When Bo Horvat was traded this past season, it seemed obvious who would succeed him as captain of the Vancouver Canucks: franchise forward Elias Pettersson.
That’s who Horvat himself voted for, as well as former head coach Bruce Boudreau. With his diligent effort at both ends of the ice, Pettersson is the epitome of a player who leads by example, and his softspoken nature belies a fiery determination to improve and get the Canucks back to the playoffs.
But in the subsequent months, it has become more and more clear that Quinn Hughes and not Pettersson will be the next captain of the Canucks.
The buzz from insiders is Quinn Hughes will be captain
There are numerous reasons the captain buzz has shifted from Pettersson to Hughes. For starters, there was Pettersson’s seeming reluctance to take the job. Pettersson has never been a captain at any level and has never campaigned to be one.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes those who least want a leadership position are the ones who should be in that position. As Douglas Adams said in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, “It is a well-known fact that those people who most want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it…anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.”
Aside from Pettersson's reluctance, Hughes took massive strides as a leader for the Canucks on and off the ice last season. He wore an A as an alternate captain, as did Pettersson, and began speaking up more and more at practice and in the locker room.
And, at the end of the season, when the Canucks spoke directly to the fans after their final home game, Hughes was selected as the team spokesman, even if he downplayed that moment.
It’s clear that Hughes was taking more of a leadership role and now NHL insiders — both national in Elliotte Friedman and local in Rick Dhaliwal — are strongly hinting that Hughes will be the captain.
"I'm still a young guy trying to piece it all together."
Let’s be clear: Hughes would be a great choice. Just as Pettersson is the Canucks’ franchise forward, Hughes is the Canucks’ franchise defenceman. Both lead by example on and off the ice with their hard work and commitment and have the same passion for the game, even if they’re both on the quieter side.
The question is not whether Hughes would be a good captain in the future but whether he’s ready right now.
While Hughes’ potential to be a leader has always been there, his growth as a leader has been a recent development as he stepped more into that role just this past season. Just as Pettersson has never been a captain at any level, neither has Hughes, though he did wear an “A” with Team USA at the 2019 World Junior Championship.
According to Rick Tocchet, while Hughes has been vocal in the room and even acted as a go-between with the coaches and players — both important qualities for a captain — that wasn’t the case not that long ago.
“I don’t go in [the room] very often after a game but a couple of players tell me that Hughes is pretty vocal and he wasn’t three months ago, he was a little more quiet,” said Tocchet. “I think he’s taken that personally, that he wants to be a vocal guy in the room. His personality — he’s not a big talker — but for him to get out of his comfort zone is huge for our team.”
That’s exactly how Hughes described his growth as a leader, as he aimed to push himself last season to improve but that he still has a long way to go.
“For me, it was more just trying to push myself out of my own comfort zone and continuing to grow as a person, not only as a player,” said Hughes. “There’s still lots of guys I can lean on, lots of good leaders in here. I’m still a young guy trying to piece it all together and learn.”
Hughes himself, in an interview with Postmedia’s Ben Kuzma, said the Canucks don’t need to name a captain quickly.
“I have a lot of things on my mind. I want to be in the playoffs and keep taking my game to another level,” said Hughes. “They don’t need to do it soon. If they give it a year or two years, or whenever they decide to do it, I don’t think anybody feels pressure in here, or that they need to do something.”
Does a team in transition need a captain?
With all of that in mind, perhaps the best move for the Canucks would be to wait to name a captain, even if they’re sure it will be Hughes. They could have Hughes, Pettersson, and J.T. Miller all as alternates — or co-captains if they want to get crazy — and share the leadership load between the three players as Hughes continues to grow in that area.
That said, only one man can say whether Hughes is ready to be captain: Hughes himself.
With his growing maturity as a player and a person and another offseason where he can step back and assess that growth, perhaps Hughes feels he’s ready to take that step and be the captain of the Canucks. And, if that’s the case and the Canucks feel the same way, then let it be so.
But the one remaining question isn’t about whether Hughes is ready to be captain but whether the Canucks as a team are ready to have any captain at all.
This is a team in transition that has gone through three coaches in the last two seasons while undergoing a massive change in management as well. They’re a team that has missed the playoffs in seven of the last eight seasons, with no guarantee that they make the playoffs in the coming season.
Maybe it would be best to avoid putting a new captain in place when the team is in such a precarious position. It might be nice to have the team on more secure footing before making a young player the captain.
In other words, let’s make sure the ship isn’t sinking before naming a new captain, as that new captain might go down with the ship.