Canada's best captain would be a wise but unpopular choice
Sidney Crosby or Jarome Iginla are the popular favorites to wear Canada's C
All signs point to veteran defenseman Scott Niedermayer being given the nod
A calming influence on a young team, Niedermayer won Olympic gold in 2002
CALGARY -- The vox populi in the Calgary Herald decided Monday in a result often associated with Soviet elections that the esteemed Jarome Iginla should be the next Captain Canada, the man with the scarlet letter (on the white uniforms) when a hockey-daft nation plays in the Olympics next February in Vancouver.
The 80-plus percent support in the poll for the captain of the local NHL six was gratifying, no doubt, but unless Iginla gets to play in the world championships or plans on captaining the Politburo All-Stars in 2014 in Sochi, he is a long shot to wear a C. The poll numbers did not skew as favorably for Sidney Crosby, who ended up in the low teens even though he was captain of the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins last June at the tender age of 21. After being left off the team in Turin four years ago, Crosby has proved his bona fides at the NHL level and surely will make a swell captain for his country.
In 2014, say.
Despite the groundswell of support for Crosby (outside Calgary) to take his anointed place in the home Games after his glorious NHL spring -- "Nice leadership," Detroit Red Wings (and Canadian Olympic coach) Mike Babcock said to Crosby when the Penguins captain joined the handshake line at Joe Louis Arena -- he will not be Team Canada's captain in Vancouver.
But if you listened closely enough to a new conference, it was obvious whom Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman and Babcock are ready to settle as captain: Scott Niedermayer.
Now, nobody actually came out and said the defenseman, who has won a Memorial Cup, an Olympics, world championships and Stanley Cups with the New Jersey Devils and Anaheim Ducks, is going to be the official leader of this team. There are 46 players at Canada's Olympic camp and theoretically no jobs are safe (although that Red Team fourth line of Ryan Smyth, Derek Roy and Patrick Sharp looks like a long shot.) But Niedermayer, paired on the Team White defense with Duncan Keith, is as much of a lock as Crosby, Iginla, Martin Brodeur, Ryan Getzlaf and the rest of the usual suspects.
If you care to connect the dots, you will see that Niedermayer played for Canada in the 2002 Olympics and was a big part of its first Olympic gold medal in 50 years, but when he did not take part in the 2006 because of an injury -- Jay Bouwmeester was his replacement -- Canada failed to win a medal. Apparently Yzerman and Babcock can follow that trail without the benefit of loyal Herald readers.
"I think Scott Niedermayer would be a pretty good [candidate]," said Babcock in response to a question from a TV fellow who had handicapped it as a two-horse race for the captaincy, Crosby and Iginla. "What I see [in this group] is a whole ton of young players and guys who have been through this before. There's going to be an environment that expects success. I think that guys who have been there before have a chance to calm [things] down. Everybody on this team is a leader in their own way. Saying that, the guys who have been through that before will be the stabilizing force, much like it was in the past when we had success."
Niedermayer, who has played 29 games for Canada at the senior level, will become the only Canadian to play in all four Olympics for which NHL players have been eligible. Brodeur will make his fourth Olympic team, but he never made the ice in 1998 while serving as Patrick Roy's caddy in 1998.
(Incidentally, Vancouver Canucks goalie/captain Roberto Luongo, who should push Brodeur for the No. 1 job in net, said upon his arrival at the airport that being the captain of the Olympics team was not one of his goals. A nation sleeps easily.)
Yzerman was a member of the 1998 team that lost the thrilling semifinal shootout to Dominik Hasek and the Czech Republic. Eric Lindros captained Canada then, a shocking decision by GM Bob Clarke to force-feed the captaincy to his own player on a team that had Wayne Gretzky, Raymond Bourque and Yzerman. Four years later, Gretzky, then the GM, didn't make a similar mistake, entrusting the leadership to Mario Lemieux, backed up by Joe Sakic.
Yzerman, who also played in 2002, did not sound like he was enamored of that once novel idea, the Young Man and the C. "I wouldn't expect him to put him out to the forefront," Yzerman said after being effusive in his praise of Crosby, who opened centering a line with Iginla and Rick Nash. "Veteran players will control the atmosphere in the locker room and we'll ask the young guys to come in and just do their thing. The importance of having this camp is for Sidney to meet players like Jarome and become more familiar with them."
"To be a captain of this team would be a huge responsibility," Crosby said, "but at the same time, I think if you're going to be put in that situation you couldn't be surrounded by a better group of leaders. There's a lot of responsibility that comes with that, but at the same time you don't have to look too far for leadership when you look in that dressing room."
Crosby was being diplomatic. On the Vancouver ice, this might wind up being his team. The dressing room will belong to players who have been there before, especially Niedermayer. If Team Canada wins the gold medal, then it will have been the right decision. If not ...