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Could Mat Barzal be the Future Captain of the New York Islanders?



New York Islanders

With the 2022 Winter Olympics no longer a thing for your favorite National Hockey League players, the NHL and the NHLPA have yet to cancel the 2022 NHL All-Star festivities scheduled for Feb. 4 (Skills Competition) and Feb. 5 (All-Star Game) in Las Vegas.

Right now, you can go ahead and vote for who you think should captain each division by clicking on the link here.

There are three New York Islanders up for the Metropolitan Divison captaincy in Mat Barzal, Brock Nelson, and Zdeno Chara.

Although it is rather unlikely that either of three can beat out the likes of Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin or Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, anything is possible.

But this is not a story about why the three Islanders above should or should not receive your vote. This is a read about the future of the Islanders’ captaincy, following Anders Lee.

The 31-year old Lee has a few years remaining on his seven-year deal, so the search for the next captain is not yet a matter that needs to be considered by management. 

While Lee could be brought back for a shorter-term deal when his current contract expires following the 2025-2026 season, it does beg the question, could Barzal, if still with the Islanders, become the 16th captain in franchise history?

Learning From Lee

Since Barzal has been with the Islanders, he has had two captains. John Tavares donned the “C” in Barzal’s first stint (two games) with the Islanders back in 2016-2017 and then in Barzal’s Calder-winning 2017-18 campaign, which turned out to be Tavares’ last on Long Island.

Before the start of the 2018-19 campaign, Lee was awarded the captaincy, becoming the 15th captain in franchise history.

Lee’s leadership on and off the ice over the last four seasons has been immeasurable. Barzal, who plays alongside Lee on the Islanders’ top line and the top power-play unit, has had an excellent opportunity to learn what it takes to lead on the ice.

The depths that Lee has gone to to help the members of the Long Island community, he’s been a role model for not just Barzal but everyone on the Islanders’ roster.

Surrounded By Leaders

Over the recent past, Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello has brought in former leaders to help the Islanders achieve their goal of winning a Stanley Cup.

In February of 2020, Andy Greene was acquired from the New Jersey Devils, where he served as captain from 2015-2020. Zach Parise, who signed a one-year deal this past offseason, also wore the “C” for the Devils back in 2010-11 and for Team USA at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

The last edition to the Islanders this past offseason, Zdeno Chara, served as the Boston Bruins captain from 2006-2020. He won the Stanley Cup with Boston back in 2011.

There are countless leaders in the Islanders’ locker room, whether they have worn a “C” or an “A” or not, that have played a vital role in contributing to the franchise’s culture. Barzal has had the chance to learn from them all and will have the ability to continue to learn as his career unfolds.

Barzal’s Been a Leader Before

Islanders forward Mat Barzal has never been a captain at the NHL level. He has never worn a letter in his six years at the highest level in hockey. But Barzal did serve as captain of the Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL) during the 2016-17 season before making his Islanders’ debut.

Back in 2017, Barzal was also awarded one of the alternate captain positions for Team Canada at the IIHF World Junior Championship.

“We have eight players on this team who are captains of their club teams, and numerous other associate captains, so there is an abundance of leadership,” said Team Canada head coach Dominique Ducharme back in 2016, when the leadership announcement was made.

Two players from that team are current captains in the NHL, in Claude Giroux (Philadelphia Flyers captain) and Ryan O’Reilly (St. Louis Blues).

Final Remarks

There’s this belief around the NHL that the best player on a team is the player that needs to wear the “C”. While that seems to be the case more often than not, it’s more about the player and the franchise’s belief in that player.

If you look around the league at captains, Ovechkin, Crosby, and Connor McDavid to name a few, these players are players that their respective franchises chose to build around. Barzal is the most valued asset on the Islanders since he’s joined the team, but the Islanders were not in a position when he first came up where a youngster needed to take on a responsibility of that magnitude.

For Barzal, being a captain is not a need. The Islanders organization has proven that even though one player wears the “C” that does not mean he’s alone in leading. But if the opportunity did present itself, Barzal could very well fit the mold.

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