Is it time to take the captaincy from Jason Arnott?

As we begin to evaluate just what went wrong with the postseason edition of the 2009-10 Nashville Predators, one of the first things that came to my mind after Game Six was the state of the Predators' captaincy. Jason Arnott had a disappointing regular season, and basically failed to show up the entire series outside of a short spurt in the elimination game that was a day late and a dollar short.

After the jump, the case for and against taking the captaincy from Jason Arnott.

Jason Arnott

#19 / Center / Nashville Predators

6-5

219

Oct 11, 1974

GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2009 - Jason Arnott 63 19 27 46 0 26 6 0 3 0 216 8.8

First, comments from head coach Barry Trotz on the very subject, as recorded by the good folks at Preds on the Glass. (2:22 mark)

A couple of things jump out at me here. One, that Arnott might not have been an ideal choice for the captaincy - it sounds like his appointment was more of necessity when the team went through the turnover it did and lost Kimmo Timonen. Second, that Trotz says Jason was 'uncomfortable' and has done a 'decent job'. In several years' hindsight, it makes sense that Arnott was given the 'C'. None of the younger players were ready, and Steve Sullivan was injured. Between these comments, and saying that they would 'reevaluate our leadership', it sounds to me like Barry Trotz has left the door open for a change. 

Why They Should

The case for a new captain:

  • Arnott's on ice leadership seems to be lacking. He doesn't always give 100%, gets angry when a call or play doesn't go his way, and seems to sulk when he goes through a rough patch. 
  • Between his age, concussion history, and career accomplishments, you have to wonder if he's going to think about hanging them up soon. Its probably a better idea to turn the reins over to someone else while he's still on the team and able to mentor. 
  • For the sake of the young players. Arnott doesn't assimilate with young line mates and has gotten upset when not paired with Steve Sullivan or J.P. Dumont. Players like Colin Wilson and Patric Hornqvist need leadership and encouragement, not discouragement. 

Why They Shouldn't

The case for keeping the 'C' with Arny:

  • He's the most veteran player on the team, and the only one with a Cup ring. Having scored a Stanley Cup winning goal, he knows what it takes to win on the biggest stage. 
  • When he's playing well, he can singlehandedly take the team on his back. Remember the mad push for the playoffs in 2008-09? The problem is these stretches are few and far between. 

Comparable Instances

Over the last couple years in the NHL, there have been three captaincy changes that would be similar to Nashville's. A player is underperforming and perhaps not suited to a leadership role in the NHL. They were Rod Brind'Amour to Eric Staal in Carolina, Patrick Marleau to Rob Blake in San Jose, and Mike Modano to Brenden Morrow in Dallas. I had a word with some of the bloggers who cover these teams to get their takes on the respective situations.

First, Cory Lavalette from our SB Nation Hurricanes affiliate Canes Country:

 Carolina's decision to change captains was surprising for many, even if the concept was kicked around among some fans. The big key to this being successful - and while the Canes were better after Eric Staal got the "C," I wouldn't say it's considered a slam-dunk move yet; only time will tell - is the grace in which Rod Brind'Amour handled it. The situation in Carolina wasn't about leadership issues, but rather a changing of the guard. 

The other recent examples, Modano and Marleau, were examples of teams that had failed in the postseason despite regular-season success. Brind'Amour was considered among the game's best captains just a few years ago, and of course led Carolina to the Stanley Cup in 2006. But with Staal the clear heir-apparent to No. 17 and Brind'Amour's play deteriorating courtesy age and injury, the Hurricanes approached Brind'Amour to see if he would be willing to pass the torch to Staal sooner rather than later. His willingness to do so was a final act of captaincy that rippled through the organization and made their exchange of roles as seamless as possible.    

Now we hear from Brad Gardner, managing editor of Defending Big D:

The captaincy switch in Dallas was a controversial one, but few would question that it was the right move. Brenden Morrow was 27 at the time, and had just signed a six year extension with the Stars. His unquestionable heart and work ethic made him the perfect "lead by example" captain on an aging team playing a young mans game. It was a gratuitous confluence of circumstances and timing. A good fit. Some felt it was handled poorly, but Modano maintained there were no hard feelings. The two remain (to our eyes) good friends to this day, and as everyone could see this April, Mike Modano's legacy wasn't tarnished in the least.

In this case, it was the play and passion of the new captain that facilitated the move; Not lackluster play by the old one. Our advice: If you do it, make sure you have a strong candidate in waiting.    

Finally, Mr. Plank of Fear the Fin:

From the outside looking in, I think Arnott is a good Captain-- he always struck me as a guy who would be a great leader in the locker room, and was consistently a twenty five goal threat. Furthermore, as was the case last offseason when the Sharks stripped Marleau of the C, it's hard for to gauge the tangible importance of who wears that sacred letter on their chest. I think it's primarily a function of the locker room and coaching staff to determine who they feel is best fit for the job, especially considering the off-ice responsibilities that position carries.

That being said, and attempting to approach this from the mind of Nashville, it might not be a bad idea. It seems to me that the Predators are stuck in the phase between transitioning to the future at this point, with the lack of a first round victory in franchise history likely wearing on everyone's mind. Making that jump into the future by awarding it to a guy like Shea Weber who will be contributing immensely to the team's success, compared to a guy like Arnott who is on the downswing of his career, could inject some life into the team and put more emphasis on the role of leading by example. The downside to this is that Weber's contract will likely be more expensive than it is already projected to be. His agent will definitely use this in negotiations.

It's not a move I necessarily feel is essential to team or individual success; if Patrick Marleau and the Sharks advance it will be due to their increased bottom line depth and the play of Nabokov in front of an average defense, not because Rob Blake wears the C. But for a team who is in that transition phase of getting excited about the future as their younger players slide into their prime, it is definitely something I'm sure Barry Trotz will consider.

Out with the old and in with the new as they say.    

Conclusion

In my mind, its past time that Jason Arnott hand the keys of this franchise to one of its younger and more hard working players who will lead by example. On Monday, we'll examine what I believe to be the legitimate candidates going forward. Till then, what say you? 

Many, many thanks to Plank, Brad, and Cory for their time and great help with this piece, and be sure to check out Preds beat writer John Glennon's thoughts on the matter as well.

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