The loss of captain Saku Koivu and practically the entire leadership core of the Habs has been the subject of endless discussion this summer. An argument with some merit has been that with so many new faces showing up at camp, bringing Koivu or Alex Kovalev back would not have allowed the newcomers to comfortably assert their own leadership on the team.
Of course, those arguments are purely hypothetical until you actually get a chance to talk to the players themselves, which is exactly what I had a chance to do today in Brossard. And Josh Gorges, for one, agrees with the general principle.
"With those guys leaving, especially with Saku gone, he was here for so long and the leadership he brought to this team, there’s a little bit of a hole," Gorges said. "But that’s the great thing about hockey, guys come, they go. But when guys leave, it’s an opportunity for other guys to step up and fill that void. We’ve lost some big guys, no question, but with the guys we added this offseason we took a step forward. And change is good, I think."
Change is good.
On one hand, what else could Gorges say, now that those changes have actually happened? But on the other hand, I got the distinct impression while Gorges was talking that not only is change good, it may very well have been necessary. He never came out and said it. It was just a feeling I got.
Considering how poorly last season ended, I don't think Gorges would be blamed for thinking just that, though I can't guarantee that's actually the case.
Earlier this summer, Tom Kostopoulos was interviewed on the Team 990, and when asked who would make a good captain among the returning players, he barely hesitated before mentioning Gorges. In essence, Gorges is already a de-facto captain because of the way he handles media responsibilities. Win or lose, Gorges is almost always there afterwards to take the heat. It may sound like a small thing, but to his teammates who don't necessarily enjoy being grilled by the press after a tough loss, it is definitely appreciated.
Gorges had heard of Kostopoulos' comments, and he seemed pretty embarrassed by them.
"There's a lot of guys capable of wearing the 'C' here," he said. "I don't know if I would put myself in that group."
But he also doesn't know who should finally emerge in that role.
"It's not easy being captain here, there's a lot on your plate," he said. "I think that might scare a few guys away. It's not the easiest job in the world to be captain of the Montreal Canadiens."
Whoever is ultimately named captain of the team, there's no doubt that the departure of certain players will allow a guy like Gorges to take up more room in the dressing room.
The same might be true of Guillaume Latendresse, who despite being only 22 years old is one of the longest-tenured players on the club with three seasons wearing the CH.
"I'm still young, but the experience of playing in Montreal is not something you can pick up just anywhere," he said. "It's my fourth year here and there are certain things I can tell the new guys."
Latendresse is pretty excited by his new teammates, and he also suggested that maybe the wholesale changes of this past summer had become a necessity.
"We had some older veterans with some old mentalities, a little bit," he said. "I think the new guys we brought in are more about the new NHL and the new style of hockey."
A comment like that is one big can of worms, open to all sorts of interpretation. The way I read that is with the departure of some veteran guys, players like himself, Maxim Lapierre, Gorges, Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn can perhaps take more of an important role on the club, both on and off the ice.
In the same way that your older brother will always look at you as a kid, perhaps he was suggesting that the veterans always looked at that group as rookies, even though they were becoming young veterans in their own right.