With the chances of Rick Nash leaving the Blue Jackets this offseason seeming to grow by the minute, it's not a surprise that the national media is starting to wonder about the consequences of such a change for the Blue Jackets.
Over at Pro Hockey Talk, Ryan Dadoun wonders if Jack Johnson might be the natural fit to take over the Captaincy. It's certainly not unheard of to give the leadership position to a player who is relatively new to the club - especially when leadership issues have been an open question for the club in the past.
Since joining the team, Johnson has certainly shown he has bought into the team both in terms of his play on ice and his willingness to embrace the room. He's reached out to the community since the night he landed back in the Midwest, and fans have reached out wholeheartedly.
He's young, he's signed to a fairly solid deal, and he'll likely be a top pairing d-man for the team for the prime of his career. But is he the best option for the "C" next season?
It's worth pointing out that despite the trend of late in cities like Pittsburgh, Washington, and Vancouver, the captain does not have to be (and perhaps should not be) the team's highest paid player or leading scorer. The position of captain is one of inspiration, but inspiration and leadership in the room needs to be about more than the ability to score a goal.
It's worth considering that Columbus is going to be heading into a period of major upheaval, where the entire organization is going to be remade from the inside out. A player who can not only offer a steady hand on the ice but will be able to offer experience and perspective through the team's changes next season will be key. Both the players who will remain on the club and any new additions through the draft, trades, or free agency will need to come together and be offered guidance through all the changes, successes, and struggles yet to come.
It's also worth asking if the next captain of the Blue Jackets should be a long term choice, or a player to guide the team through this transition and then give the post to (we hope) a successful member of the team's new blood, much like Doug Weight's role on the Islanders or Chris Clark's tenure in Washington.
If the team decides on the transitional role, barring a better candidate coming into the room through other acquisitions, Vinny Prospal seems like the natural fit. Prospal has experience with young teams going through growing pains in Tampa Bay and the New York Rangers. He's seen a team fall a part during his brief stay in Anaheim, and he's gone through his mudhole of a season, yet embraced the challenge and made the decision to commit to the franchise's future. Let him put a steady hand on the wheel, and once the franchise is on track, he'll likely be ready to step away from the ice and move to the next phase of his career.
Looking at a longer term option, on the other hand, Prospal could still be a major role in the leadership group, but the C is likely going to another player. Johnson is a strong candidate, but several other players also could step up to fill the role.
James Wisniewski, like Johnson, came into the team this season, and is equally committed to the future of the franchise. Seeking to build a winner in the city where he has committed to stay, Wiz has been vocal in the room even when unable to play, and perhaps his best sign of leadership was the way he chose to mentor John Moore and David Savard during his suspension. Having played in Chicago through the heart of their rebuild, he was traded prior to the team's cup run, but still was a part of the room through much of their growth into that championship quality team.
R.J. Umberger has shown a level of emotional engagement and passion on the ice that has, at times, been brought up by fans as a contrast to the more cerebral demeanor of Nash. Living full time in Columbus, he has acted as a leader on and off ice since his arrival, but he will also be associated with the Howson administration at a certain level - he was a silver lining in dark clouds, but can he separate himself from the past frustrations and help to bring the franchise around? His experiences in Philadelphia before arriving in Columbus gave him experience with both feast and famine, but they also came with one of the NHL's best coaches at the helm - an area that remains an open question mark in Columbus next season.
Finally, a dark horse candidate to consider is Derek Dorsett. A career Blue Jacket, he has never been part of a truly winning organization, but he has made a deep commitment to Columbus - like Umberger, it is his year round home. Having raised his game from "lightweight fighter / agitator" to trusted checking forward, penalty killer, and regular contributor, we've seen him mature both as a player and an adult over the last several years. Dorsett is an RFA this offseason, but it's almost certain that we'll see him re-signed in Columbus before the end of this summer. If a player like Prospal is going to be a key leader over the next season or two, Dorsett is the voice of the team's future - a player who is likely to see through the younger players' growth and helping to set the tone of what it means to play for the Union Blue.
It's a lot to consider - and it's fair to say that there may not really be a "right" or "wrong" answer. Each brings unique assets to the table. Each is likely to keep contributing to the makeup of the team on and off ice regardless of a few extra scraps of fabric.
But it's the face of the franchise. It's the player who would likely have a big role in the 2013 all star game. It's the player who the team's coaching staff, front office, and players will look to as the light to help carry them through the long night and provide the beacon of hope, once again, to the city.
The Blue Jackets don't just need a leader....they need a hero.
Who will it be?