November - but he didn't do it while the spotlight of the Captaincy was on him. Living up to the perceptions of what the Captain of the Avalanche is supposed to be, especially after Sakic set the bar so high, is going to be far from an easy task. Add in a possible sophomore slump and the matter becomes even more complicated. Luckily, he'll have Stastny and Hejduk (his Alternates) there to help him and offer guidance, but his learning curve is still going to be fairly steep and a little bumpy as he and the team settle in. There is probably going to be an adjustment period of some sorts, so it could be a few months - possibly more - before we really see Landeskog taking over the team. Afterwards though, his pure leadership abilities will start to show through and he'll take control of the future of the franchise.
How this will affect Milan Hejduk?
I can only see this as a positive move for the Duke. He wasn't a bad Captain by any means, but it was always just a bit of an awkward fit. His talents and strengths just make it easier for him to lead as an Alternate Captain, and I believe we're a much stronger club with him there than with him as the C. I think he realized that, just as he realized that his role on the team had shifted and that it was time to pass the torch onto the next generation. He'll still have his hands full this year mentoring all the young guns (including the new Captain), but he's now free to do so in a more subtle, quiet, Hejduk-y way. Plus, I'd bet that without all the extra pressure of wearing the C, there's a very good chance that the 20-goal-scorer we know and love put on #23 again this season. Ultimately, Duke made the decision that was best for him, and while there still might be a bit of a rough transition phase, I think the Avs will benefit from his choice to step aside in the long-run as well.
How will this affect Paul Stastny and what happens if he's upset about not getting the C?
Stastny was at one time pegged to take over the C, but after his disappointing past couple seasons, it's become pretty clear that he's just not the right fit for the Captaincy. His veteran presence will still be an important asset for this young team moving forward, but he's just a better fit for us as an assistant.
However, if he wanted the C, his window just closed since it's unlikely to come off Landy's chest for the remainder of Stastny's career. After Hejduk, Stastny is the longest-serving member of the team, and along with his heritage as the son of one of our former Captains, this snubbing could easily be seen as a slap to the face. If that insult causes any problems in his play or in his support of Landeskog and the front office, it could easily cause some drama in the room. And if there's one thing Sherman dislikes, it's locker room cancers (Kyle Quincey says hi). Stastny only has two years left in his $6.6 mil a year contract. Right now, he's a very valuable member of our club, but I'm sure that if Sherman decided that Stastny needed to be moved, a team like Toronto, Chicago, or Washington (aka teams that need #2Cs) would be fine with taking that contract off our hands before signing him to a more reasonable one later.
This Captaincy move put Stastny at a crossroads. He can either A) take this in stride and stick it out as a "company man" and Alternate Captain, B) make a fuss and get himself traded, or C) request a trade. I have a feeling he's going to stick with option A (although his Dad probably won't approve), but I could be surprised. It's certainly going to be interesting to see how he handles this.
How will this affect Matt Duchene?
First of all, Dutchy was never really in the running for the Captaincy. Yes, we do still expect him to be our leading scorer and one of the faces of the franchise, and no, having Landy named Captain does not mean we're going to trade Duchene. The Captaincy is handed out to the player that demonstrates the correct personality traits to lead a team, and Dutchy just isn't that guy yet. He's still going to be our primary All-Star, score a ton of points with us and have a nice, long career in Burgundy and Blue since he's a toe-the-line company man with a ton of upside and ability to help anchor our forward ranks, but he's going to so without the added pressure of a letter. Both he and the team are probably better off for it.
How will this affect Erik Johnson?
EJ was many people's dark horse for the Captaincy. After being picked first overall and then moved as the centerpiece of a massive, franchise-altering deal, he certainly was being talked about for taking over the Avalanche C. He has the draft pedigree and many of the qualities you'd look for in a leader, but he unfortunately seems to crumble under pressure. He struggled when he was being hyped as the 1st overall in St. Louis, then he struggled when he found himself in the limelight once more after the trade. It wasn't until after a leg injury in November (one that also happened to coincide with the announcement of Hejduk - and not him - as Captain) that he found himself out of the center of attention. He then proceeded to simplify his game and has really made impressive strides in the months since.
Naming Landeskog as long-term Captain takes the weight of speculation off EJ. Given the way EJ tends to play when he bites off more than he can chew, I think this move will continue to allow him to relax and concentrate on developing into the franchise defenseman he's turning into.
How will this affect Ryan O`Reilly?
Landeskog being named Captain is a positive move for everyone in the organization... except for perhaps Ryan O'Reilly. This 21-year-old is the heart of the team and served as Landy's mentor/linemate all of last season. During that time, he strapped this organization on his back and carried it until Landy found his groove and started helping out more. Factor (as he's called by his teammates) is a leader in the locker room, the hardest worker on the team, and someone that deserves to be recognized for his immense contributions to the club.
The only problem is that the letters have all be handed out.
There were a lot of people who thought O'Reilly would be the next Captain. Like Landeskog, he's much older than his age and has earned the respect of his teammates due to his consistent play. He too plays a driving, 2-way game, and has a leadership style that's quiet, example-based, and almost Sakic-like. The only knock against him was that he put too much pressure on himself and took losses too hard. He would have made a fine Captain, or at the very least, an excellent Alternate.
However, the traditions of this club come back into play. Right now, all three of our leadership positions are filled by forwards. While Factor should logically be next in line for the A when the Duke retires, chances are good the Alternate Captaincy will pass to EJ as the leader of the blueline instead. Typically, the Avs like to have 2 forwards and a defenseman wearing letters, and by the time Hejduk hangs them up, EJ will hopefully over his whole playing shitty while under pressure thing, making him the most likely choice. The other A already belongs to Stastny, and he's unlikely to give it up unless he's traded. Unless the Avs decide to go with three Alternate Captains (which is probably a little excessive), it's looking like O'Reilly isn't going to get the recongnition he deserves.
And it's not just the A that Factor might get short-changed on. Right now, we have 3 centers - Duchene, Stastny, and O'Reilly - all of whom play like 2Cs. While it's looking like we're going to be juggling three 2nd lines next year, eventually it's going to get to the point where one or two of them deserve more icetime/better linemates/power play time/etc than the others. Duchene's not going anywhere - his potential is way too high - and I don't think that O'Reilly can go back to being just a pure #3 center anymore since he's proven he's more than that. Basically, it's probably going to come down to a choice.
I expect either Stastny or O'Reilly will be traded within the next 2 years, and whichever one is left will wear the A.
Unfortunately, the situation isn't looking so great for Radar right now. He's currently in a contract dispute, and even making minor enemies in this front office is a problem since they aren't afraid to make big trades. Over the past few years, it seems that if management has any doubt about a player's commitment to the team and the franchise, they're completely willing to move him no matter who he is. Despite O'Reilly's insane dedication on the ice and to his teammates, this hiccup might knock Radar out of the "Core Players - Do Not Trade" group that by all appearances he was in beforehand. Chances are still very, very, very good that the talks will remain cordial, O'Reilly will re-sign, and all will be forgiven, but by holding out, he's toeing a very fine line. If he crosses it and pushes management too much, it could make their choice between him and Stastny just a little easier.