BUFFALO (LGS) — A lot of eyebrows were raised across Western New York and beyond on Wednesday when Lindy Ruff announced newcomer Craig Rivet as the next captain of the Buffalo Sabres.
When you think about Rivet in terms of a guy who originally wasn't even remotely pleased about being traded from San Jose to Buffalo this past offseason, and couple it with the fact that he has yet to play a meaningful game for a Sabres team that has been together for many meaningful games, it's easy to see why selecting the 34-year-old defenseman might cause some bewilderment.
Rivet's appointing, which was voted upon by the players, even surprised the head coach.
"Was I a little bit surprised? Yeah," said Lindy Ruff. "But to come in and garner that much trust and respect from your teammates in a short period of time says a lot."
Rivet clearly made his mark on a relatively young Sabres roster; albeit an experienced one. Most of Buffalo's current roster has been with franchise for the better part of the decade. The majority of the players came up together through the system. They have been here through great times and through not so great times. It was something that even Rivet couldn't help but notice when he arrived in Buffalo less than two months ago.
"You can see in this organization that there are a lot of players that have been brought up together," said Rivet. "It's a really tight family, it's not just a team, this is a very tight knit group and I'm really happy to be part of it right now."
Buffalo lacked leadership in the worst way last season. Ruff tried to rotate the captaincy hoping it would spark a few players to make-up for the huge leadership void created when Chris Drury and Daniel Briere left for greener pastures. It simply didn't work.
While it's hard to say exactly why that was the case, one has to think that the players became too comfortable with each other. Having the majority of the roster mature together never really allowed one player to stand out from the rest. They experienced it all together so what could have made one of them more captain-worthy than the next guy? That's likely the reason the players and coaches tabbed Rivet, an outsider, to come in and steer the Sabres back toward success.
But being an outsider is not the only reason Rivet was selected. The blueliner brings a "don't mess with us" attitude and a hard-working style that won't go unnoticed on and off the ice. Rivet showed both of those attributes earlier this preseason when he went after a Maple Leafs player who took an extra swipe at Ryan Miller. He then immediately engaged Ryan Hollweg in a fight. In recent seasons, that sort of behavior would have gone unpunished by the Sabres.
"There's always going to be payback, you're not going to take liberties with this team," said the Sabres newest captain. "We got a real strong group of guys who care for each other."
Having clearly won over the respect of his teammates and coaches, Rivet will now look to prove why he was selected as the 23rd captain in franchise history. The best way he can do so is by leading the Sabres back into the playoffs.
"I think we have a team that can do great things this year. This is a team that wants to make the playoffs and win the Stanley Cup. That's our focus."
That sort of focus was clearly missing last season and that's what Rivet will bring to a team that is still capable of being among the best in the league. The first challenge for the Rivet-led Sabres comes Friday night when they host the Montreal Canadiens, the reigning Northeast Division champions.
Rivet will certainly be ready. Let's hope the rest of the Sabres roster will follow their new leader.