SUN Hockey Pool

Oil can 'C' clearly

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:43 AM ET

Michael Peca has worn the captain's 'C' for eight of his 11 years as an NHL player.

Doesn't even get an 'A'.

Chris Pronger has had the 'C' sewn on his sweater for six straight seasons.

Doesn't even get an 'A'.

Yesterday, around the NHL, was the traditional day for naming captains and alternate or assistant captains. But here, when there are arguably more qualified people to wear the 'C' than anywhere else in the league, there was no seamstress and no ceremony.

Jason Smith is captain. Ryan Smyth and Ethan Moreau are alternate captains.

And Pronger and Peca are cool with it.

"I think Jason Smith is the best captain in the league by far," said Peca. "Jason is the type of leader you see in gladiator movies and historical war movies.

"He does what needs to be done. With Jason it's more about what needs to be done than what needs to be said."

DOESN'T NEED A 'C'

Pronger says he doesn't need a 'C' or an 'A' to bring what he intends to bring to the team, which he'll do starting tonight in the lid-lifter against the Colorado Avalanche for 30 minutes or more per game.

"To be a leader in the room, you don't need a letter on your jersey. And it's not about 'Rah! Rah! Look at me, I've got a letter on my shirt!'

"We have guys here who know what they're doing. We have a captain and alternate captains who are experienced, play hard and do whatever they can do to win. They've given this team the identity that Craig MacTavish wants."

The coach stuck with the status quo when he picked his team the day before and is doing the same with his captains.

"To me leadership is experience and we have a lot of guys on that bench doing and saying the right things," says MacTavish. "We have a lot of guys who have worn the 'C' and that brings a lot of credibility with the officials. And that never hurts.

"Pronger and I had that conversation very early," said the coach of any theory that the best player wears the 'C'. Pronger, rated the No. 4 player in the Hockey News Top 50, is the Oilers best player and the new face of the franchise.

"He told me he wants to come in and play the game and that he didn't need a 'C' or an 'A' on his jersey to invoke his personality on the team."

How Ryan Smyth can do such an outstanding job as Captain Canada at the World Hockey Championships and return to Edmonton to wear an 'A' with the Oilers has always mystified many. But Smyth says he's pleased to still be wearing a letter.

"I think it's a real nice compliment with the credentials Pronger and Peca bring here as former captains that Jason keeps the 'C' and Ethan and I will continue to wear an 'A'," said Smyth who, ironically, became Team Canada captain when Peca was injured in mid-tournament at the 2002 Worlds.

And while Jason Smith probably has the lowest profile of any captain in Oilers history because one of his talents in the position is definitely not being an official media spokesman, keeping the 'C' is his ultimate validation.

"It's an endorsement for sure when you add guys like that to the room," said Smith.

GM Kevin Lowe and coach Craig MacTavish were Oiler captains. Steve Staios was captain in Atlanta. Todd Harvey was captain of Team Canada at the 1993 World Junior.

'GREAT LEADER'

"You can't have enough leadership. To me a great leader is someone who plays every game with his heart on his sleeve. That's Gator," says Staios of Smith keeping the 'C'.

Peca says the leadership dynamics are different here than anywhere he's been or anything he's seen.

"The thing I like about the leadership here is that it's different than a lot of teams you get on when the young guys don't think they have a chance to stand up and say things.

"And from the other end of it, you don't need a letter on your sweater for players to look at you as a leader and people to come to you," he said of helping players progress.

Peca laughs that there's an upside to not being captain this year.

"I don't have to do as much team party planning anymore."


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