When it comes to leadership, and the emphasis on it, there is no major professional sport quite like hockey.
Baseball teams, as a rule, don't designate a captain. Nor do basketball teams. Football offers up captains for the all important coin tosses, but the honor doesn't come with the much coveted "C" adorning their jerseys. Hockey is different, which explains the very public designation of Roberto Luongo earlier this week, as the captain of the Vancouver Canucks.
If you are breathing, you may have heard the news. Alain Vigneault went to Luongo three weeks ago with the idea, and the Canucks' meal ticket latched on to it like a rising slapshot. He can't wear the "C," and he can't skate to and debate with the officials on anything contentious. But he can set an example, the same one he has established here over his first two years.
Of all the four major sports, I would contend that NHLers need less inspiration than any other pro athletes. They are the most loyal, hardworking, committed of the bunch. That's why I think the whole captaincy issue has been overblown over the years. The perception is that without a captain leading the way, and threatening anyone who strays from conformity, a team, and its room, could be lost. Not true. Nicklas Lidstrom has a Cup as captain. So does Steve Yzerman. And Joe Sakic.
Luongo's leadership will take many forms, as it has already. His on-ice record speaks for itself, but it's his blue collar approach to his craft that will make the biggest impression on his teammates. He practices like a demon. He doesn't aspire to be just good, but the best. He doesn't take time off. He doesn't take shortcuts. His talent base is beyond most NHLers. His work ethic takes his game to another level.
It was an "outside the box" selection. It was a good one. It was the right one. As Trevor Linden said of Luongo during the 2006-07 season, "it's comforting to know that every night he is going to be your best player."
That was a former captain speaking. About a future one.