For the duration of the 2016-2017 season, the Carolina Hurricanes lacked many qualities. While they put together a hell of a playoff push, that cannot distract from the fact that there were many factors missing from their game. Arguably the most crucial component missing from this season was a captain.
The Hurricanes are a young team still trying to develop an identity and chemistry. They are one of the youngest teams in the NHL and lacked a player with enough experience and leadership to award someone a C on their jersey. This is a common occurrence, as the Montreal Canadiens played the 2014 season without a captain.
Eric Staal was the captain of the Hurricanes from 2010-2016, having one of the greatest careers in the organization’s history. He was trusted and reliable, and the moment he was traded in 2016 the question of who would replace him was raised.
In a surprising fashion, Bill Peters and his coaching staff elected not to fill the captain spot and assigned four alternate captains in Jordan Staal, Jeff Skinner, Justin Faulk, and Victor Rask. This may appear as an issue at first glance, but the organization wants to feel confident about putting that letter on a jersey, and they just might have found someone this season. For the first time in a while, it looked like the team was playing for something, and that was heavily reflected in the performance of several players.
The younger brother of Eric, Jordan Staal, would be the most sensible replacement, as he is a Stanley Cup winner and is coming off of his eleventh season as a pro. However, I believe Staal’s time with the Hurricanes is drawing to a close and he is not the player he used to be.
Jeff Skinner finished the season in top form, scoring 17 goals in his last 18 games. In that span, the next closest player in the NHL only had 12 (Nikita Kucherov) and the next closest Hurricane only had five. Skinner is one of the longer tenured members of the team and certainly upgraded his resume this season with 37 goals and 63 points.
Aside from Skinner, the other clear-cut choice for captain would be Justin Faulk. Faulk has had two All-Star Game appearances and has been the most consistent player on the Hurricanes after being drafted in 2011, just a year after Skinner was drafted.
He is an expert on the power play, scoring 23 power play goals in the last three seasons, and exemplifies leadership in every aspect of his game. I think Faulk is the best candidate for the job and would fill the role perfectly. He embraces the culture of Raleigh being a hockey town and is already an icon amongst the community. His unselfish and superb playmaking further support his nomination.
The other alternate captain, Victor Rask, does not provide a lot of credentials to earn the patch on his jersey. Rask has shown skill but has not quite lived up to his value after being selected No. 42 overall by the Hurricanes in 2011. He has a lot of time to grow but is not the leader the Canes are looking for.
This decision will help set the direction and attitude for next season and I think Justin Faulk would be an outstanding captain.
Coach Peters and staff will also need to decide who will be the two alternate captains as well. Any of the players listed above would be a good fit, but players like Sebastian Aho and Elias Lindholm are coming off of stellar seasons. Despite his age at 19, Aho has already shown he has the qualities to be a leader. Lindholm is finally harnessing his skills as an offensive center and either would be good for the role.
The Hurricanes have a lot of work to do this offseason, but it all starts with this decision. Giving the team a distinct leader puts them one step closer to creating a solidified unit that will be able to exceed the potential of this year’s squad. No matter who the captaincy is awarded to, every player, young or old, needs to be all in this year.