The Bruins returned to the ice at Warrior Ice Arena on Tuesday for their first captains’ practice of the season. The irony, of course, is that they technically don’t have a captain right now.
Bruins begin captains' practices, sign Heinen to PTO
The team has not named one in the wake of Patrice Bergeron’s retirement, and probably won’t for a little while. Even in 2020-21, when Bergeron was the slam-dunk, no-doubt successor to Zdeno Chara, he did not officially get the ‘C’ until a week before the regular-season opener.
Brad Marchand may not be quite as obvious a choice as Bergeron was three years ago, but he certainly appears to be the most likely option. Tuesday only reinforced that notion.
It was Marchand who was one of the first players on the ice. It was Marchand at the front of the group when drills were being drawn up and explained. It was Marchand who was available as soon as reporters were allowed into the locker room, and who drew the biggest media scrum of the day.
Charlie Coyle and Brandon Carlo, two veterans who will be counted on to lead whether they’re wearing letters or not, were also present. Charlie McAvoy and David Pastrnak, the two players other than Marchand that have been mentioned in the ‘C’ discussion, were not.
The latter isn’t really anything to be concerned about. Captains’ practices are optional, and McAvoy and Pastrnak are far from the first veterans – and even team leaders – who have not been present for the first day. The Bruins have two weeks of these before training camp opens on Sept. 20. But it was at least notable in the context of this discussion about the ‘C.’
Marchand, for his part, is not making any assumptions about wearing the ‘C,’ or even giving it much thought at this point.
“It's not something that I really think about too much,” Marchand said. “Obviously, it's a big honor to be in the leadership group in this organization when you look at the guys that have been there before, but we've always done it collectively as a group. So regardless of who wears it, it's a collective thing. Even guys without letters step up at a lot of times throughout the year. So again, when you lose Bergy and Krech [David Krejci], leadership comes from a group, not from one certain guy or a couple of guys. It has to be from a big collective group, so that's what we're gonna rely on this year.”
Whether he’s the captain or not, there are certain lessons Marchand has learned from Bergeron and Chara before him that he wants to make sure get instilled in the 2023-24 Bruins. Chief among them is making sure the locker room is tight and everyone feels valued both on and off the ice.
“I think if I can learn one thing, or us as the leadership group can learn from what the guys in the past have done, is they did it as a group,” Marchand said. “They were so good at bringing a group of guys together and having everyone believe in the same goal, having a common goal together and believing in it, and having everybody come together and believe in the same thing. There's no team in any sport that’s gonna have one guy dictate what a team does, but it's how they're able to bring a group together. That's what our captains in the past have done and our leadership groups in the past have done, is they've been able to lead by numbers, strength in numbers.
“We had Bergy and Z, it was like two captains for a while there. And that just bleeds through the lineup. Same with Bergy. He didn't try to -- I mean, everyone had a ton of respect for him, so everyone will follow what he did and what he said -- but he brought a lot of guys in together and gave them a lot of responsibility and allowed them to feel like they had a voice. That just bleeds again through the lineup. So, we're gonna have to do that again this year. You're not going to replace guys like that in the room, but collectively as a group, we just have to come together, find out what our goals are, what our beliefs are for the season, and build on that together.”
On the ice, the task of replacing Bergeron and Krejci as the top two centers will fall to Coyle and Pavel Zacha. But Marchand knows those two can’t be expected to do it alone, and that wingers like himself have to be a big help to their centers as they step into those massive voids.
“I think the biggest thing that we have to do is to make sure that we don't try to play the same way that Bergy and I played,” Marchand said. “If I’m playing with Coyle or I’m playing with Zacha, they can't play like, or have to play like Bergy, and I'm not gonna play like their past wingers. We have to build our own chemistry from day one. I gotta find what strengths either one of those guys have and play within that, and they have to do the same with me. It took years to build what Bergy and I had and whoever was with us at that point in time.
“It's just something that we're gonna have to continue to work on every day in practice and we're gonna have to watch video and we're gonna have to build it throughout the season and throughout next season and the year after that, and it'll be a work in progress. But I think the biggest thing is those two guys have a phenomenal opportunity ahead of themselves to play a lot of big minutes and take a big step in both of their careers. I'm sure they've all been waiting for this moment where they're gonna drive the team and play a lot of big PP and PK minutes and important minutes the last minute of the game, whether we're up or down by a goal. That's what guys are looking forward to their whole careers. So, huge opportunities for them, but it’ll be something that we all have to work on together.”