It’s finally over. The long-time will-they, won’t-they saga of naming the two alternate captains of the Minnesota Wild is settled. What a relief!
The captaincy and the alternate captains are nearly meaningless throughout the game. It doesn’t grant the team any favors on the ice, put more pucks in the net, or give the goaltender super-human blocking abilities. No, the only role the captains play on the ice is strictly that of pipeline between the team and coaches to the on-ice referees. While communication and respect from the officiating crew is important, it won’t ever make the folks in black and white stripes change their minds.
That’s why it’s so perplexing why so many people are invested in who is named captain. Ultimately, the face of the franchise or the way a captain leads their teams will never impact the fanbase in any way unless that captain has run-ins with the law. Yet, a lot of people were upset with the way Mikko Koivu led his team. But by most accounts, Koivu was a good leader and respected inside the locker room.
Now with Matt Dumba and Marcus Foligno joining Jared Spurgeon in leadership roles, Minnesota’s captaincy is set for the time being. As Michael Russo of The Athletic reported, the decision was not easy for the coaching staff and front office to make with so many players as viable options.
Foligno was one of the more obvious choices. He comes from a long line of captains: his father and brother wore the C in the NHL. Foligno was an outspoken, candid leader in the locker room before being named captain. Always available to the media after a poor game, it was apparent the former Buffalo Sabres forward had no problems being vocal in a locker room with other strong personalities.
On the ice, Foligno won’t hesitate to up the ante physically. He’s not the go-to scorer, but can add goals at critical times, especially when the top two lines need a break. Not to mention, Foligno has provided elite defense since 2019.
However, Dumba’s appointment to the group of captains wasn’t nearly as obvious. To some, it was a complete surprise. But it should not have been. Dumba is perfect for the role, remaining years on his contract be damned.
Why? He’s had to battle through adversity to get to this point. From the moment he was drafted over Jacob Trouba in the summer of 2012, the native of Regina, Sask. has had to fight off his doubters. Trouba was the safer pick, the more NHL-ready defenseman. And yes, Trouba made the NHL ahead of him, which had folks worried about the Wild’s first-round selection.
He didn’t exactly deliver when he was called up, either. His offense was there, featuring a slap shot that drew you out of your seat. However, the defensive side needed work. His positioning and decision-making needed refinement. Instead, Dumba was a frequent flyer between the NHL and AHL his first two seasons with Minnesota.
If there’s one reason to have Dumba as part of the leadership group, it’s because he can speak to the ups and downs a young player goes through trying to make the NHL. He knows full well that a contract, a call-up, and success do not mean much until it is proven every day. For the Wild, they are undergoing a youth movement that will require the captains to speak this message to the next first-round pick or undrafted player on the amateur tryout.
As much as the messaging is important, it’s also about maintaining a close locker room. Reporters who have covered the Wild the last decade had described the Wild locker room dynamics as odd. As much as they were a team, they weren’t considered close. That changed last season under Spurgeon. They’d stick up for each other on the ice, and celebrate each other’s success.
That is Dumba in a nutshell. He provides the music for the dressing room and during warm-ups. When Kirill Kaprizov arrived in Minnesota for the first time, Dumba was there to welcome him to the team, and developed a nickname for the Russian stud that spawned T-shirts. When training camp opened, Dumba was Jonas Brodin’s hype man — stating that he, “could talk about Jimmy all day,” when describing what the young defensemen should be taking in. And there weren’t many players more excited for Kaprizov when he scored his first NHL goal as the overtime winner against the Los Angeles Kings.
Most importantly, Dumba is a leader in the community and will keep the locker room inclusive. He donated money to help rebuild Lake Street in Minneapolis following the civil unrest in response to the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers. Add in his work with the Hockey Diversity Alliance, and he’ll be a positive person in the locker room to speak to the racial issues within the sport.
The leadership group has undergone a total facelift since Koivu left. And fans will get in the alternates what they had desired from Koivu — a vocal, demonstrative leader in the room. Spurgeon will undoubtedly thrive in this environment because he can lead with his play and steadiness on the ice. Foligno can be the vocal “rah, rah” guy and hold everyone up to the standards the team sets for themselves. Dumba will make everyone feel a part of the team from the moment they join the organization and be their biggest fan no matter who they are. And that is something that should matter to fans.