A new chapter is about to begin in Columbus.
Now that Rick Nash is plying his trade in Manhattan, leaving his captain's "C" up for grabs, the writers at The Cannon want to give you our thoughts on who we think the next Captain Columbus will be.
It's been said time and time again that the Columbus locker room is/was a black hole of complacency, with a "country club" atmosphere. There are likely a handful of reasons why that would be, but with recent roster changes, bringing in the likes of high-personality leaders like Jack Johnson, Vinny Prospal and James WIsniewski, the culture is going to change. We've already seen those three players speak out against the attitude that losing hockey games was acceptable.
I think you'll see an obvious theme among the four of us. Vinny Prospal and Jack Johnson are two players who's CV boasts experience and leadership, and each player makes a ton of sense as Columbus' next leader.
Vinny is an excellent role model. The young players only need to watch his all-out effort every game, combined with his off-ice work ethic to get an idea of what it will take to be a long-tenured NHLer. He took his teammates to task last year, calling out work habits in what turned out to be a breath of fresh air. It was great to finally see a player hold his cohorts responsible.
Jack Johnson most recently continued his duties as captain of Team USA at the World Championship. He's a leader through-and-through. He's signed long-term with the Jackets, and is the new face of the franchise after #61 orchestrated his own departure. JMFJ is not only the leader of a revamped and uber-talented group of defensemen, but he's also the guy who will take the Jackets back to the playoffs.
Using the military as a parallel, Johnson is the platoon leader, while Vinny is platoon
first sergeant. Johnson is the unquestioned leader of the group, while Vinny is the guy working behind the scenes, making sure everything is running smoothly and giving the troops an ear, as well as a mentor. This is why I believe Johnson should get the "C". Full-time alternate "A" to Vinny, Johnson's right-hand man on the leadership scale.
Following the recent process of rotating home and road "A's", R.J. Umberger and James Wisniewski serve as assistant captains. One joins Vinny with an "A" at home, while the other does so on the road. The leadership core doesn't stop with letters, however, as guys like Derek Dorsett, Brandon Dubinsky, Fedor Tyutin, Adrian Aucoin, and heck, even Derick Brassard will be looked to as leaders.
The Jackets really can't go wrong with JMFJ and Vinny running the show, regardless of what's sewn on the front of their sweater.
We're headed for Captain Jack's reign in Columbus. In my opinion, Jack Johnson more than deserves it. He caught a lot of flak while he was with the Los Angeles Kings, and by nearly all accounts he was simply a different person in Columbus. He stepped into a very difficult situation and handled it perfectly. I think the fact that a Michigan Wolverine quickly became a fan favorite in Buckeye Country tells you all you need to know about his personality. The added pressure and prestige of being an NHL captain should only improve JMFJ's accountability. He doesn't seem like the type of player that will be satisfied with the status quo, and the CBJ need a little (OK, a lot) more of that in Nationwide Arena. That he was captain of the U.S. World Championship team this year only strengthens his case, as it shows his growth, experience, and level of respect from his peers and coaches.
In a perfect world, Vinny Prospal would be the 6th captain in Blue Jackets' franchise history. His veteran experience (1000 games and counting!), his leadership, and his willingness to invest in this franchise both physically and emotionally is exactly what the club needs as they transition out of the post Nash era. He's been down these roads before, and I think he's already made strong steps towards helping the team establish their identity.
But for good or ill, I don't think the club is interested in a captain who likely only has 1-2 more seasons left in him. They're looking for someone locked up for the long haul, and that brings us to Jack Johnson. JMFJ slid into the locker room like the missing piece of a puzzle, tying the defense together and equally energizing fans and players. With a contract that runs through the 2018 season, he's already been a captain in International play for Team USA, and it seems like he's earned respect through the entire organization as a player who speaks his mind, leads from the front, and works to get the best from his teammates. People may not be a fan of his advanced stats (and we may not be as thrilled with him at the end of a full season), but for now he seems like the candidate that most, if not all, expect to see named.
To me, the next Captain of the Blue Jackets will hinge on one factor: the lockout. If it doesn't drag on too long and the season gets underway soon, I think the Captain will be one Vaclav Prospal, and I see that for a couple of reasons. First, this club is in transition. The Nash Era is over, and the roster has been stripped down to the studs. Prospal is a guy who, upon coming in to the Country Club Jackets, immediately sounded off the need for change. Well, that request was answered. Prospal won't be a player for too many more years, and so he would be the perfect transition-Captain until the new identity is forged post-Nash.
Second, Prospal has also agreed to stay with the club for the foreseeable future as either a player or a front office guy, and I think that signals a huge commitment to the rest of the room. If the biggest thing that needs to be changed is the culture of this team's dressing room, who better to lead that change out of the wilderness than a guy who came in, spoke up, and went all-in for a team clearly heading down the drain when he could have gone to a contender at the trading deadline? Vinny put his money where his mouth was, and he continues to set the example of commitment and drive. That's the Captain this club needs.