DETROIT – The Detroit Red Wings certainly aren't required to have a captain.
But it would be unprecedented for them to go a season without one. In fact, over the course of the franchise's 92-year history there always has been at least one player designated captain. From Ebbie Goodfellow to Ted Lindsay, and all the way up to Danny Gare in the early 1980s, someone has carried the title.
In recent history, the Red Wings captains have been iconic: Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom and Henrik Zetterberg. The past two transitions have been fluid -- Lidstrom was without question Yzerman's successor, and it was undoubtedly Zetterberg's team when Lidstrom retired in 2012.
With Zetterberg announcing his decision to end his career, the Red Wings are in a place they haven't been in more than 30 years: There is no clear successor to the captaincy.
Or is there? Many would argue Michigan native Dylan Larkin, 22, is the obvious choice to wear the "C." However, the team could decide to go with a more veteran player such as Justin Abdelkader, or even Niklas Kronwall, although Kronwall is likely to be following Zetterberg out the door soon.
Larkin is indeed a leader for this squad, despite his young age. It wouldn't be surprising to see him gain the designation now, especially since he just signed a new five-year contract to stay in Detroit. The team, however, has to make the decision, and it is up to them to decide if slapping the "C" on Larkin right now is the best thing to do. The added pressure might not be best at this point.
That's because the Red Wings captain is the face of the franchise. He is the leader on and off the ice. He talks to the officials, he talks to the media and he is expected to be active in the community. Larkin does have all of these attributes. He is an active and vocal leader, and he represents the Red Wings quite well outside of the rink. Yet, so does a player like Abdelkader, who has many more years of experience and already has the alternate captain "A" designation. The difference is Larkin certainly is "the face" of the franchise now, while Abdelkader is not. Larkin also is a key piece for the future, while Abdelkader's career is mostly behind him.
Perhaps the Red Wings will choose to do what the Toronto Maples Leafs have done. The Leafs have not had a captain since 2016 when then-captain Dion Phaneuf was traded to Ottawa. Toronto has chosen to run with three alternates instead of a captain and two alternates. And they will do so again this season despite the presence of young star center Auston Matthews and the addition of now-former New York Islanders captain John Tavares. Veteran Patrick Marleau, Tavares and defenseman Morgan Rielly each will wear the "A," leaving the captaincy open for a later decision. Matthews will play without a letter on his sweater.
The Red Wings could choose to do this while the team goes through a transitional period, not just for the captaincy but for the team overall. The Red Wings are still searching for an identity as they work to move from one era to another. Zetterberg's departure certainly puts a stamp on this transition era. The days of Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Lidstrom are now long gone. It's someone else's team now.
An important point to keep in mind is the beginning of Yzerman's captaincy. It also started during lean transitional years for the Red Wings. When Gare left, coach Jacques Demers decided to name 21-year-old Yzerman the youngest captain in team history. It was a statement, and Yzerman backed it up. In just his second season with the "C" the Red Wings won the division title for the first time in decades. The team turned around under his leadership, and the rest is history. Sometimes it takes a symbolic statement to spark a new era.
Could this be a similar situation with Larkin?