When Zach Parise and Ryan Suter first pulled their new green sweaters over their heads during their media introduction, an interesting tidbit was revealed not just to us, but to them as well – both players were named assistant captains despite never having played a shift with the team.
They had no idea the honour was coming, so after seeing Zach Parise appear a little surprised, Wild coach Mike Yeo joked “We probably should have talked about that.” He did get more serious and explain himself after, saying:
“You don’t make the type of commitment for these types of players unless you bring in two quality human beings. What they do on the ice speaks for itself, but what they will add to our group from a leadership and character standpoint — they’re going to play a huge role for us, and we’re expecting them to be leaders for a long time.”
Last season, Matt Cullen and Dany Heatley wore those letters for the Wild, and while one of those two will likely keep an “A” (and the Wild will go with three), one of them is going to have to give theirs up.
As much as those letters “don’t mean anything” and players are constantly reminded that “anyone can lead” (those fictional quotes are from a coach explaining to a player why he no longer has his “A”), wearing a letter is a nice little piece of validation. In lower leagues you’re supposed to have more access to refs when you wear one too (hurray!), but in reality, professional refs will talk to anyone being reasonable.
But still, let’s say you’re Dany Heatley (I predict he loses his, being that Koivu (C), Parise (A) and Heatley (A) are going to be a line, and it seems silly to have all the letters on the ice at the same time just in case a ref wants to play access hardball) – you’ve put in a year with the club, grinding out a frustrating season, practicing and working out with the guys. You’ve played 3-4 more NHL seasons than both Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. You’re older than both of them. And now the trainer takes the metaphorical stitch remover to your chest and plunks your letter on one of the team’s newest, shiniest toys. You’d be a bit annoyed, yes?
I think in that instance, it’s okay to be a little bit bummed, but here’s where it comes down to a topic I wrote about yesterday on what it takes to be “good in the room.”
Here’s a small demotion that you simply cannot pout about, because the rest of the team, fans and staff are jacked about the new additions. This is a new life for the team, a shot of pure adrenaline into the heart of the Wild, and if you let something like this be a big deal, then you’re clearly not a team-first guy. If someone’s pulling in the opposite direction from the get-go, it’s unlikely they’ll be around long.
It’s not as though Parise and Suter aren’t qualified captains – Zach wore the “C” for the New Jersey Devils, a team with leaders like Patrick Elias and Marty Brodeur in the room, and Suter wore an “A” for the Preds, only behind Shea Weber on the team totem pole.
These guys are, in my opinion, perfect leaders – no offence to the rah-rah types (for some reason Shane Doan strikes me as a guy who’d be one, not sure why), but most players love to go to work with guys who bring their lunch pails and hardhats and just do it, instead of requesting that others step up.
We may have over-romanticized the glory of the “north-south player,” but they really do make perfect captains. There’s something to be said about the guy who just goes right at someone, gets knocked down, and tries again. That’s tough to play, and Parise and Suter both go at guys with everything they’ve got. And if they can do it, why can’t you? The fact that they’re so deserving of leadership roles should make it easier for whichever Wild forward has to relinquish his letter.
So minus some initial pangs of disappointment, Cullen or Heatley shouldn’t dwell on this long, and the team should embrace the new duo with open arms. Parise and Suter have earned respect in the League, and while people in the room may not know them yet, their reputations will have surely proceeded them.