With roughly four months to go before the 2014-15 NHL season begins, the Buffalo Sabres are currently running a captain-less ship. After trading away both Thomas Vanek and Steve Ott, the team was left without a captain, a position they’ll likely fill heading into next season. Here are five options that the Buffalo Sabres could look into when considering who to hand the “C” when October rolls around.
The first possibility is defenseman Christian Ehrhoff.
At 31 years old and with 10 seasons of NHL experience, Ehrhoff should be considered a front-runner for the position of Buffalo Sabres captain. He’s been a mainstay on the blueline for Buffalo, arguably the Sabres’ best defenseman at times. He brings a leadership presence and isn’t afraid to speak up. Ehrhoff had six goals and 27 assists in 79 games with the Sabres this season
With nearly 700 games of NHL experience, Ehrhoff is a well-tended veteran and was one of three Sabres to wear an A last season. He’s also going to be with the Sabres for a long time, barring any trades, considering he’s signed with the team until 2021. Why not boost him and give him an even larger leadership role and make him team captain? I think Ehrhoff would be a great choice for team captain.
The second possibility is center Cody Hodgson.
Hodgson, 24, has made his mark in Buffalo over the last three seasons, also making an impact during his time with the AHL’s Rochester Americans during last year’s lockout. Hodgson is on the younger side, obviously seven years younger than Ehrhoff, but who’s to say having a young captain can’t work out for you? See Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins, Jonathan Toews and the Chicago Blackhawks, even Gabriel Landeskog and the Colorado Avalanche. Age is nothing but a number, and Hodgson has made a mark during his time with Buffalo that shouldn’t be overlooked. While Hodgson may not be at the same level as those guys, he’s been solid on the Sabres and will be entering his fourth full NHL season come October.
This past season, Hodgson had 44 points (20-24) in 72 games with the Sabres, and I’d argue that at times he’s been one of the Sabres’ best players. He’s also set to be with the Sabres for several more seasons, signed through the 2018-19 season.
Another possibility to be named Buffalo Sabres captain? Zemgus Girgensons.
At 20, Girgensons is by far the youngest player on this list, but it’s a name that I’ve seen several Sabres fans throw around when it comes to considering a team captain. Girgensons certainly has leadership potential and a fire on the ice that’s undeniable. Has he proven himself enough to have earned the top leadership role in the organization? To me, naming Girgensons captain would be a risk. He’s only had one season of NHL experience, with one season in the AHL to back that up. And while experience isn’t necessarily the top factor in naming a captain, I just don’t think we’ve seen enough of him to know his potential.
While I understand that some people may interpret that as an age bias, that’s not it. Crosby was just 19 when he was named captain, but he was also coming off two NHL seasons that saw him score 100+ points in each year. Toews was 20 and was coming off a rookie season that saw him lead NHL rookies with 24 goals and overall tally 54 points in 64 games. Landeskog was 19 and was coming off a Calder Trophy-winning season that saw him collect 52 points in 82 games. It’s not about the age, it’s about having proven yourself, and I’m just not sold that Girgensons has quite done that yet, at least not at that level.
The fourth possibility for the Buffalo Sabres captain is forward Drew Stafford.
Stafford has worn the A multiple times in his tenure with the Sabres, but could this be the year that he finally gets named captain? Stafford, 28, has seven and a half seasons of NHL experience, all with the Sabres. He’s the longest-tenured player in the organization on this list, and maybe he’s finally earned a chance at the captain role. Last season, Stafford had 34 points (16-18) in 70 games. He’s been inconsistent at times, which may affect his chances at a leadership role, but his longevity with the team and the city could prove to be a factor, albeit a small one.
Matt Ellis is the fifth and final option I’d like to introduce today as a possible candidate for the Buffalo Sabres captaincy.
The 32-year-old has been with the Buffalo Sabres organization for the past six seasons, whether it’s up in Buffalo or in the AHL with the Rochester Americans or Portland Pirates, back in the day. He’s been around the NHL a bit, spending time with Detroit and Los Angeles before coming to the Sabres, his longest-tenured organization. Ellis may never be the top-scoring guy on the team – in fact, he put up just six points in 50 games with the Sabres this season – but he brings a veteran presence to a team with a younger core. He was one of several players to wear the C in Rochester this season — could he move up and earn the transition to Sabres captain next year?
If pressed for a sixth option, I’d consider defenseman Henrik Tallinder – that is, provided the Sabres re-sign him this offseason.