With Pavel Datsyuk’s retirement from the NHL, the Red Wings have a void to fill not only at forward, but amongst the officially designated leaders of the team as well. Currently, only Zetterberg and Kronwall are captains and the Red Wings have traditionally gone with three official on-ice leaders. Listed below are the most likely candidates (in my humble opinion) to fill this void and an argument for each.
According to many fans, good ol’ Abby is the first in line for Pavel’s A. His recent contract seems to suggest as much. He plays top line minutes, he’s a fan favorite, he puts up points, he’s grew up in Muskegon, his bedroom still has an Yzerman poster on the wall, and he scored the game winning goal on the national championship game for Michigan State back in ‘07. What more could you want from an alternate captain?
Well, there is a wrinkle. Outside of Detroit, Abdelkader’s reputation is… mixed. His number of questionable hits may be a little too high for the image-conscious Red Wings, and his shenanigans at the end of game 2 against the Lightning were considered condemning by many. Tomas Holmstrom had a mixed reputation outside of the Wings, albeit for different reasons, and he never wore an A, either. Abdelkader may experience similar circumstances if Detroit decides to put letters on only the cleanest cut of Wings.
Kid Wonder could make a push for being the new alternate captain based on his performance, trajectory, and expectations. Throughout the season Larkin was loftily compared to Steve Yzerman, and not unduly. Larkin is the first Red Wings rookie since Yzerman to be invited to the All-Star Game, he lead the team in goals, and carries himself with a confidence on and off the ice that is rare for a kid his age. If his work ethic and enthusiasm are as real as they are apparent, then putting an A on Larkin’s sweater could be a good fit and a nod toward the future.
Furthermore, he’s got the Michigan thing going for him. If Larkin was entering his third or fourth season and had been improving the way many hope he does, then I’d say Larkin would be a lock for the alternate captain, but the Wings may deem he’s just a little too young.
DeKeyser is transitioning into the Red Wings leader on the blue line, and Jeff Blashill and Ken Holland may give it the seal of approval with an alternate captaincy promotion. The main argument against DeKeyser may be that Kronwall still holds an alternate captain title and the Wings could want to spread the letters out across the positions. However, DeKeyser is a stand up figure in the eyes of the fanbase. He possesses an experience that Larkin lacks, but is a more presentable alternate captain than Justin Abdelkader. And at any rate, he seems to be the heir apparent to Kronwall’s A. While some may argue that he should just be given Kronwall’s position in a few season when Kronner retires, I think that the captaincy titles are earned in Detroit. If DeKeyser is the best candidate, he ought to be given it based on merit alone and not because someone else has filled the token position of 'blue line alternate captain.'
Gustav Nyquist is the lone non-Michigan born candidate for the alternate captain opening. When Nyquist signed his contract last offseason it included a No Trade Clause that kicks in during the 2017-18 offseason. This lead many fans to hope that he may be moved before the clause kicks in. While the Goose is a loved player, it seems that Ericsson’s contract has pretty well soured everyone on NTCs. However, I think the NTC is actually really telling in regards to how Ken Holland and the rest of management views Nyquist. He’s paid like a core piece and he’s treated like a core piece.
It’s also relevant that he is this team’s most important young Swede, and he may be given the A in part to maintain the Swede-friendly culture that the Red Wings have meticulously built. He’s not going to develop into the star power that Zetterberg was in his prime, but Axel Holmstrom might, and Nyquist may be a significant torch-passer in that regard.
Maybe there’s another wildcard in the mix that we’re not considering. Is Drew Miller coming back to become a fourth-line captain like Kris Draper? Will two of the candidates above share alternate captaincy on a home-and-away basis like Zetterberg and Datsyuk did back in their prime? Or could the Wings go with three full time alternate captains like the majority of the league? Are we living in the darkest timeline where Ericsson is a sports a letter on his chest?
It's a serious decision that the Red Wings must make, because it's a statement about the angle and direction of the team and it makes a player responsible for Detroit's success in the eyes of the public. Whatever the choice is, hopefully it's the right choice.