Blues training camp opens this week, so if the team was planning on naming a captain before that, it was running out of time.
When general manager Doug Armstrong and Robert Thomas were spotted in public together Sunday, it got a lot of people wondering if a decision had been made and an announcement was imminent.
It now appears it is.
The Blues released an advisory Monday afternoon that they will be holding a news conference Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. at Enterprise Center in which they will name their captain for the 2023-24 season.
So who will it be succeeding Ryan O’Reilly, who was traded to the Maple Leafs last season?
It wasn’t always clear that there’d even be one. Or if there wouldn’t be more than one.
When Armstrong addressed the media at the beginning of the summer, he openly wondered if a team needs to have a player with a “C” stitched on his chest in today’s NHL. Armstrong said that he would spend time talking to former players, such as former Blues captains Barret Jackman and David Backes, and his inner circle, such as management staff members Peter Chiarelli and Al MacInnis, to determine the relevance.
“It’s something I thought about when Alex (Pietrangelo) left — what is the role of a captain in sport anymore?” Armstrong said in April. “I don’t know if there is (one). I think you have such a group dynamic in everything that these guys deal with: a leadership group, this group, that group. I don’t know if you need a ‘C’ or if you need multiple ‘A’s to pull a team together.
“I also think that if you’re a leader, you don’t need a ‘C.’ You’re going to do that with your actions every day, but that’s more a global question on the captaincy and that’s something I’ve been struggling quite honestly since Petro left. Is it a one-man job?”
After months of internal deliberation, Armstrong, who makes the final decision on the Blues’ leadership group, has come to a conclusion.
Based on his approach to the captaincy question, let’s take a closer look at three ways he could go.
If the decision came down who the heart and soul of the roster is — nothing else — then Schenn would be the guy. Ever since joining the Blues in a trade from Philadelphia in 2017, he’s been a player who continually shows he cares and who teammates and fans view as a leader — including O’Reilly himself commending him for it. If you need a goal or someone to drop the gloves, he shows up. Schenn is 32 years old and has five years left on his contract, and though he may not be in St. Louis for the duration of his deal, he has enough good days in front of him and enough lessons he can teach a young, up-and-coming team to warrant strong consideration.
2. Name Robert Thomas captain
If the Blues were strictly looking ahead to the future, Thomas, who begins an eight-year, $65 million contract this season, would be the guy. A first-round pick in 2017 (No. 20), he was just 19 years old when he played a significant role for a club that won the Stanley Cup in 2019. Thomas has since climbed the ranks, replacing O’Reilly as the team’s top center the past couple of seasons. At age 22, he had a career-high 20 goals and 57 assists in 2021-22, and his offensive ceiling still seems to be even higher. As for his leadership, he’s worn an “A” at times in the past because coach Craig Berube’s belief in him, but whether he’s ready to be the full-time, solo captain on a roster with many capable veterans is a valid question.
3. Name someone else captain
It’s a fair option that has to be included. Perhaps you don’t think Schenn will be long for the Blues and you feel that Thomas is not ready. Justin Faulk, 31, who has four years left on his contract, has demonstrated a lot of leadership in his four seasons with the club. Colton Parayko, 30, has seven years left on his deal, and after wearing the “A,” giving him the “C” could catapult his game to a higher level. Or Pavel Buchnevich, 28, who has two years left, might be enticed to re-sign with the Blues before his deal expires if given the honor of the captaincy. So yes, there are other candidates, but it would seemingly go against the grain of who most view as the leader now in Schenn and the guy of the future in Thomas.
(Top photo of Brayden Schenn: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)