"If you can accept losing, you can't win." -- Vince Lombardi
The vacancy in the captain's chair in Edmonton is a prestigious one, despite recent franchise inadequacy. The city has experienced both the most legendary dynasty and the bleakest futility in league history, each in seven year periods. Great expectations of a prodigal team from a deserving fan base must be managed, nurtured, and realized.
Edmonton has sold out over 300 home games in a row, with no end in sight. With the least successful on-ice product in the NHL over the last few seasons, the fans in the City of Champions have truly earned the young cast of future superstars they currently have in front of them. Watching them take the next step from potential to powerhouse will require a leader who not only inspires the other players, but is representative of them as well. Let's examine the candidates.
Taylor Hall -- The first of three successive 1st overall picks, and the cornerstone Kevin Lowe decided to build around, using his dubious "full rebuild" timeline. Elite scoring, skating and obvious passion for the game make Taylor Hall an obvious contender for the throne. He has an uncanny ability to be charismatic and all business simultaneously. Photogenic with a huge smile, the Oilers faithful adore him. In a blue collar Alberta city, there is a lot to relate to in a guy who is successful through embracing hard work and hating to lose.
Jordan Eberle -- Possessing some of the quickest, sickest hands in the league, the future perennial Lady Byng winner looks to emulate Pavel Datsyuk even further this year. With a reputation for being clutch, Oilers fans are eager to see what he can do in the playoffs. Classy, down to earth, and a hilarious steal at 22nd overall in 2008.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins -- An interesting case in that he is so mature and intelligent beyond his years, but is younger than the other candidates and looks even younger than he is. He leads by example and with his head, which is very hard to teach. Expect a bounce back year from him, although he must solidify his frame in the gym to help prevent further unnecessary injuries.
Sam Gagner -- Underrated and willing to play any role, the man who scored 8 points in a single game can do it all. He has played on every line in every role and excelled. He worked his way up from exile on the 4th line to being the unquestioned 2nd line centre. He may start the year as the top pivot if the Nuge isn't ready on October 1st. Undersized, but isn't afraid to drop the gloves. Tons of heart, and a wizard in the shootout.
Justin Schultz -- A total forgotten dark horse in this competition, the team's QB for the next 15 years should come into his own this year. Intelligent and prolific, his upside is unlimited.
Ryan Smyth -- He should have been chosen over Jason Smith back in the day, but I digress. He'll have an uphill battle avoiding the press box with Body BrEakins as his coach. His best shot is as a mule on the PP in the 1st half of the season before he gets tired, or 4th line depth at C and LW. This is his last hurrah and he will retire as an Oiler this year.
Boyd Gordon -- Horcoff's replacement should fill his 3rd line C role in solid fashion. However, like Horc, he does not represent the spirit of the young, high-powered offence the youth of this team provides.
Andrew Ference -- A solid, tough, calming presence, the fanfare around his signing was due more to relief of getting someone experienced, rather than from signing a true superstar. Like Gordon, he will be welcomed and accepted by players and fans quickly, but is still an outsider until he's played a game in blue and copper. Making him the captain would send the wrong message.
Virtually every fan I've spoken to agrees with me: Taylor Hall is the man for the job.
He will go around you, or through you if he feels like it. He doesn't take shifts off, and losing pisses him off. He wants to win, and knows how to win. His smile, like his work ethic, is infectious.
A true leader leads by example. A true leader inspires others to be better. A true leader brings those around him up to his level.
Just like if he was standing in the Sun King Louis XIV's Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles, a dressing room officially captained by Taylor Hall will lead to him looking around and seeing nothing but images of himself.