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No captain, no problem: Coyotes say they’re enduring just fine without leader

Arizona Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson (23) during the Skills Competition for the NHL All Star game festivities Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018, in Tampa, Fla. The game takes place Sunday afternoon. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Coyotes’ performance this season has left many questioning what the future looks like and who will be the emerging leaders to guide them.

The team is last in the league with a 12-29-9 record.

Following Shane Doan’s retirement, the captain spot has remained vacant. Rather than name a new captain, the team chose to select five players to serve as alternate captains: Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Alex Goligoski, Brad Richardson and Derek Stepan.

“It’s one of those transition years where Doaner’s been here so long and has been captain so long that it’s almost a weird feeling not to have him here as captain,” Richardson said. “It’s just one of those years where you want to feel it out and get a grasp on it, and I’m sure next year we’ll probably have something a little more permanent.”

Doan held the role for 13 seasons, the longest-serving captain in Coyotes’ history.

“Anytime a guy like that who is captain of a team for so many years, once he’s gone, you’re starting new,” Goligoski said. “There’s a handful of guys that probably even played with Shane in here. It’s definitely a new team. We’re trying to build our own dynamic.”

No one knows if or when a captain will be named, but Goligoski says things are going great as is.

“There’s other teams that have done it over the last few years and in the past,” Goligoski said. “For us, it’s been great. We’re lucky that we don’t have a selfish guy in the bunch so there’s no power struggle, there’s no jealousy or anything.”

The Coyotes are one of four captain-less teams in the league. The Buffalo Sabres, Toronto Maple Leafs and Vegas Golden Knights make up the others.

Some could argue having no designated leader could be a reason why the Coyotes are struggling. Coincidentally, the Sabres are next in line for worst record in the league.

But not the Golden Knights. They are doing just fine without a captain. To everyone’s surprise, the expansion team currently leads the Western Conference in points.

The Maple Leafs, also without a captain, are near the top of the Eastern Conference standings.

Ekman-Larsson and Hjalmarsson always wear the “A,” and it rotates among the other three. But Richardson says a player doesn’t need a letter on his jersey to be a leader.

“Everyone has their own strengths,” Richardson said. “Some guys are more vocal and some lead by example of things off the ice. I think everyone does it in their own way, and it doesn’t have to be the guys that have the captaincy.”

All five alternates have qualities to make a great captain. Ekman-Larsson has been a part of the team the longest, and was the only Coyotes player selected to the 2018 All-Star Game. Stepan has an extensive amount of playoff experience, playing with the New York Rangers the previous six seasons. And Richardson, Hjalmarsson and Goligoski are all Stanley Cup champions.

“There’s numerous guys who have been in leadership positions before,” said Goligoski. “I think the way we’re doing it right now, as a group, it works for us.”

The Coyotes will play Thursday against the Dallas Stars at Gila River Arena.

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