On May 20, 2015, fans of the Columbus Blue Jackets were officially introduced to a person they’ve been waiting three seasons for: a team captain. A player that the management and coaching staff could approach if there was a concern or task at hand. A player the fans could say represents them as much as the franchise. The day had finally arrived.
Over the past few seasons, members of the media and fans alike have occasionally brought up the “captain question.” Management, coaches, and players typically danced around it, but some would gracefully respond with “we hold each other accountable” or “we don’t need one because the system we have right now works.” All were probably true statements at the time.
Some people in the hockey world will tell you that captaincy is “just a letter on a jersey” and that there is no real weight to it. Others argue the captain is a necessary ambassador for their franchise and a crucial component of any championship team. The Blue Jackets have had plenty of players don the “A” the last few years, hinting ever so slightly that one of these guys might lead the team one day. But nothing had materialized. The question of captaincy continued to swirl around Columbus during this time.
Was there ever going to be a captain in Columbus? Was it that important to have a captain? Was it a novelty? Is there a player on this team who can be the captain?
If you would have told someone Nick Foligno would be an All-Star for the Blue Jackets a few years ago, you would have been looked at a bit strangely. He came from a good hockey family, but nothing more than that according to hockey experts. He wasn’t the most consistent player at the time. He wasn’t a top scorer. He wasn’t even a top-six forward on the team. He was a role player who was willing to drop the gloves and could score a hand full of goals per season.
Now, fast forward to 2015.
Foligno has developed quite the resume here in Columbus and, in 2014-15, he gained a new focus and drive. He went on a tear, scoring 31 goals (career high), 42 assists (career high), was selected to the 2015 All-Star Game, named one of the two team captains for All-Star Weekend in Columbus, and earned the CBJ Foundation Community MVP for his work here in central Ohio. In a year that saw the Jackets struggle due to a laundry list of injuries, Nick was a constant beacon of light. For that, No. 71 was voted Team MVP by the 5th Line and his peers for his outstanding play.
When the Blue Jackets revealed at a post season press conference that they would finally have a captain in the 2015-2016 season, the 5th Line fired up the rumor mill to full throttle. Many people across Ohio and across the world weighed in on who the next captain should be. Although there were a crop of players worthy of leading the Jackets, management said the choice was “obvious.” And of all the choices that were thrown out on the internet and in the media, one player stood above the rest. One that we have all seen grow into a leader on and off the ice during his time in Columbus. This one player would lead the team. He would be our representative to the rest of the NHL. The captain of the Columbus Blue Jackets had finally been picked and it was only a matter of time until it was confirmed.
The question comes to mind. Is it really still “just a letter”?
Foligno stepped into the CBJ media room May 20 donning the No. 71 we have all come to know in the state capital -- but with one noticeable alteration. It was so foreign to see the "C" on a Blue Jackets jersey and yet so comforting at the same time.
A symbol of progress for the franchise. A sign to the NHL that Columbus is ready to be a serious contender for the Cup. A new era has begun.