Something is rotten in the city of Vancouver. An announcement made by the Canucks general manager Mike Gillis has shocked hockey fans. No, it is not the Canucks' unusual pre-season exhibition victories. No, the rumours about Mats Sundin becoming a Vancouver Canuck have not come to fruition. It's the news that Roberto Luongo has been declared the new Canucks captain that is causing a stir in the NHL.
It makes sense: he was the one who led the Canucks to a Northwest Division title in the Western Conference in 2006-07 after the team failed to make the playoffs in the previous season. Sounds good, but wait, there is a catch. He is the current Canucks goalie and the NHL happens to look down on the practice of appointing goalies as captains. They happen to have this small, pesky rule, named the "Durnan Rule," which prohibits goalies to act as captains or assistants.
This rule was instated because of several incidents during the 1948-49 season when Montreal Canadiens goalie Bill Durnan kept leaving his crease to argue calls with the referees. Opposing teams argued that his actions gave the Canadiens unscheduled timeouts during strategic times in a game.
Goalies can't cross the centre line-- that conflicts with the duties a captain has such as talking to the referees, facing off against the other team's captain in pre-game faceoffs and rallying the players on the bench.
The Canucks are going around this rule by naming Willie Mitchell and Mattias Ohlund alternate captains, ensuring these duties fall to these two alternates instead. Mitchell will deal with the officials while Ohlund will deal with the ceremonial aspects.
So why was Luongo chosen as captain? Speculation has run rampant. Some say it was an attempt by the Canucks to keep Luongo in Vancouver. Some say it was to prevent Luongo from retiring from hockey, especially after he made noise about quitting if the NHL increased the size of the nets.
His record is impressive, he had a three-game shutout streak spanning 210 minutes (a Canucks record). In the 1997 NHL entry draft, he was drafted fourth overall by the NY Islanders, which at that point made him the highest drafted goalie in NHL history. He was nominated for the Vezina Trophy twice, once with Florida in 2004 and again his first season in Vancouver in 2007.
Even without any awards, he is a goalie to look out for this season, as Calgary fans should know by his 6-0 shutout win over the Flames in last week's pre-season game. With all his achievements, he makes a great leader by example. After the departure of other great players and captains, like Markus Naslund and Trevor Linden, he is also now face of the Canucks.
The entire argument is moot if the Canucks are not going to challenge the Durnan rule. Even with a new unofficial captain rank, he'll still be the team mascot and that was the point when Gillis made him captain: not because they need someone to argue with the referees, but because he is the face of the Vancouver Canucks. And if he can demonstrate leadership, unite the team and rally the players in the locker room, what's wrong with that? Why go and make noise about appointing a goalie the captain if the Canucks coach and management will not challenge the rules? Why not appoint Mitchell or Ohlund instead, when they are seen as rising stars on their own? These questions need to be answered soon. But even so, the NHL wouldn't care or change the rules until more teams are willing to challenge them.