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Should the Canucks name a new captain this season?

It's in the Canucks' best interests to wait until next season to name a new captain.
Elias Pettersson poses on the beach in his Western Conference All-Star jersey at the 2023 NHL All-Star Weekend in Sunrise, FL.

The Vancouver Canucks are captainless.

Captains of NHL teams get traded more often than you might think, considering they’re typically players integral to their team’s core and expected to be with the team for a long time. One enterprising Redditor found 132 instances in NHL history where a team traded away their captain and that was four years ago, so didn’t include more recent deals like the Buffalo Sabres trading Jack Eichel or the Philadelphia Flyers trading Claude Giroux.

Bo Horvat is the third Canucks captain to get traded, not including Trevor Linden, who was no longer the captain when he was traded to the New York Islanders. The Canucks previously traded away Don Lever and Dan Quinn when they were still captains of the Canucks. 

Canucks trading a captain = Stanley Cup Final?

Lever was traded to the Atlanta Flames with Brad Smith for Ivan Boldirev and Darcy Rota, both of whom played significant roles in the Canucks’ run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1982. 

Quinn was traded to the St. Louis Blues with Garth Butcher for Geoff Courtnall, Cliff Ronning, Sergio Momesso, Robert Dirk, and a fifth-round pick. That trade proved essential for the Canucks’ run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1994.

If you include Linden’s trade to the Islanders that eventually led to the Canucks drafting Daniel and Henrik Sedin and trading for Roberto Luongo, key components for the Canucks’ run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011, it’s starting to look like trading away a captain is the first step to going to the Stanley Cup Final for the Canucks.

Whether the Horvat trade similarly leads to a trip to the Stanley Cup Final largely depends on what the Canucks do next — is this the first step of a larger plan to rebuild/retool? — but the trade also raises some immediate concerns.

One of those concerns is who will be the next captain of the Canucks? 

Horvat on Pettersson as captain: "He'd be my vote."

General manager Patrik Allvin suggested after the trade that the list of potential captains is two names long: Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes. 

“I do think Pettersson and Quinn Hughes have shown that they're capable of taking over this team,” said Allvin.

Horvat himself cast his ballot for Pettersson during the All-Star Weekend media availability.

“He'd be my vote if it came to it and I'm sure one of these days it's going to go on his chest,” said Horvat. “So, if it does, I couldn't be more happy for him and he's obviously going to be a great captain.”

It almost seems like a foregone conclusion the way Horvat phrased his answer and he went on to lavish praise on his former Canucks teammate and current Pacific Division All-Star teammate.

“He's grown even more this year with his leadership on the ice,” said Horvat. “He's starting to say stuff in the room and he's really come into his own this year. I can't say enough good stuff about Petey the way he's played this year and the way he handles himself and he's emerging as a great leader and a great player and I'm sure he's going to take on a bigger role here, an even bigger role than he already has.”

Pettersson is a quieter player, something he himself will readily admit, but the Canucks have a history of quiet Swedish captains, like Markus Naslund and Henrik Sedin. This season, Pettersson has certainly led by example, with as much effort on the defensive end as there is in the offensive zone.

"Those two guys will get a letter."

But whether Pettersson, Hughes, or some other player is named the next captain of the Canucks, there is another question that needs to be answered: should the Canucks name a new captain this season?

In an interview with Mike Halford and Jason Brough on Sportsnet 650, new head coach Rick Tocchet said that Pettersson and Hughes will get letters on their chest this season — “Those two guys will get a letter” — and made it clear that they’re two of the most important leaders on the team.

“If we’re going to set the bar high here in Vancouver with the Canucks, those two guys have to be involved in the leadership group,” said Tocchet. “They have to you know, every day when they come in, they gotta set the standard, and I’m gonna really lean on those guys… Those guys have been in the league three, four years now. They’re premier players in the league, and I think it’s important that they have a voice and they’re part of this leadership group going forward.”

But neither Pettersson nor Hughes have been alternate captains before, apart from one game where Pettersson wore an “A” in place of the scratched Oliver Ekman-Larsson. If one of the two is the next captain of the Canucks, it would be very strange for them to jump straight to a “C” without wearing an “A” first.

In addition, this season is such a write-off for the Canucks that it would be patently unfair to put a new young captain in a position to have to answer for it over the remaining months. This season already has so much baggage attached to it.

What would make more sense for the Canucks is to wait until next season — after whatever other changes are coming the Canucks’ way at the trade deadline and in the offseason — so that whoever is the next captain gets to start with a clean slate. 

Who will wear an "A" for the rest of the season?

Assuming the Canucks go without a captain for the remainder of the 2022-23 season, what should be done with the alternate captains?

The Canucks currently have two alternate captains: Ekman-Larsson and J.T. Miller. Tyler Myers is listed as an alternate captain in some places but has not worn an “A” this season. If Pettersson and Hughes will each get an “A” as Tocchet suggested they would, then the Canucks would have a total of four alternate captains.

A team is allowed to have either one captain and two alternate captains in each game or three alternate captains. Would the Canucks rotate who wears the “A” or would one of Ekman-Larsson or Miller lose their letter?

There are multiple teams this season that are rotating letters among several players, so it would not be unusual to do so. It would be a fine solution for the Canucks to ease Pettersson and Hughes into a captaincy role.