October 31, 2010
As we've written before, the captaincy in the NHL has as much symbolic importance as it does practical purpose. So the healthy scratching of a captain -- not for injury, not for disciplinary reasons -- is like a coach firing a bunker-busting bomb through the dressing room; affecting the player, affecting his teammates and making a vociferous statement to all of them about their play.
Captain Craig Rivet(notes) has been scratched for the last two games by Lindy Ruff, including last night's 4-0 loss at the Dallas Stars (a game that fans in Dallas are likely just learning was played after their final scouring of the Texas Rangers' box score). He sat in Atlanta for the Sabres' 4-3 OT loss, and he sat last night as well.
Symbolically, it's a bold move. Statistically, it's a no-brainer: Although he's a plus-1, Rivet's averaging just 15:44 per game in nine games after averaging 18:13 last season. He's not played well, but he's not the only Sabre who can claim that dubious achievement.
The scratching is an emphatic message for him to improve that play, but it's as much a message to his teammates that if a veteran captain isn't safe from the press box, no one is.
But does this move by Lindy Ruff irrevocably damage Rivet as Buffalo captain?
Here's Rivet meeting the media last night in Dallas. Pardon the obvious pun, but it was riveting.
The question was whether Rivet could still be an effective captain. The answer, from Rivet:
"It's a tough decision. Tough to answer the question. I haven't been in the situation before. A team needs ... a team needs a leader. The need a person that will lead by example on and off the ice. When things are tough, when things are difficult, you need a player with a good attitude; an attitude that other players can grasp to and try and find a solution to the problems that we're dealing with. I'm going to keep a good attitude."
I'm not going to lie, I was completely fascinated by this interview. I've gotten so used to seeing professional athletes give plastic interviews where they break out all the familiar catchphrases: we're not getting the breaks, we're not playing within the system, we're trying to do too much, we just need to keep working hard and putting pucks on the net. This interview was not like that at all. Rivet doesn't break down in tears or punch Kevin Sylvester in the mouth (alas) or anything like that. He's completely in control of his emotions. And yet, he's not in control of his emotions at all. He's clearly feeling a myriad of things: anger, disappointment, frustration, guilt, pride. I think in that interview, you really see a guy who knows he's watching the end of his career come up fast and also seeing the possibility that it might not end on his own terms.
Rivet's career is one issue; his captaincy might be the more immediate one, and Die By The Blade offered this take:
What happens to the captaincy is anyone's guess from here. Rivet has definitely lost the captaincy at this point because his effectiveness to lead the team goes out the window when you are in the press box. Someone has to step up and assume that role. While we don't see what happens in the dressing room, the best player to assume that captaincy may be Derek Roy(notes). His game has stepped up and beyond from last season and he looks like a player that has transformed a little from last season.
Or maybe it should still be Rivet. You scratch a captain so the captain can come back to the lineup and lead by example. In a season sinking into the muck -- as Buffalo is 3-7-2 and one New Jersey Devils Titanic away from the basement -- that kind of redemption is the right kind of symbolism.
Then again, scratching him did little to motivate the team.
And, in the end, motivation is less about the captain than the coach.
Thanks to TheRick625 for the video.