Last year's Stanley Cup Final gave us the ammunition for a classic captain debate.
On one side, you had Jonathan Toews, widely-regarded as the best captain in the NHL for reasons no one can really explain. (It's probably the faces. Have you seen the faces he makes? Those are leadership faces.) On the other side, you had Zdeno Chara, the Slovakian defenseman who leads by quietly being the best blueliner in the world and the backbone of one of hockey's elite defensive teams.
He's also the tallest.
Looking at this, the hockey world asked: can Zdeno Chara's low-key captaincy overcome Jonathan Toews' more traditional captaincy? (It was a subtle reframing of the old, slightly more prejudiced debate: can a team win with a Euro captain?)
But this year's Stanley Cup Final makes last year's debate seem downright silly. In 2014, the question is even simpler: do you even need a team captain?
Because the Rangers don't have one. They traded theirs, Ryan Callahan, away at the deadline, and then never bothered to replace him, instead handing "leadership duties", whatever that even means, over to the trio of Dan Girardi, Brad Richards, and Marc Staal.
They're pretty committed to the model, too. All three approached the Prince of Wales trophy at the same time after the Rangers eliminated the Canadiens. They were followed by goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, and then the rest of the team. The statement being: no one guy led us here. We did this as a team.
This notion doesn't appear to be affecting them negatively.
As for the Kings, well, they have a captain, and while it's the same guy who captained them to a Cup in 2012, it really isn't. Dustin Brown was a first-line winger back then. Two years on, he's not even a 30-point forward. He's a checker now, sixth in even-strength icetime among LA forwards in these playoffs behind the likes of Jarret Stoll, Marian Gaborik, and Dwight King.
It's not even really his team anymore. I think we all know who it belongs to. More like Anze Co-Capitar, amirite?
Looking at it, I'm actually pretty happy the Kings are here and not the Blackhawks. Can you imagine the rhetoric today, comparing super-captain Toews to the Rangers' captain-free model? The Blackhawks would have been heavily-favoured, and had they won, as expected, it would have served as evidence that you need a captain, preferably a elite one, maybe with mutton chops and Canadian citizenship.
That's unlikely to happen at the end of this Final, and thank God.
We spend a lot of time fussing and fuming over who's captaining a team as though it matters. It really doesn't. Leadership isn't a total myth, but you don't need a letter to provide it any more than you need a letter to get a date to the sock hop. What the Kings and the Rangers are showing us is that the captaincy is little more than pageantry -- an honour bestowed on a player for being a generally good player, or good guy -- that has no actual bearing on team success. The strength of your team, on the other hand,
It seems a little silly to even give a nod to one team over the other in this case. A fading captain versus no captain at all is hardly a battle. But since that's the assignment, I'm leaning towards New York, because I'd love to see a captainless team win the Stanley Cup, and let the rest of the hockey world realize that one 'C' doesn't matter as much as, and certainly doesn't lead to, four Ws.