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Jackets' captain-less days nearing an end

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets have not had a captain since Rick Nash was traded on July 23, 2012.

Oh. That's right. You already know that.

In the recently-completed 2014-15 NHL regular season, they were one of three teams (Montreal and San Jose the others) to go without a captain.

The system has worked fine in the three years that have passed since Nash was traded — the coaches, management and players have been unanimous in that belief — but as the team enters a new chapter, it sounds as though the players would like to see someone wear the “C.”

As the players went through exit meetings and post-season interviews on Sunday afternoon at Nationwide Arena, several were asked about the captaincy and whether the time has come to name a permanent captain within the room.

The Blue Jackets have several capable veterans, some who have worn the alternate captain’s “A” here and some who have not, and the sense was that the days of going captain-less may be coming to an end. Management and coach Todd Richards shared that sentiment on Monday, and GM Jarmo Kekalainen delivered the definitive line.

"We're going to have a captain next year," Kekalainen said.

“I think it’s important now,” said forward Nick Foligno. “It’s good for communication to coaches and management down to the players. It’s good for the players to have someone to look to and it’s important for a team that’s found its identity to have a guy or three guys in place, (as if to say) ‘these are our leaders.’

“We always talk about how we have so many leaders in that room, and we do, but I think it’s good now to have these three or four guys that really represent what the team is all about. I’m looking forward to that and I think it’ll be another step in turning us into the team that we envisioned we are.”

Foligno now has related experience in the field after serving as captain of the home team during the 2015 NHL All-Star celebration in Columbus. It’s not quite the same, mind you, as the All-Star festivities are much more relaxed and span approximately a week whereas full-time captaincy is (obviously) a full-time gig laden with responsibility.

"The things that we talked about previous to this year and previous to not having a captain was making sure that it was the right choice — right player, right for the team -- and sometimes you’re waiting to see, too," Richards said. "I think we’ve gotten close to that moment. Just because you name somebody it isn’t a cure, you still have to deal with problems and issues, but it does signify something, and it can help in a lot of areas."

The Blue Jackets’ leadership group boasts several qualified candidates, players who have stepped up as vocal and emotional leaders during the last three seasons.

Players like Brandon Dubinsky, one of the team’s engines (the Blue Jackets finished 12-0-2 this season with Dubinsky and Boone Jenner in the lineup together), have been key pieces to the organization’s turnaround on the ice. Mark Letestu, Fedor Tyutin and Jack Johnson have been here in good times and bad, and each has worn the “A” at different points in their Blue Jackets careers.

Scott Hartnell, who just completed his 14th NHL season and played his 1,000th career game with the Jackets this season, has been around and seen it all during a highly successful career. They have become leaders themselves but also played for great leaders, and Hartnell thinks that personality exists within the dressing room right now.

“I think you need that guy to look up to, to have a voice and a guy that brings it every night,” Hartnell said. “Someone that can go into the coaches’ room or management room and say ‘we need a day off, we look tired today’…someone that has a real pulse of the dressing room. There are definitely a few candidates in our room, and whoever it’s going to be, I’ll obviously be proud of him.

“It’s obviously not our decision, but hopefully it gets done and it won’t be in people’s heads and we can just move forward.”

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