With Claude Giroux gone and off to Ottawa, the question will only grow more unavoidable the closer to training camp we get: Who will be the next captain of the Philadelphia Flyers?
Granted, after a completely deflating season and a somehow even more deflating offseason, the Flyers have much bigger issues than who will be next to wear the C for them.
Nevertheless, the letter has always been a major honor within hockey, and the decision as to who, if anyone, wears it for the Orange and Black this season is the decision that eventually has to be made.
The Flyers have a few options, led by a very obvious one, so let’s jump right into based on the order of the likeliest candidates.
Here is the list of players who could be the Flyers’ next captain:
The obvious choice
• Sean Couturier: Now the longest-tenured Flyer and, when healthy, one of the NHL’s best defensive centers, Couturier has long been seen by most as the next in line for the captaincy once Giroux left. Giroux has left. Expectations are anything but high for the Flyers right now, but with an eight-year extension kicking in and likely a chip on his shoulder to come back fully healthy from season-ending back surgery, Couturier, who debuted as an 18-year old way back in 2011, can set the tone for a new era of Flyers hockey with a dominant season and the C on his chest nearly 12 years later.
Other strong options
• Kevin Hayes: A strong two-way center, also when healthy, he proved he can still be as much down the stretch when he finally healed up from a groin infection. He’s an influential voice in the locker room, and through an infectious personality, is someone the Flyers, and a majority of the NHL at large, rally around, especially this past season following the loss of his brother Jimmy. Head coach John Tortorella also said at his introductory press conference that he believes there’s more to Hayes down the middle of the ice, and perhaps greater responsibility is a step toward unlocking it. “Kevin is one I’m anxious to work with because I think there’s more there,” Tortorella said back in June. “I think he’s a huge piece of the puzzle up the middle of the ice for this organization.”
• Scott Laughton: Another longtime Flyer, Laughton caps out as a bottom six-forward, but a highly effective and team-oriented one. He’ll never be a team’s best player, but he’s been, and will likely continue to be a reliable and responsible one. Going on a decade in the league, Laughton has seen a lot, grown a lot, and plays a detailed-minded game that can set a great example for the rest of the group.
• Cam Atkinson: An aggressive winger who has always played a game far bigger than his actual size, Atkinson was a fan-favorite in Columbus who was always good for 20-30 goals and that carried over when he was traded to Philadelphia. For as much criticism as general manager Chuck Fletcher has gotten over the past year for his decision-making, the call to bring in Atkinson definitely wasn’t a bad one, and while maybe not the strongest choice for captain, Atkinson wouldn’t be the worst one either. Plus, Tortorella is highly familiar with him having coached him in Columbus too.
• None at all: Sometimes you just don’t have anyone that’s deserving of the C yet, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, a couple of teams have avoided giving out the C the past few years until a clear-cut captain came along, and it’s tough to argue that either of them are worse off for having held off. The Vegas Golden Knights, as the new expansion team in 2017, opted to wait to name a captain until they believed they had a player truly deserving of the honor, and that player didn’t come along until nearly four years later when they finally gave it to Mark Stone. The New York Rangers also stayed away from naming a captain throughout their rebuild and only just gave it to defenseman Jacob Trouba coming off a run to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Look, the Flyers are in an uncertain state right now, and running with all alternate captains until someone clearly takes the reins wouldn’t be the worst idea as they see at least this season through.
• Travis Konecny: Konecny’s a bit of a wild card in the captaincy conversation. Like many on the Flyers, he didn’t have too great of a 2021-22 campaign, even if he finished it relatively strong and did make strides to become a more complete player and leader. Entering year 7 at age 25, Fletcher said at the end of the season that the team’s expecting a breakout year from Konecny, so while he may not be a clear choice for captain, I think you’d at least have to consider it and, at minimum, put him in the running as an alternate captain.
• Ivan Provorov: If this was two years ago, Provorov would probably have a much better case, but the past two years since Matt Niskanen retired have not done the 25-year old defenseman any favors. He has eaten big minutes and does still seem to have the team’s backing, but if the Flyers were to consider him a captain or even as a continued alternate, you’d have to be sure he really is going to step up as the franchise defenseman he was always supposed to be this season.
• Joel Farabee: This one’s kind of null and void because he’s injured, but on the night of Giroux’s 1,000th game, both he and interim coach Mike Yeo gave very high praise of Farabee as the Flyers’ next big star and he’s certainly flashed that potential. When he comes back, and if the Flyers want to start establishing the next decade with him at the forefront, giving him the C would be a first, albeit very early step.
• Travis Sanheim: He took big strides on the blue line last season and could be a core piece, but he is in a contract year, so you have to get him signed.
• Justin Braun: He’s coming back on a one-year deal as a solid, reliable bottom-pairing defenseman, and at 35, has seen nearly everything. If the Flyers wanna go the route of ’07-’08 with Jason Smith (results may vary), put the C on Braun for a year.
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