Sunday, November 26, 2006

O Captain(s), My Captain(s)!

The Buffalo Sabres are the only team in the league (I think) with co-captains. They are Danny Briere and Chris Drury. One wears the "C" one night, the other wears it the following night. (The guy who isn't wearing the "C" wears one of the "A"s.) There are a couple of exceptions to the rotation. Chris always wears the "C" when the team plays in Boston. He has friends and family there and it's where he played his college hockey (Boston University, Hobey Baker winner). Danny always wears the "C" in Ottawa and Montreal since that's the area he grew up in. I wasn't crazy about the whole co-captain thing when we first started it, but I have to admit it seems to work pretty well. A recent article about Danny and Chris referred to them as the yin and yang of Buffalo hockey and their personalities do balance each other very well.

Danny is the vocal captain. He's the one who's going to put himself out there. He wears his heart on his sleeve. You can watch him play and know exactly what he thinks about the way he and the team are playing. You can tell if he's excited, if he's angry, if he's frustrated. He's not afraid to give someone an earful whether it's a teammate, a ref (in an appropriately captain kind of way, of course), or an opponent. But he also knows when a teammate needs support and encouragement. When call-up Mike Ryan put a puck in our net a couple nights ago, Danny was the one who pulled him aside and said, "Hey, don't worry about it. Half the guys in this room have done the same thing and we're going to win the game anyway." Danny's always one of the first guys to skate in to defend a teammate and if he feels like the other guy needs a swipe or a shove, Danny's going to give it to him, even if the other guy is 5 inches taller and 40 lbs. heavier. He plays with the fire and determination of a guy who's always been told that he's too small to make it in the NHL. When things are tight, when the game is on the line, he wants the puck. He's not afraid to fail or succeed in those situations. Because he's outgoing and talkative, he's the captain who usually deals with the media and fans. It's not that Chris doesn't like us, but Danny is a natural people person. He's particularly wonderful with kids, most of whom adore him. (Maybe it's the small stature and the baby face.) He almost always has a huge grin on his face.

Chris is quiet and painfully shy. (Seriously, if you ever have a chance to see him interviewed, you must watch. He looks like he's facing a firing squad, he stares at the ground most of the time, and he will answer as quickly and succintly as he can. Maybe he'll use full sentences if he's feeling particularly chatty.) But when he talks, woo-boy, people listen. It was allegedly Chris who told management that if they were serious about putting together a winning team, they needed to get rid of Miroslav Satan because while he was talented, he was also selfish and lazy on the ice and his bad habits were rubbing off on others. It was also allegedly Chris who took aside a cocky and obnoxious Derek Roy during training camp last year and told him, "Look, kid, you haven't earned that kind of attitude yet. Shut up and prove you belong here." Satan was on the next bus out of town and Derek returned later in the season with the same passion but a new attitude. Where Danny is fiery and excitable, Chris is very even-keeled. I have no doubt he's the one who kept last year's very young, very inexperienced team (less than five post-season games combined excluding him*) calm and focused enough to come within one period of the Stanley Cup finals. He's the one with his eye on the prize. He's the one who, even in the midst of the winning streak at the beginning of the season, kept saying over and over, "It's nice to win a lot of games, it's nice to start the season with a bunch of points, it's nice to bring some excitement to Buffalo. But we could win every regular season game and it won't matter. Our goal is the Stanley Cup." Certain fans who have trouble dealing with my team's success (you know who you are) say to me, "This doesn't mean anything. The Senators started the same way last year and then crapped out in the playoffs." First of all, I know, I was watching the entire flame-out since the Senators crapped out to MY team. Second of all, the Senators got overconfident. Regardless of what they said, they came into the series with Buffalo playing like a team who clearly thought they were better than their opponent. (The drama about Hasek's injury didn't help and everyone in Buffalo was happy that particular problem wasn't ours anymore.) That won't happen in Buffalo because the second confidence turns into overconfidence and success leads to laziness, Chris will be in the lockerroom knocking heads together. He works his ass off and he expects everyone else to as well. We could be up by seven goals or down by seven goals and if you're watching Chris play, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference. As ESPN's John Buccigross said in his most recent column, "He (Chris Drury) plays every game like someone kidnapped his entire family and the ransom is winning the faceoff he is about to take." Danny is more gifted offensively - the man can do beautiful, beautiful things on the ice - but Chris is very solid on both ends of the ice. He's our top face-off guy, he plays the power play and penalty kill, and when it's up to us, he's on the ice against the oppponent's first line. Danny may be the face and voice of the team, but I think Chris is its heart and its conscience.

Due to salary cap issues and Danny's ridiculous arbitration award (I'm sure he'll be worth the five million before the season is over but it would've been nice if that had been the ending point of contract negotiations and not the starting point), it's very possible that we'll lose one of our captains this off-season. But I'm not going to worry about that right now. For now I just want to enjoy how far they're going to carry us this season.


margee said...

Great post. I've always thought it was an interesting idea to share the captaincy, especially with two dudes as disparate in personality and as ego-less as Drury and Briere.

But I have to ask, because one of my co-workers is a fanatical Sabres fan and asked me this question, but which one would you keep? Since both contracts are up at the close of the season (with a Stanley Cup probably), and presumably the asking price will be too much to keep them both, which one do you keep?

I'm curious to see if we agree.

Sophie's Choice!

Heather B. said...

Oh, my Lord, I hate this question! I go back and forth.

Danny is definitely a superstar in the making (or made maybe at this point). He just has a way of taking over a game when we need it. He's also a total sweetheart (seemingly) and, I think, a really great face for the franchise and the NHL. When he first started sharing the captaincy with Chris, I thought Chris was definitely the better leader, but I think Danny has grown into the role.

Chris isn't as flashy as Danny, but he's a more well-rounded player. He does a little bit of everything and does most of it very well. And I have no doubt that he's the one who's most responsible for the change in attitude and mentality in the lockerroom over the last three or so years. He does not take bullshit, plain and simple. He doesn't want your excuses, he doesn't care about your ego. He just wants you to leave everything you have on the ice.

So for me it comes down to, who's more easily replaceable? Danny is amazing, but Maxim Afinogenov is still maturing, Tim Connolly definitely has similar skills if he's healthy (admittedly, a big if right now), and Thomas Vanek is blossoming *and* turning into a better defensive player than Briere is. Those guys all have the potential to take over scoring if needed. However, in Derek Roy I think you have a young guy who's growing into a similar game as Drury - he can score goals, but he also has a great vision and can set others up. He's very good in his own zone and even though he's a lot smaller than most of his opponents, he can give people fits while defending them.

In the end, I give Chris a slight edge because of his leadership. I think it's just a style of leadership that doesn't come along very often. I don't know if there are a ton of captains in the league who are more respected by their teammates than Chris is. I do think you almost have to see him play on a regular basis to really appreciate everything he does for the team on and off the ice. There are other players I like more (not that I dislike him) but few I respect more. Danny's definitely a good leader and I think Derek Roy and Brian Campbell are leaders in the making, but they seem to all be different styles.

I also give Chris a slight edge for monetary value. With Danny making 5 million already, I fear his asking price is going to get very, very high especially if he hits the open market. I don't think Chris will go as high as 5.

But it's a very slight edge, and I've changed my mind on the issue many times and probably will continue to throughout the season. Either one is a big loss that will make me a very sad girl. But I'm going to keep Chris. Yeah, Chris.


What do you and your friend think?

Heather B. said...

Holy cow! That didn't look quite so long when I was actually typing it...

margee said...

Haha! I liked it.
We agree, and I brought up pretty much the same points you did. I suggested to my co-worker that if Buffalo wanted to contiune with a tandem captaincy they should promote Brian Campbell, who seems to have a light personality and on-ice fire like Briere. I didn't think or Derek Roy, but that is completely true. He's just as pesty as Danny, but at both ends.
I like both Drury and Briere, but I think that Drury brings just a few more intangibles than Briere. It's hard to place a value on just how important it is to have a no-crap captain on your team (the NY Giants are finding this out the hard way with Eli Manning, and the Rangers may be struggling with this too). And the secret is out about Briere, his price tag is totally going to skyrocket.
Should make for some juicy off-season drama.

Heather B. said...

I'm somehow relieved to be agreed with :-) This is definitely a hot topic already among Sabres fans. I do feel a little bad for Chris because I think people who don't seem him or the team play a lot will compare numbers and say we should keep Danny. And like you said, I don't think it's as clear-cut as numbers. I also think you're right about promoting Brian Campbell. I think Roy has potential for leadership but still needs a couple of years of maturing. I think Soupy's ready now. He wore Jay McKee's "A" here and there during the pre-season so I think the powers that be have an eye on him too. If we lose Danny or Chris or Teppo retires, I'll be shocked if Brian doesn't get one of the letters next season.

Unless owners and GMs have learned a lesson this season, I also expect Danny to go ridiculously high on the open market. And no matter how awesome he is, I'm not sure it's smart for a team working under a salary cap to spend 6 or 7 million on one player.

We'll see what happens I guess!