On a day when the leading news item from the Golden Knights was Mark Stone being named the first captain in franchise history, a secondary storyline emerged: If you didn’t think so before, this is absolutely Pete DeBoer’s team.
He replaced the fired Gerard Gallant as head coach in January of last year, and it was several months later when DeBoer said on a team podcast that he always believed in naming a captain.
It obviously took convincing president of hockey operations George McPhee and general manager Kelly McCrimmon to embrace the idea. Maybe even owner Bill Foley.
DeBoer obviously got his wish.
“It has been 40 years since an NHL team won the Stanley Cup without a captain,” he said. “It doesn’t mean you can’t do it … but I don’t think it’s an accident that’s the case. That leadership hierarchy is very important in the dressing room.”
Now is time
It made sense until now, the Knights having never attached a “C” to a specific sweater and instead choosing a handful of alternate captains. But each passing season removes the organization further and further from its Golden Misfits expansion moniker.
This is no longer a cute little story with a fan base infatuated with nicknames and the color of one’s goalie pads. OK, so the part about nicknames and goalie pads still weirdly exists.
But this is a team built to win it all now, with a veteran head coach who sees the value and importance of a singular representative voice. It’s not like the Knights have suffered without a captain. They reached a Stanley Cup Final, two Western Conference finals and made the playoffs all three seasons. Simple and consistent worked just fine.
Yet the goal is to lift something at season’s end.
You don’t make the sort of trade deadline and offseason moves the Knights have in recent years to be thought of as anything other than a serious contender. It makes sense, then, that part of DeBoer’s plan for his team’s ability to continue evolving is naming a captain. It’s a sign of growth. The misfits were a historic group. They’re also the past.
Here’s the present: Sometimes, the most obvious choice is the best one. Stone is both. He pumps his fist more than Tiger Woods wearing red on Sunday. Wants to win more than anyone. Works as hard has anyone. Loves the game as much as anyone.
“I don’t think Mark Stone is a one-moment guy,” DeBoer said. “I think he’s a guy that does it right every single day. How he approaches the game, how he approaches practice, how he is with his teammates.
“I also love the emotion he displays on the ice. He’s invested in the game and you can tell that every shift. I’ve never seen a guy happier when other guys on the team score … That selflessness shines through. He has all the qualities you’re looking for.”
Stone seems measured enough amid all the jumping and cheering and fist pumping to be a strong leader. I’m not sure how much he will enjoy facing the media more than any other Knights player. But if he wants to delegate such responsibility, he’ll get no argument in these parts from a heavy dose of Jonathan Marchessault.
This, we know: DeBoer, whose team opens its season against Anaheim on Thursday night at T-Mobile Arena, has used the last year more and more to create a team in the likeness he prefers and believes gives the Knights their best chance to win.
The penalty kill. Breakouts. Rushes. Coverages. Who to start in goal.
And now, naming a captain.
DeBoer got his wish. As he should.
His team. Now more than ever.
Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at email@example.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.