Gabriel Landeskog: The Complexity of the Avalanche Captain

Left wing Gabriel Landeskog is sometimes a controversial player for the Colorado Avalanche, especially when it comes to his captaincy.

Left wing Gabriel Landeskog has been captain of the Colorado Avalanche since 2012. He was the youngest player to ever be named captain of an NHL team.

That’s one reason Landeskog’s captaincy has been called into question. However, he has often been a perplexing figure as captain. That has been highlighted this season.

Those questions are especially pointed right now in the wake of his suspension at a crucial moment in the Avalanche’s season. Since that’s a hot button topic, let’s start there.

Gabriel Landeskog’s Suspension

Gabriel Landeskog received a three-game suspension for cross checking Anaheim Ducks defenseman Simon Depres during Wednesday night’s game. Depres was uninjured and did not miss any time during the game.

The NHL Department of Player Safety declares that Landeskog’s hit on Depres is not a “commonplace” utilization of his stick. The department further rationalizes that Landeskog “recklessly” raises his stick. The principal point of contact is said to be the head.

Here’s the video:

Here’s where it all gets convoluted. Gabriel Landeskog is considered a repeat offender because he was suspended earlier in the year for a similar type of play — and by similar, I mean Landeskog neither aimed for the head nor injured the player.

That said, it’s true the hit on Depres is unwise. He shouldn’t have raised his stick that high. The issue comes in the fact that, contrary to the DoPS’s explanation, we can all name a dozen hits like this in games that went un-penalized or without discipline from DoPS.

In short, it could be said that Gabriel Landeskog is playing the same kind of game as at least 50% of the players in the NHL but receiving more discipline, especially now that he’s considered a “repeat offender.”

It can also be said — and has been by many Colorado Avalanche fans — that Landeskog’s reckless play was ill-timed since the team is in a brutal fight with the Minnesota Wild for the final playoff spot. And that’s behavior un-befitting of a captain.

Gabriel Landeskog’s Captaincy

Fellow Mile High Sticking writer — and hockey player/coach — Will Radke already wrote an excellent article exploring Gabriel Landeskog’s captaincy:

Essentially, a lot of what Will boiled it down to was that, while building relationships was important, on-ice action is paramount:

“Every time the captain steps on the ice, the other team knows 100% effort is behind it. He never takes a shift off. He never blends in.”

Landeskog has caught flak from Colorado Avalanche fans because he doesn’t come across as an elite player. Indeed, he “only” has 17 goals on the season.

Let’s look at a couple things for a moment. First of all, a captain has to be a leader. And while leadership can be taught, the best leaders are gifted in the art.

To me, Gabriel Landeskog has the greatest attributes to be a born leader. He’s remarkably articulate for one who’s young (we’ll return to that in a moment) and not particularly educated (like most NHLers, high school diploma only). He has natural charisma and the heart of a warrior. I can see the Viking roots in his blood — he sets the kind of example that would have led men into battle in his ancestors’ time.

Next, let’s look at a misconception of Gabriel Landeskog. When then-captain Milan Hejduk suggested giving Landeskog the captaincy when the latter was a tender 19 years old, it wasn’t because Gabriel was ready at the moment. It’s because Hejduk saw the inevitable progression.

Part of the reason the Colorado Avalanche drafted Landeskog with their second-overall pick was because of his leadership abilities. He’d been captain of his major juniors team, the Kitchener Rangers — the first European-born player named to that position in franchise history. He’s also been named an alternate captain for the major international competitions for Team Sweden — including the 2014 Winter Olympics.

The Colorado Avalanche knew Landeskog’s natural leadership abilities would continue to grow, so they groomed him to the position. The understanding was always that he would utilize the veterans in the locker room, such as J.S. Giguere and Paul Stastny. That’s part of the reason Avalanche GM Joe Sakic and coach Roy continue to surround him with leadership-strong veterans such as Jarome Iginla and Francois Beauchemin.

Gabriel Landeskog is only 23 years old. He’s going to make mistakes — including ones such as the hit on Depres. He’s also still trying to mature in his game. With “only” 17 goals he’s fourth on the Colorado Avalanche and is third in overall points.

Gabriel Landeskog’s Character

Gabriel Landeskog is one of the most popular players in the NHL. Let’s just get one reason out into the open — he’s classically good looking. It’s not just that female fans find him attractive — he has a face that is pleasing for anyone to look at. (Just compare his to Dustin Brown‘s or Mikko Koivu‘s harsh mugs.)

That’s not a big consideration for our captain. He’s a power forward, and as we saw this season, his looks can go in an instant:

Landeskog’s also very strong in the relationship building. In order to foster the strength of a team, you have to foster relationships. Landeskog is very active in that sphere. At the beginning of the season he orchestrated a team-building trip to Vail. He’s also the prime anti-bullying ambassador, promoting the Friend initiative here in Colorado. Additionally, Gabriel Landeskog is renowned for sticking up for his teammates, both on and off the ice.

Here’s Landeskog speaking — contritely — about the play that lead to the suspension:

What’s more, Gabriel Landeskog is a brand ambassador. He’s the liaison not only between players and coaches, as head coach Patrick Roy has attested on more than one occasion, but between the team and the media and the team and the fans.

Don’t kid yourself that that’s not important. The NHL is a business, and teams need good brand ambassadors to keep audiences interested in their products.

More About Gabriel Landeskog:

There is not one single player on the Colorado Avalanche that I would like to see replace Gabriel Landeskog as captain. I may have preferences of which players I’d like to see as his alternates (Matt Duchene and Erik Johnson), but no questions related to Landeskog’s captaincy.

For me it comes down to his role as brand ambassador. Landeskog is sometimes inconsistent, often brilliant, occasionally dirty but a player with a heart of gold. He encompasses what the Colorado Avalanche has always been — fun, exciting, infuriating, gritty but ultimately good.

So, Captain Landeskog screwed up — oops. It’s time for the team to rally around him in support while he’s absent.