TAMPA — The Lightning iced their full 23-man roster for practice on Monday, but before the regular season gets under way on Thursday in Boston, one more key spot needs to be filled — the captaincy.
Tampa Bay saw the role open this summer when Vinny Lecavalier’s contract was bought out.
The new captain and alternate captains will be announced tonight during an invitation-only event at Mahaffey Theatre in St. Petersburg.
While there are many strong leaders on the Lightning, the captaincy role comes down to two candidates: Marty St. Louis and Steven Stamkos.
“There are captains that have been quiet and captains that have been vocal,’’ Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “But you have to have a presence, there is no doubt. So, whoever our captain turns out to be will have a presence.’’
With Lecavalier now in Philadelphia, St. Louis and Stamkos are the players most widely associated with the team. But more than being the faces of the franchise and perhaps the team’s top two players, both have many of the leadership qualities needed for the title.
“You see both of them working together, how hard they work, it’s contagious,’’ center Nate Thompson said. “They both are (vocal) when they need to be. When they both say something everyone listens, because it’s usually something pretty important and it usually goes a long way.’’
St. Louis has worn a letter on his jersey for nearly a decade as an alternate captain and is the only remaining player from the 2004 Stanley Cup team. The 38-year-old commands respect and is somebody younger players naturally look to when first stepping into the locker room.
“He’s a leader in all regards. Whether it’s leading by example or in the room being vocal, he does it all,’’ Stamkos said of St. Louis. “Some guys are just one or the other, but he does both.
“You can’t teach that — you either have it or you don’t, and Marty has that in him. He is a heart-and-soul kind of guy, and he’s been doing it in this league for a long time and he’s definitely deserving.’’
St. Louis’ experience and inspiring story — the undrafted and undersized wing is a six-time All-Star, two-time scoring champion and one-time league MVP — would seem to make him a natural for the role.
But Stamkos inspires in his own way. Tabbed a future star when he entered the league as the 2008 No. 1 overall draft pick at age 18, Stamkos understands the work required to be an elite player. He is a two-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner as the league’s top goal scorer, but he is not content just to score goals.
“I think Steven, the kind of player that he is, the way he plays the game, he plays pretty hard,’’ St. Louis said. “And Steven is a guy that can be vocal. He is developing into a pretty good leader, so on top of that he plays the game at a high level.
“I think he understands how you play in this league, how you survive and how you dominate. It’s a whole other level of hard work and he gets it.’’
Leadership in the locker room is about more than just one person, so it goes beyond the player who wears the “C’’ on his jersey and the two who wear an “A’’ as alternate captains. Leadership is about a group, a handful of players who guide the direction of the team, carry the message from the coach and make sure everybody is pulling in the same direction.
“It’s not just one guy, but one guy has to be the leader of that group as well,’’ Cooper said.
And there is a certain reverence that comes with being the captain of a hockey team.
“Hockey is the one sport where you are actually physically recognized as the leader. You are the guy that everybody looks to. You are the one that is accountable for your team, and there is just a ton of importance put on that. I don’t think in all the other sports there is anybody like the captain of the hockey team. “For me, it’s the highest honor possible.’’
NOTE: Hybrid icing will be in effect for the start of the season after it was approved by the players. The NHLPA gave the go-ahead for the change that makes icing a race to an imaginary line across the faceoff dots instead of the puck.
Information from Tribune wires was used in this report.