New era dawns: DeBrincat, Murphy to split alternate captain duties for Blackhawks
As a new season dawned for the Blackhawks in Colorado on Wednesday, many things went back to normal.
We have full stadiums, we're expecting an 82-game schedule, and players can hang out on the road and stay maskless most of the time.
When it comes to the Hawks, however, there are some jarring leadership differences inside the locker room from just two years ago. Duncan Keith is gone to Edmonton, while Brent Seabrook, Andrew Shaw and Corey Crawford have retired.
Those four led in different ways, but were all immensely respected by their teammates.
In this new era, Jonathan Toews returns as captain after a year off and Patrick Kane is a full-time alternate captain. Defenseman Connor Murphy and forward Alex DeBrincat also will wear an "A" on their sweaters -- Murphy doing so on the road, DeBrincat at home.
"They're part of what we've been trying to build," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "(They) take a lot of responsibility both with leadership in what they say but more in what they do. We feel like they were really important to the group last year, and they still are."
The 28-year-old Murphy is in his fifth season with the Hawks and just five games away from the 500th of his career. The Dublin, Ohio, native signed a four-year, $17.6 million extension just before training camp began.
"It's always an honor to get a letter," said Murphy, who wore one most of last season as well. "(But) it doesn't really matter ... (whether) you have a letter or not. You should act the same way. That's what I've learned off of a lot of leaders that we've had here in the past ... it was how they acted and the presence they had on the team."
DeBrincat, while just 23, already has 119 goals and 110 assists in four seasons, two of which were shortened due to the pandemic. He brushed off a disappointing 2019-20 campaign (18 goals in 70 games) by scoring 32 times in 52 contests last season. That's a 50-goal pace over 82 games.
While frustrated at times a couple of years ago, DeBrincat also did everything he could to become a more complete player. He's now among the league's best defensive forwards, often sniping passes or stealing pucks while hustling on the backcheck.
"Confidence goes down, but the coaching staff did a good job of just telling me to play my game (and) not worry about it," DeBrincat said late last year.
Said Colliton: "I was happy that he had to stop answering questions about it because we felt he was playing really well. Part of the game is scoring goals, but that's an end result. You can't always control that.
"All you can control is how you play. I felt like he was building the habits and the base of his game that was going to lead to long-term success."
Which is exactly what DeBrincat, Murphy, Kane and Toews want to see from their team. Others will obviously be there to help "pull the rope" as well. Marc-Andre Fleury and Tyler Johnson have won a combined five Stanley Cups, Seth Jones signed a massive eight-year extension, and defensemen Calvin de Haan and Jake McCabe have a 800-plus games of experience between them.
"We added some veterans who've been around and some guys with some pretty fantastic winning pedigrees," Colliton said. "We said to the team Monday the leadership group is bigger than just these four guys. We're in good hands here with our experience and leadership that we have."