Offseason Musings: The Captaincy
Since we're in a bit of a dead zone between the announcement of the schedule and the start of the Traverse City tournament, it's as good a time as any to speculate about who might wear the "C" next season.
First, credit where credit is due - I was kinda lazing through a Sunday afternoon when I saw that UnionMarc was having a quick poll on whom the fans thought would be the Blue Jackets' next captain, and I decided that while he had a point about there being two "major" candidates, I still think there's room for a couple of dark horses.
Though Jack Johnson and Brandon Dubinsky appear to be the leaders in the club house, I've seen some fans ask if the fact that Dubinsky was a relative newcomer hurt his chances.
History suggests that's really not that much of a factor. Even if you ignore cases like Bill Guerin being handed the C in long island during his "meet the team" press conference, there are quite a few teams who have awarded a captaincy to a relative newcomer, especially if he has a strong body of work behind him in the NHL.
In the Jackets' case, in fact, that seems to be the norm. Obviously Lyle Odelein was being given the honor based on his body of work, as was Ray Whitney. Luke Richardson only had one season in Columbus before he inherited the mantle, and Adam Foote, much like Guerin, signed as a UFA with the understanding that he would be given the leadership role.
Rick Nash is really the only exception to the rule - in part because the team hasn't exactly grown a bumper crop of their own players over the last few years - so it doesn't seem like time in Union Blue is going to be a limiting factor.
What They Bring To The Table:
In the case of the "primary" candidates, both bring about seven years of NHL experience, as each made their NHL debut in the 2006-2007 season, though neither really became "regulars" until the following campaign.
Both players were considered "core" pieces of their previous franchise in the past, both considered to be on and off ice leaders, and both have represented the United States in international competition, though Dubinsky has not appeared at the Olympic level. (It is possible that he may be considered for the Sochi squad, but he'll face tough competition, including former New York teammate Derek Stepan.)
Interestingly, while both are praised for their work ethic and leadership abilities in the room, there's a wide range of opinions about their actual on-ice skills.
Johnson has been regarded almost since he reached the NHL as a reliable offensive contributor, but he's a statistical mess, as has been discussed previously. Meanwhile Dubinsky is generally regarded as one of the better shutdown / possession players out there, but he hasn't been able to find the back of the net anywhere near reliably since his career high in the 2010-2011 season (though it's worth noting that he remains a 20+ assist guy, and there's a lot to be said for that.)
Leaving that aside, both have been vocal contributors to the improving culture in Columbus, and each has made an effort to embrace the community - in particular Johnson's arrival in Columbus the night he was traded, while Dubinsky has embraced the city's pursuit of sartorial excellence.
In all honesty, both have set a tone of being hardworking, accountable, and dedicated to the club. I think either one could be a fine captain, and I wouldn't have an issue with either of them, but I think there are a couple of other candidates that need discussed.
First off, the scarlet and grey elephant in the room: R.J. Umberger.
Already one of the club's regular alternate captains, many fans assumed that he was a shoe-in for Captain when Nash left, and more than a few fans wanted the "C" taken off Nash's sweater well before that and handed over to the OSU alum. In part it's because of his ties to the city, but Umby has always brought a hard nosed, big effort sort of play that fans embraced almost from day one of his tenure.
The issue, bluntly, is that he's failed to live up to expectations over the past two seasons. Even without the lockout, Umberger was coming off a below average performance after the team made a significant investment into him, including a $1 million dollar signing bonus and no-trade clause that runs through 2017. Managing to just barely hit the 20 goal mark in 2011-2012, fans hoping for a rebound would be sorely disappointed, as Umberger managed just eight goals and ten assists in the shortened season, perhaps because he spent the lockout working as a coach at OSU.
As much as I think R.J. is a great guy and a wonderful "voice" for the club, I'm not really comfortable giving him an expanded leadership position when he's struggling under the weight of expectations already.
If anything, perhaps the club needs to tell him to just go out and play, and leave the "A" on someone else's sweater, in hopes that he can find his game again.
Some fans may also mention the equally vocal and media-friendly James Wisniewski, who has also been part of the alternative captaincy rotation, but his injury history may be a concern, and the fact that Wiz has been involved with several...discussions...with the NHL's player safety department might also give the club pause.
I think most captains around the league aren't afraid to get into a scrap, especially to back up their teammates, but there aren't too many that are regarded as guys who play "on the edge" - Ryan Getzlaf perhaps, and Dustin Brown certainly knows how to draw a penalty. Even so, I'm not sure that's the way the club wants to present itself.
However, I think there's one other candidate who makes a very interesting case. Like Umberger, he's been here for several seasons, and like all four of the men I've discussed already, he's been a big part of helping to turn the club's culture around.
Fedor Tyutin has been playing like a machine since the day he arrived in Columbus, saw the highs with Ken Hitchcock, saw the lows with Scott Arniel, and when he had the opportunity to leave as a UFA, he chose to sign a long term extension instead. In fact, Tyutin is notable for how he handled the lockout - unlike many Eastern European players who decided to make agreements with KHL teams "just in case", Tyutin stayed in Columbus, helping to run informal practices from late August until mid-November, when he finally made the decision to head overseas.
Once the lockout was lifted, Tyutin returned and lead Blue Jackets' defensemen in scoring for the second time in the last three years, and contributes to the penalty kill and power play with equal skill. One of the most consistent players on the squad, Tyuuts has served as an alternate captain for much of his time here, and is expected to join Team Russia for his third appearance in the Olympic games.
Tyutin taking the captaincy would respect his deep ties to the franchise and community that have been forged since he arrived in the Zherdev trade, but also reflects the changing face of the locker room. With almost a quarter of the squad hailing from the East, the Jackets are actually fairly unusual.
Eastern European players are increasingly in the minority in NHL dressing rooms - most teams have one or two, but the Jackets have five on the current roster, second only to the New Jersey Devils. European Captains are likewise a minority, but it's slowly becoming more common, particularly over the last two years.
More than that, though, Tyutin is in many ways one of the longest tenured members of the team, and while a lot of people remember that Rick Nash put the team "above the bar" for a playoff berth in 2009 with a game tying goal against Chicago, but Tyutin was the one who clinched it with his shootout winner.
In a lot of ways, Fedor Tyutin IS the face of the Blue Jackets' success, and of their transformation from the Isle of Misfit Toys into a strong, professional organization. His performance has been integral, yet fans wouldn't notice it until it was missing.
In so many ways, you could argue that if the club had a heart, it's embodied in Fedor Tyutin.
I can't think of a better way of showing that to the world than offering him the captaincy.
Perhaps someone within the organization will agree.
Who do you think should be the next Captain of the Blue Jackets?
|Other (Please suggest someone in the comments!)||13|