The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins approach to leadership this season may be a bit unconventional, but it does have its advantages.
More than two months into the season, the Penguins have yet to select a captain, opting to go with three alternate captains for each game. It's a bit different from the traditional method of selecting one player to wear the C along with two alternates who wear the A, but with a room full of veterans the Penguins trio of alternates may not change anytime soon.
I think it's worked well, said Warren Peters, who served as a captain for two seasons with the Quad City Flames. This has been an easy group to motivate and we haven't had to challenge guys at all.
Whether you have a captain appointed or not, you need to have a core group of leadership and it expands from there.
Peters has regularly worn one of the A's this season, along with other veterans such as Dylan Reese, Trevor Smith, Phil Dupuis and Joey Mormina. While he feels the current method is working, Peters has also seen the benefits of having a single player wear the C on his jersey considering he's played with some of the best leaders in the NHL.
Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow of the Dallas Stars and Mikko Koivu of the Minnesota Wild, for example.
So what's the benefit of having a captain and two alternates?
You have one guy who heads up the ship, Peters said. It's clear cut that's your guy and he's the one that deals with the coaching staff and goes to bat for the players.
Still, singling out a player to wear the C is more important in the NHL than it may be in the AHL, Peters said, simply because of the heightened demands.
Having a captain puts a face on the team, Peters said, someone that can face the media after a disappointing loss and someone who can rally the troops when times are tough.
In the NHL a lot of times your marquee players are your captains, and for good reason, Peters said. There's a lot of distractions they have to deal with.
While the person wearing the C may put a face to the franchise, it doesn't necessarily limit who can lead the team in the locker room. The way Smith sees it, a C on the jersey simply means that player is the one who talks to the referee during a game. A leader, however, doesn't always need a letter on the jersey, he said.
Within the dressing room guys know who they can go to, Smith said. We have a lot of good leadership here and I don't think we need to distinguish a captain right now. Things are going good.
Now in his fourth season with the Penguins, Zach Sill is an example of someone who can be considered a leader despite not having a C or an A on his jersey every night. Players know that Sill has been around the team a long time and he knows the ropes. Therefore, regardless of the letter, Sill is someone that his teammates can turn to.
In fact, Sill said the leadership role is one that any of his Penguins teammates can fill, with or without a letter.
It doesn't matter who has a C or an A, if you have something to say, then say it. If you want to be a leader, then be a leader, Sill said. It doesn't make a difference at all and right now there's no need to single one guy out and make him the captain.
Besides, there's another benefit to the Penguins three-alternate system in addition to spreading out the leadership role.
Throughout their career just about every player at one time or another is bound to have a run-in with an official. Sometimes a difference of opinion with a referee evolves into a lukewarm relationship, and that's when it may be helpful to have someone else handle the liaison duties on a particular night.
Before the game if you have an issue with who's officiating that night you kind of take a backseat, Peters said. When you're a captain, sometimes those relationships with certain officials can wear thin. You see a ref a lot of times and don't get along, so when you have three guys wearing the A maybe you leave him alone for the night and let someone else handle it.
Another perk of the Penguins' three-A system has to do with the workload that can be heaped onto a captain. Simply put, it can be a lot. Among the duties, Peters said, is making sure the players in the room are mentally prepared before a game, acting as the go-between for the players and coaching staff, dealing with the media and addressing individual issues a teammate may have.
It can be overwhelming, Peters said. There are a lot of expectations and demands that come with wearing the C, and it definitely helps having three guys take on that load.
Playing without a designated captain may work for the regular season, but what about the playoffs when the pressure is magnified and a leader is needed to basically lead the team into battle? Is a captain more of a necessity in the postseason?
Peters said he has never been on a team that didn't have a designated captain for the playoffs, and he mentioned Iginla's crucial role as the Flames captain when Calgary made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2004.
He did an incredible job wearing the C, Peters said, adding that Iginla also faced a ton of pressure at the time.
When you have three guys to disperse some of that load, and three guys trying to fire up the team… yeah, I can see it working in the postseason to, Peters said.