Through a simple twitter message and a press release on their official website, the Montréal Canadiens officialized the nomination of Rochester-native Brian Gionta as its 28th captain. The Canadiens were without a captain since the end of the 2008-09 season when Saku Koivu left the team as an Unrestricted Free Agent to the Anaheim Ducks.
The Summer of 2009 was an eventful one. In addition to the departure of the captain of the 9 previous seasons, the team also traded or let go two players that were long prospected as future Habs captains, Mike Komisarek and Chris Higgins. The arrival of new leaders in Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta, Hal Gill, and Scott Gomez completely changed the dynamics of the team. Management announced early on that the captaincy would be their decision and not chosen through a players vote. Habs coach Jacques Martin didn’t hurry the process and spent the whole 2009-10 season without a captain in his ranks, even if this broke a century-long tradition. This, however, didn’t prevent the team from achieving success in the playoffs, and was an occasion for a group of 7 players to cement their status as leaders, namely Gill, Gionta, Gomez, Cammalleri, Tomas Plekanec, Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges.
Brian Gionta was amongst the favourites for the captaincy early on. His passion and commitment to the team were justly acknowledged by the fans. If, according to different HabsWorld polls, Brian Gionta wasn’t the most popular acquisition of the 2009 summer, he gained tremendous support from the start of the season and was amongst the favourites for the captaincy by the end of the season.
It is only the second time that an American-born player captains the Canadiens, after Chris Chelios, who co-captained the team in 1989-90. Since the last Stanley Cup in 1993, only 2 Québec-born players wore the C, Pierre Turgeon in 1995-96 and Vincent Damphousse from 1996 to 1999.
The captaincy situation has been a hot topic in sports media and fan forums for the past 18 months or so. The decision to announce the captain via Twitter and a simple press release on their website, and denying media access to the team facility on the morning of the announcement is definitely a statement against the media. On September 16, just before the opening of the Habs’ annual golf tournament, François Gagnon leaked the management nominee and published a front page article in La Presse, revealing Brian Gionta as the next captain. Without confirming or denying the news, Jacques Martin said the choice wasn’t official because he didn’t have the chance to sit down with the players and give them the occasion to discuss the topic before the announcement is made official. This is another example where media intrusion can have destructive effects, here undermining the coach’s credibility and leadership towards his own players.
Andrei Markov and Hal Gill have also been confirmed as assistant captains.