With Jonathan Toews moving on after 15 years as captain, the Blackhawks won’t immediately name a replacement.
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images file photo
The Blackhawks won’t name a team captain for the 2023-24 season, instead letting a group of alternate captains comprise their leadership group while they figure out a long-term plan.
General manager Kyle Davidson, during a news conference Tuesday preceding the start of training camp Thursday, said the decision was made partly out of respect to Jonathan Toews — the team’s captain for the last 15 years — and partly in order to not rush the decision.
“The only plan right now is to just let it breathe for a year,” Davidson said. “[We want] not to put that pressure on someone else when you’re coming out of a period of such greatness. You want the next person to be in a position to succeed. And there’s no requirement to have a captain.”
Of course, the logical deduction from this decision is that the Hawks hope rookie Connor Bedard will grow quickly into a leader, allowing him to hopefully take over the captaincy in a year or two.
“Having a coach like Luke [Richardson, who] can fill a leadership role, is very nice,” Davidson added. “But in the end, the players have to have their own leaders and establish that. That’s the runway we’re giving them…to figure out who those next leaders or leader will be.”
NHL teams not naming captains has become something of a league-wide trend in recent years due to the evolving expectation that the captain also be the face of the franchise. Six other teams (the Ducks, Coyotes, Bruins, Flames, Flyers and Kraken) currently have a vacant captaincy, including two (the Coyotes and Flames) that have gone consecutive seasons with it vacant.
The Hawks’ captaincy history before Toews, conversely, demonstrates how the title used to be more of a year-to-year designation. They had five in an eight-year span — Doug Gilmour, Tony Amonte, Alexei Zhamnov, Adrian Aucoin and Martin Lapointe — with none serving more than two consecutive years in the role.
Davidson said the Hawks’ alternate captains this season will be determined later in training camp, but Seth Jones and Connor Murphy are sure bets considering they each wore an “A” last season.
If this was an earlier era, one of them might’ve had a good chance to be named outright captain this season; they could’ve guided the roster through this transition period before eventually ceding to Bedard. But with Jones under contract until 2030 and Murphy until 2026, the Hawks likely didn’t want to make that long a commitment to a non-cornerstone player.
Tyler Johnson, Nick Foligno, Corey Perry, Taylor Hall and Jarred Tinordi are candidates to assume the remaining one or two alternate captain titles.
“We’ve added a lot of experienced leaders, but we’re looking for the collective to find that leadership capability, not just the players that will end up wearing letters on their sweaters,” Davidson said. “We’re looking for everyone to step up.”
Davidson predictably made no reference to Bedard in regards to the captaincy specifically, but he nonetheless heaped plenty of praise on the No. 1 pick for how he has handled all the hullabaloo since the draft.
Davidson, Richardson and the rest of the Hawks’ front office were all in attendance in Minnesota last weekend to see Bedard’s jaw-dropping first game in a Hawks sweater.
“He’s played one game, but [it was] a fantastic performance,” Davidson said. “You saw that offensive hockey sense, that shot, that scoring ability. … So [I’m] really excited for him to get going and assimilated into the group.
“I can’t speak more highly of how he’s handled [the pressure and] how he’s not let it impact his focus and what he thinks is important…to perform at the level he expects of himself. [He’s] incredibly mature and impressive for an 18-year-old coming into a very unique situation.”