Flames’ Rasmus Andersson ‘would love to be’ captain. Here’s why he should be

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It was strange seeing the Calgary Flames play without a captain over the last two seasons. It was just as strange, as good as they tried to be in a post-Mark Giordano world, to see them downplay the need for one.

Before the 2021 campaign, the Flames went nearly 30 consecutive seasons with a visible leader. But the Flames’ previous coach, Darryl Sutter, felt there wasn’t an obvious captain among his group after Giordano was selected by the Kraken in the expansion draft. Media and fans alike learned about last season’s leadership group of four alternate captains — Mikael Backlund, Chris Tanev, Elias Lindholm and Jonathan Huberdeau — through a Twitter post in the first period of an early-season game. The Flames were one of two Canadian teams last season, the other being the Winnipeg Jets, to not have a player with the “C” adorned on their uniform.

Both teams, when we asked last season, provided arguments in support of a leadership committee instead of a captain. While correlation does not equal causation, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention that both teams went through turmoil en route to disappointing ends to their seasons.

Sutter, along with GM Brad Treliving, have since departed Calgary. Their replacements, head coach Ryan Huska and GM Craig Conroy, have made naming a captain a priority.

So, it isn’t a complete surprise to hear some players like Rasmus Andersson discuss the benefits of having a captain or express interest in being one. The thought of being the team’s leader has crossed his mind. And you could make the argument that his candidacy for Flames captain is stronger than his contemporaries.

At this point, it’s perhaps even stronger than the case for the long-tenured Backlund, whose future with the team is unknown beyond this coming season.

“I think it’s really important for NHL teams to have a captain. Especially in a Canadian market where the fans are kind of demanding, which is their right to be demanding. It’s a very passionate fan base,” Andersson told The Athletic’s Michael Russo last week. “We have a lot of good leaders on the team, but you need a captain in my opinion.

“If they asked me, it’s not something that I would ever turn down. I would obviously love to be the captain, but you know, it’s not my decision. It’s Craig (Conroy), (Ryan) Huska and the coaching staff. Ownership and everyone around it.”

Since the Swedish defenceman isn’t shying away from it, he’s firmly in the discussion for captain alongside candidates like Backlund or fellow defenceman MacKenzie Weegar. Huberdeau can be considered a candidate, but you could argue putting the “C” on his jersey would just increase the target on his back after a lacklustre debut season with the Flames. The 30-year-old forward will also enter the new year as the team’s highest-paid player with a $10.5 million cap hit.

In a short amount of time, Weegar has established himself as a personality in the Flames locker room. He is now in the first year of an eight-year contract and he’s fully settled into his new digs after being traded to Calgary last summer. Weegar told the media earlier this month that he’d welcome the honour of being captain. But, sort of similarly to Huberdeau’s situation, would it be too much too soon in terms of responsibility?

Backlund has seen a lot across 900-plus games in Calgary and is seen by teammates as a de facto captain. Andersson even confirmed as much during an appearance on the 32 Thoughts podcast with Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek. On two occasions, The Athletic’s Calgary readers voted for the Swedish centre to be the team’s next captain. However, both polls were conducted well before reports surfaced that Backlund could seek to leave Calgary. Backlund has previously voiced a desire to compete for a Stanley Cup and wasn’t fully committed to staying for the long haul when asked at the conclusion of last season. It doesn’t mean he can’t change his mind, however. But if you account for Backlund’s age, how long could he truly serve as captain?

That leaves Andersson, who has the benefit of being a veteran with a locker-room presence while being younger than other candidates and having no visible concerns about his immediate future with the team.

It could be quite the jump for Andersson to go from not wearing a letter in 337 games with the Flames to becoming captain. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t shown any flashes of leadership.

The 26-year-old has ended each of the last two seasons with the highest average time on ice among all Flames skaters while being used in all situations as a top-pairing defenceman. He’s coming off a season where he reached a career-high in goals with 11 and nearly matched his single-season best point (50 points in 2022) output with 49. He likely would’ve surpassed it had he not been involved in a frightening collision with a vehicle while riding a scooter in Detroit last February.

“Especially the last two years, I felt like I just played with that swagger and I trust my game so much,” Andersson said. “I’m not afraid to speak my mind and just go out and play my game. Hold the puck, make the right play and jump in the rush. But at the same time, be responsible in the D-zone. I really enjoy playing on both sides of the puck.”

When called upon, Andersson makes himself available to the media for the good and the bad. Andersson was among the players who spoke to the media at different points in 2022-23 while trying to provide answers for the team’s play. In particular, Andersson didn’t mince words when the Flames were eliminated from playoff contention in April.

Finally, there’s his contract. Andersson is signed through 2026 at a $4.55 million cap hit. If he has fully moved on physically and mentally from the unfortunate accident in February, he still has his best years as a defenceman ahead of him. Even if the Flames are forced to go through a retool or rebuild, Andersson could serve as a constant as the team transitions.

The arguments in favour of Andersson are strong, but the truth is the Flames would really have to go off the board to make a wrong choice for their captain. We haven’t even discussed Chris Tanev, who is well-respected in the locker room but has durability issues to go with an expiring contract at season’s end.

As the team seeks to fill what’s proved to be a significant void, though, it would be fitting for the Flames to give the captaincy to a player who would’ve liked to see it filled in the first place.

—With files from Michael Russo

(Photo of Rasmus Andersson: Sergei Belski / USA Today)

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