August 9, 2013

Great Debate: Who should fill B's alternate captain vacancy?

Every Friday, a rotating group of NEHJ staff members will share their take on one hot topic in the hockey world. Here’s the debut of The Great Debate.

The setup: With Andrew Ference leaving Boston after six-plus seasons as a Bruin, the B’s have a decision to make when it comes to their appointed leaders. Ference split alternate captain duties with center Chris Kelly, with one sporting the ‘A’ on the road and the other fulfilling the role on home ice.

The question: Who should fill Boston's alternate captain vacancy?


Handpicking one member of a team chock full of quality character guys and exemplary professionals isn't an easy task. Shawn Thornton doesn't need an 'A' sewn on his sweater for people to know that he's among the most prominent leaders of the Bruins, but after six years in black and gold, I think now is the time to give him that deserved recognition.

The Bruins -- under Claude Julien at least -- haven't been an organization that appoints its leaders based simply on their scoring merits (see: Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh). It's largely about the intangibles, the way a player carries himself both on and off the ice. Thornton has been a model teammate since the moment he arrived back in 2007. The skilled pugilist is also a pillar in the community, as he's played a key role in more charitable causes over the last six years in the Boston area than most of us ever will in our entire lifetime. There may be more suitable long-term choices, as my colleagues will outline below, but if I was making the call, No. 22 would be sporting a capital 'A' above the spoked-B on his jersey this fall.



My heart says Thornton. My mind says Kelly. Thornton is obviously a "glue guy" in the Bruins locker room. Just as it can be argued Patrice Bergeron is the real captain of the team despite not wearing the 'C,' Thornton is a leader in his own right regardless of whether he has a letter. But the role of an alternate is about more than the recognition of leadership, and Thornton doesn't play enough minutes to be useful in that role.

The idea is that you've got a guy who'll be a diplomat with the refs, and while I have no doubts about Thornton's ability to cozy up to the guys in the stripes, a half-dozen shifts per game (and a lot of time in the penalty box) means he's not actually out there to perform the tasks of diplomacy. Kelly, meanwhile, is a respected guy in the room and out, and he's got enough of an on-ice role to be a valuable asset in regards to what the captains are expected to do. 



Given the three years and $3 million price tag left on his current contract, it was no surprise to see Chris Kelly's name mentioned in trade rumors this summer. And while the alternating 'A' was certainly an interesting two-year experiment, now seems like the perfect time for the Bruins to transition the letter into a longer-term solution. Placing the responsibility of a leadership position on a player considered to be part of the team's core group certainly seems like the right call.

To me, the perfect candidate for this role would be Milan Lucic. After struggling through the condensed regular season schedule in 2013, Boston's franchise winger elevated his game to a new level once the playoffs began. Never was his dominating physical presence felt more than in Game 7 against Toronto, when Lucic was the catalyst behind Boston's epic late-game revival. Possessing both the ability to be vocal and lead by example, as well as being the type of player that commands respect across the league, Lucic seems to be the ideal candidate to take over as Boston's second alternate captain.



Kelly makes sense to get the 'A' full-time on paper, but if the rumors are true about the team shopping him around in the off-season, a deal might happen at some point involving the veteran center. Krejci wore the 'A' with Milan Lucic in the final game of the 2010 season when Mark Recchi & Patrice Bergeron were healthy scratches to prepare for the playoffs.

I believe the Bruins coaching staff appreciates Krejci's quiet leadership and the effective example he sets day in and day out. His fine 2013 playoff performance makes him a candidate to earn more of a symbolic leadership role on the Bruins, which is what wearing the 'A' entails.

Now we turn the question over to you: