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Players say no shortage of leadership in Jackets' locker room

by Brian McCormack / Columbus Blue Jackets

Hockey fans debated over the weekend as the Montreal Canadiens decided to embark on the 2014-15 season without a captain.

Perhaps it’s a rare instance in which one of the league’s original franchises is taking its lead from one of the NHL’s youngest.

The Blue Jackets went without a captain during the past two seasons after trading away then-captain Rick Nash at the end of 2012. They instead decided to use four assistant/alternate captains last season: Brandon Dubinsky, Jared Boll, Mark Letestu,and Jack Johnson. With that leadership platoon, the Jackets went on to have their most successful season, a playoff berth, and perhaps most surprisingly, a steady locker room formula that other teams may now look to emulate.

“I think other organizations are looking at how we managed it here, and not necessarily that they’re going to pattern themselves after us, but I think they’re looking at our situation and wondering if that’s a benefit," coach Todd Richards said Wednesday.

Teams have seemed increasingly hesitant in recent years to appoint a single team leader out of obligation or tradition. Instead, coaches have been comfortable to allow for leadership by committee when personnel allows for it.

For Richards, it’s a model that fit his particular locker room last season.

“It comes to figuring out what’s right for your team, what’s right for your personnel, and what’s right for your organization,” Richards said. “That person (the captain) becomes a face of the franchise.

“And I believe in the guys in the room. It’s not that by not naming a captain we’re saying ‘we don’t have a good leader down there.' There are lots of good leaders down there.”

Blue Jackets players echoed that sentiment. Rather than looking to a letter on a sweater, players claimed that they know who to look to for direction during the trials of an NHL season.

“There’s a lot of leaders in our room and we work by committee on this team,” said Matt Calvert, who had a breakout season last year for Columbus.

“Whether a guy is wearing a ‘C’ or not, it won’t change the job he’s doing in the room. We have a lot of guys who could potentially wear the ‘C’ and ultimately they are going to lead, they’re going to bring their best every night, and we’ll work as a team.”

Cam Atkinson, another young and exciting player who had a 20-goal season for the Blue Jackets, agreed: “I don’t think it really matters. I think we had success last year, and if [the coaches] pick a captain then they pick a captain. But we know who our leaders are.”

In a room with many players leading both vocally and by example, Richards warned that awarding the captaincy purely for the sake of naming one could be counterproductive.

“Sometimes when you just give a ‘C’, sometimes it takes away from the other leaders.”

Richards would not commit to whether or not he would be naming a captain during training camp, but did not regard it as a serious concern either. The team faces several questions entering camp, including personnel issues and improving their overall game in a challenging Metropolitan Division. A lack of identifiable leadership is not a concern, he said.

By the end of camp, the Jackets’ mantra may very well be ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, and other teams are following suit.

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