Thursday, September 07, 2006

Not Ready To Be Captain

Go figure, I had to go to a Canadian website to get this gem. Alex Ovechkin turns down the Capital’s captain vacancy citing that his English is not very good to take that role this year. I totally agree with him, just for different reasons.

Ovechkin is an amazing talent and the Capitals are his team, but it’s only his second year in the league. Not an accomplishment to warrant a “C” on his shoulder. It’s the same problem I have with Sid “the Kid” Crosby taking the captain’s role. What can a second year player know that a 5 year veteran who had to earn a spot to play in the National Hockey League doesn’t?

Crosby and Ovechkin are two of the leagues most exciting players, each able to create unbelievable plays on ice that leave fans shaking their heads. It’s what they do on the ice can make or break games for their respective teams. They have created a buzz about the league that hasn’t been there since Wayne Gretzky’s smooth scoring, or Mario Lemieux’s brute strength and soft hands.

But are they ready to scold a teammate that has seen harder times in this league than they have? Can Crosby be tough with a player that has 10 seasons under his belt? Can Ovechkin keep the spirits up of his teammates that seesaw between the minors and coming back up and being sent down again, if Ovechkin has never set foot in the minor league system?

These are all challenges that many of the league’s captains have to face each time they practice, play and lead their teams. How can a year of playing in the NHL make these boys men? Not just men, but captains. Crosby and Ovechkin are certainly not ready to be that kind of leader when they themselves have so much learning to do.

Great hockey captains like Jason Smith, Rod Brind’Amour, Mark Messier, Stevie Yzerman, Joe Sakic, and Mike Modano all had accomplishments under their belt. They were all veterans that were true students of the game, even becoming teachers as well. They all had taken their experiences, years of playing in this league, the ups and downs of season after season and applied them to the team. It’s what made them great captains. They had earned the respect of their peers, not just handed the position after a “good” year.

I don’t know if Crosby and Ovechkin have that yet. They can earn their stripes with an “A” proudly on their chest of course. After a few years of experiencing what it means to bring your lunch pale and hard hat to every practice, every game, and every playoff series, they then can be the teachers and leaders that have the battlefield experience. It’s then, with the team solidly theirs, they can wear the “C” like a war medal.

It’s laughable to expect a player that has only played one season to become a leader. One year does not gauge a player’s overall career. If the season goes to crap under the leadership of a sophomore player, are they to blame? And is a sophomore player ready for the responsibility of being the team’s leader?

Crosby’s constant whining over every hit, or Ovechkin’s lack of good English are interesting arguments against putting them in charge. But in the end it’s not if they can lead, it’s if they really have earned that right to be the leader.

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