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Oh Captain, Eur Captain

Tuesday, 24.04.2007 / 12:00 AM / News
Vancouver Canucks
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Oh Captain, Eur Captain
No team with a European captain has ever won the Stanley Cup.

That is a fact.

However, just because it hasn't happened, doesn't mean it won't ever happen. And Vancouver hockey fans are desperately hoping that Markus Naslund is the one to make some hockey history here in the spring of 2007.

But it's not just Canucks fans who are thinking that way. Red Wings, Senators, Devils and Rangers supporters all want the Cup, too. And if their team gets it, Commissioner Gary Bettman will be handing off Lord Stanley's silver chalice to a European captain for the first time ever.

Certainly, it's just a matter of time until someone breaks through and lays to rest the misguided notion that European leaders can't get the job done. A quick check of hockey history will reveal that Sweden won the last Olympics. The Swedes also won last year's World Championship and the Czechs won it the year before that. Somebody must have stepped up enough so that leadership wasn't an issue on those teams.

And the way things are shaping up after one round of this year's National Hockey League playoffs, it looks like we could be weeks away now from a European breakthrough on this side of the Atlantic. Along with Naslund wearing the C' here in Vancouver, Niklas Lidstrom, Daniel Alfredsson, Patrik Elias and Jaromir Jagr all have their teams through to the second round. That means five of the eight teams still in the hunt for the Stanley Cup are captained by foreigners'.

Seven of the 13 permanent captains to start the playoffs carried European passports with Nashville's Kimmo Timmonen and the Islanders' Alexei Yashin eliminated in the first round (Pittsburgh did not have a captain, Buffalo has co-captains (Chris Drury and Daniel Briere) and Minnesota rotated its captain on a monthly basis).

With Ottawa now facing New Jersey in Round 2, either Alfredsson or Elias will get his team through to the Eastern Conference Final. Naslund, Lidstrom and Jagr all still have plenty of work in front of them, but it's not completely out of the question that the four conference finalists will have European captains. Obviously that would guarantee a slice of hockey history.

Lidstrom, Jagr and Elias are all remarkable players and have all won multiple Cups, although none while having a C' sewn on their jersies. Lidstrom is a three-time champ who surely learned a thing or two about leadership from Steve Yzerman. Jagr won a pair of titles in Pittsburgh playing alongside Mario Lemieux. And Elias won his two Cups during the Devils hey-day where he no doubt was influenced by the strong, silent leadership of Scott Stevens. Daniel Alfredsson is the longest serving Euro-captain of this bunch having held the reins in Ottawa since the start of the 1999-2000 season and Naslund became Captain Canuck a year later. While those two have yet to enjoy the playoff success of the others, this may be their year.

For those Canadians - and for some reason there seems to be more of them than just Don Cherry out there -- who somehow feel threatened by this overseas encroachment, take a look at what has already happened in these playoffs. The balance of power appears to have shifted. Four teams captained by Europeans knocked off teams captained by good ol' Canadian boys (Naslund's Canucks beat Brenden Morrow's Stars, Lidstrom's Wings took care of Jarome Iginla's Flames, Jagr's Rangers swept Scott Mellanby's Thrashers and Elias' Devils did away with Tim Taylor's Tampa Bay Lightning). San Jose's Patrick Marleau is the lone Canadian to captain his team past a team lead by a European (Timmonen and Nashville).

Anaheim's Scott Niedermayer - Cranbrook's own - is the other team captain still playing in these playoffs and he and his Ducks will be a formidable foe for Naslund's Canucks in Round Two. There's no rational explanation why a player's place of origin should matter any longer.

Hockey is a truly global game and that becomes clearer with every passing year. To simply make the National Hockey League, players have to be exceptional. To be given the honour of being named a team captain, a player's character can not be questioned.

All of the captains playing into the second round of the playoffs must be doing something right. And, in short order, two will guide their teams to the Final. However, only one will win it.

Markus, Niklas, Daniel, Jaromir and Patrik - for one you, it could soon be time to get "Eur" hands on the Stanley Cup. And that will certainly be a sight to for the hockey universe to C'.



Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight. E-mail him at jeff.paterson@team1040.ca