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Will the Columbus Blue Jackets Enter a Second Straight Season Without a Captain?
In the Summer of 2012, the Columbus Blue Jackets made a move that shook the very foundation of the organization for years to come. The team dealt their star forward and captain, Rick Nash, to the New York Rangers in exchange for Artem Anisimov, Brandon Dubinsky, Tim Erixon and a 2013 first-round draft pick that became Windsor Spitfires LW Kerby Rychel. Only time will tell if the deal will be worth the price, and much of it depends on the continued development of young prospects Erixon and Rychel, but for now the team has moved forward with a void in their captaincy.
Since then, the team has acquired standout veterans Marian Gaborik and Nathan Horton, but their resume does not warrant an instant ‘C’ on their chest. Gaborik had a disappointing season for Columbus after being traded from New York, and he was far from the All-Star player he has been in his past. He will need to prove himself by establishing leadership and proving the he has what it takes to return to his former level before there would be any considerations.
For Horton, he topped the list of top available NHL free agents this offseason, and he was heralded as the prized acquisition of Columbus’ offseason. After a gritty performance in the NHL playoffs, Horton established himself as a high-character player that is capable of contributing both on and off the ice. While he fits the bill of what the Blue Jackets may be looking for in a captain, he will miss a good portion of the season while he rehabs from offseason shoulder surgery, and will not get a chance to develop the bonds and leadership in camp necessary to pursue it.
It will not be an easy task deciding on the franchise’s sixth captain. Following the likes of Lyle Odelein, Ray Whitney, Luke Richardson, Adam Foote and Nash in captaincy could literally be any number of players, since nobody on the roster has established themselves to the extent that previous Jacket alumni have. One person who is not worried about the void in the Blue Jackets’ captaincy is head coach Todd Richards. “I’m coming into camp with my eyes wide open, watching,” he told the Columbus Dispatch regarding the captaincy. “I want to see if we have somebody ready for that.”
“I liked what we did last year, not rushing into naming one,” Richards went on to say. “It brought more guys into the mix as far as taking ownership and leading the team. “For me, it’s no different right now than last year. My whole thing is, I’m approaching it like it’s a huge decision, making sure you have the right guy, that he’s capable and ready of doing the things that are necessary of a captain. It’s not a small or easy decision to make.”
The leading options in the eyes of fans and players alike, would arguably be defenseman Jack Johnson and winger Dubinsky. As the veteran centerpiece of the trade for previous captain Nash, Dubinsky seems like the natural choice. He has shown flashes of brilliance on the ice, and he excels in leadership and teamwork. He needs to bring his offensive game to the next level and lead by example, but he has a legitimate shot to be the sixth captain.
Johnson, on the other hand, has been a model of consistency since joining the Blue Jackets. A solid, two-way defenseman, Johnson has quickly become an anchor of the Columbus defense. A fan favorite, he seems like a perfect fit for the captaincy, and could very well be by opening day. “This is the first time I’ve ever played on a team that didn’t have a captain,” Johnson said. “Obviously, they’re going to take their time with it, and it’s up to them. But at some point, I feel like you do have to put a stake in the ground.”
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