Kirill Kaprizov is an Alternate Captain for the Minnesota Wild. That's good news, because now you have an answer for this (totally optional) Sporcle Quiz. As of Tuesday morning, there are 105 Captains and Alternate Captains in the NHL. If you don't have time to do homework in the middle of your day, let me reveal my score: 68 of 105. That works out to be 65%, or exactly average, according to Sporcle's stats.
Let's break that down further. For Captains, I got 23 of the 27 teams that have designated a player as such, or 85%. Solid number, though since the Captaincy often belongs to the team's best player, perhaps expected. For the remaining 78 Alternates, I guessed 45 of them, or a kinda-embarrassing 58%.
Let me assure you, dear readers, I worked my ass off for that 58%. I tried some real Hail Marys, such as I wonder if Zemgus Girgensons is still in the league. or Wait, would the New York Islanders actually have Cal Clutterbuck as their only alternate captain? In both cases, yes. The season starts tonight, so I gave it max effort.
All this is to say: I have a hard time caring about who does and doesn't wear a letter. And if your score is anything like mine, you probably do, too. That isn't to say that leadership can't matter, or who wears a letter can't. But likely, it only matters in extreme circumstances, such as an extremely toxic situation.
You might have liked Joel Eriksson Ek or Jonas Brodin in the role instead. Both are great, crucial players and by all accounts great people. But in all likelihood, it doesn't matter which player gets the nod. No other coach, GM, or fan base is going to look at this and say Oh, they messed up, or, We're in trouble now. Chances are, they won't think about it.
Still, Minnesota made the right choice to elevate Kaprizov into the role. Is he deserving? Absolutely. Again, a team's best players tend to get leadership roles more often than not. Kaprizov indisputably qualifies as the best player on the team, and probably is the best in franchise history.
Furthermore, team observers know that Kaprizov drives winning. Sure, the Wild rattled off an 8-1-2 record immediately after Kaprizov got hurt in March. But in the big picture, Minnesota's only been relevant because of Kaprizov's magic. He put the State of Hockey on the map.
But those aren't the reasons it's important to give Kaprizov a letter. Unless the Wild's farm system spits out another Kaprizov-level superstar (pretty unlikely!), their long-term fortunes hinge on whether or not "Dolla Bill Kirill" sticks around. If giving him a letter helps the Wild do that, then this decision was as easy as it gets.
Sure, any hockey commentator will tell you that a player doesn't need a letter to lead their team. That's true. But giving a letter is a symbol, a statement from the team: This is yours. You are one of the three most important players on this team.
That's a powerful statement. Maybe not as powerful as the truckload of money that Minnesota will surely offer Kaprizov to stay, but it represents a different type of buy-in from the team. Giving him that kind of emotional investment in Minnesota and his teammates is smart to do at this juncture.
Kaprizov has three more years under contract, but that factoid makes this position look more secure for the Wild than it really is. Next year, Kaprizov receives a full no-move clause that effectively gives him the power to choose his destination. He may or may not use it, but he will have the ability to engineer a trade to another team.
The Wild can't be caught in a situation where they're forced to either let him walk at the end of his deal, or let him dictate what team he goes to. It's hard enough for any player who trades a star player to recoup fair value. Draft picks and prospects are rarely going to turn into a Kaprizov-type asset. Add a deflated market that comes with only having one suitor? It's a disaster.
Artemi Panarin is the obvious parallel. He put the Columbus Blue Jackets through that exact situation in 2019. The Blue Jackets risked letting Panarin walk and lost him for the price of 10 playoff games and a first-round series win. They made it to the 24-team playoff field the next year, won a Qualifying Round, and haven't been back to the postseason since.
Like the Wild, the Blue Jackets were also a team in a market outside the NHL's elite destinations. However, they did not invest in Panarin as part of the leadership of the Blue Jackets. Maybe it wouldn't have mattered; Panarin didn't come up through the Columbus organization. He didn't have much time to get invested emotionally in the team, even with a letter.
But if you're Minnesota, why wouldn't you pull out all the stops, and do it as soon as possible? Between entrenching him in the leadership group and keeping his best friend Mats Zuccarello in the fold through the end of the contract, Minnesota's doing that. Beyond Kaprizov's leadership, beyond any other on-ice considerations, this is the real reason why the Wild are making the right choice for their Alternate Captaincy.
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