Selecting the Next Captain of the Columbus Blue Jackets

Harry KamdarContributor IIIJuly 21, 2012

Selecting the Next Captain of the Columbus Blue Jackets

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    July 23, 2012 UPDATE:  This article was written a day BEFORE the Rick Nash trade to the New York Rangers.  The article's focus is the selection of the next captain of the Columbus Blue Jackets which is even more relevant now.  There are 4 leading candidates discussed. 

    Rick Nash has been the captain of the Columbus Blue Jackets for a significant portion of the existence of the franchise.  Whether he remains in Columbus or not, the Jackets will be searching for a new captain.  It is unlikely that Nash would retain the "C" if he suited up in the Union Blue next season. 

    So, the new captain of the Blue Jackets could be one of four players listed in this slideshow on the current roster.  Here is a look at each of those players and the likelihood of them becoming the next captain of the Blue Jackets.

1. James Wisniewski: A Kick-Ass Attitude That Would Hold the Room Accountable

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    James Wisniewski, fondly referred to as "Wiz," has only been with the Blue Jackets for one full season.  He made news last season with a hit on Cal Clutterbuck that earned him a trip to the principal's office and then some, to put it mildly.  With a reputation of being a tough guy with reasonably good skills, the Jackets needed exactly someone like him to help rile up an otherwise placid locker room. 

    He signed on with the Jackets around the same time as Jeff Carter.  It was abundantly clear at the onset that Wisniewski was committed to the team, the city and its fans.  As for Jeff Carter, Columbus was a mere stop for refueling on his way to a big-market team, and it was written all over his face and attitude from day one in a Union Blue uniform.   

    On the other hand, Wisniewski brought leadership, earned the respect of his teammates and worked his way to "alternate captain" status.  However, he is capable of much more and should be able to receive serious consideration for making the leap from an "A" to a "C."  Even if the Jackets lose games in bunches next season, they will not be disrespected under Wisniewski's leadership.           

2. Jack Johnson: Team USA Captain...Isn't That Enough?

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    Jack Johnson made his way from Los Angeles to Columbus in a trade involving the unsettled Jeff Carter.  Johnson was thrilled at coming back to the American Midwest where he grew up in Michigan. 

    An instant winner with fans, Johnson talked about how happy he was to be in Columbus.  His play on the ice was reasonably decent, but he brought about a tough and winning attitude, which has been lacking on this team for many years.

    As captain of Team USA, Johnson already boasts of experience wearing the "C."  His leadership skills have proven to be invaluable to the national team and could become a huge factor in the future of the Blue Jackets. 

    As the team continues to rebuild or reshape with an eye toward youth, Jack Johnson should be a favorite to become the Jackets' next captain.  Like Wisniewski, he will instill a sense of pride, dignity and respect that has been missing since the early years of the franchise.

3. R. J. Umberger: Tenure with the Team Could Be a Positive or a Negative

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    R. J. Umberger has been with the Blue Jackets the longest of the "fabulous four" potentially vying for the "C."  Could his tenure be a plus or a minus for making his case to be the next captain? 

    Umberger has never been bashful and has been known to be vocal and expressive in front of his teammates.  He has been the alternate captain on a consistent basis and has shown his mettle until last season. 

    You could say that the whole team tanked last season, but Umberger disappeared for large stretches of time and was a non-factor.  It was a golden opportunity for him to step up and show leadership, but it didn't happen for the most part. 

    Did he get crowded out by James Wisniewski, Vaclav Prospal and Jack Johnson?  Did his morale hit rock-bottom after Jeff Carter took flight and Rick Nash expressed a desire to be traded?  Perhaps, but is it not those times that bring out the true leader in those still standing?

    It can be argued that Umberger ought to be the next captain, as he has paid his dues, been loyal to the team, the city and is also a former Ohio State Buckeye which is something to consider in these parts.  Umberger's primary residence is in a Columbus suburb.  He is not a part-time resident of the city like so many other hockey players that "return home" in the offseason.  His presence year around gives him a strong connection with the community and fanbase.

    If the team's ownership is serious about the culture change, then Umberger would be guilty by association with the sorry history of the club.  And that would obviously work against his chances of becoming the next captain. 

    However, it seems that the team's advertisements and public relations efforts have featured Umberger more so than any other player on the current roster.  Could this be a subtle sign that the decision has been made already on the Jackets' next captain?

4. Vaclav "Vinny" Prospal: Can Experience, Maturity and Wisdom Be the Answer?

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    Vaclav "Vinny" Prospal brings experience, maturity and wisdom to the locker room.  He is undoubtedly the elder of the team.  Despite having played just one season with the team, Prospal garnered attention and respect from his fellow teammates and management.  In fact, Prospal is expected to remain with the franchise after his playing days are over.  He is a strong voice of reason and objectivity.

    Prospal has dangled the "A" on his jersey on many occasions, but he is one of those that doesn't need a fancy letter to receive recognition for his natural leadership abilities.  He has been known to call out his fellow players when the effort has been lackluster during games or during practice. 

    This type of candor has made Prospal one of the fan favorites.  On the other hand, it may have been this type of candor that drove Rick Nash to toss in the towel and pack his bags.

    While aging players like Prospal cannot be the answer to the future of this team, is it perhaps worthwhile making Prospal the captain for just the upcoming season?  This would allow the team time to figure out who is stepping up and is most deserving of the "C" the following season.  This could spur healthy competition amongst Wisniewski, Johnson and Umberger. 

    Additionally, if Rick Nash is still with the team, he is more likely to accept Prospal as captain than the other three players and save face to a certain extent.  It is important to ensure that the team's most productive goal scorer has a decent attitude and is playing to his fullest potential on a consistent basis while still with the team.  Prospal would be able to command respect of the locker room and stamp out any civil strife. 

Conclusion: Should the Jackets Wait and See What Happens with Nash?

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    It is completely understandable how Scott Howson, the GM of the Columbus Blue Jackets, is asking for a significant return in the trade for Rick Nash.  You can't blame him, as Nash has been the face of the franchise and is the leading offensive threat. 

    In exchange, Howson is on point in allegedly wanting a pair of proven NHL-ready forwards along with a high draft pick and possibly an NHL ready-goalie.  This is much to the chagrin of his fellow GMs who are holding out for the price to drop. 

    At this point in time, it appears that Nash will be back next season in a Union Blue uniform, minus the "C."  The trade will still occur when the suitors are truly ready to make a significant offer at some point next season after the collective bargaining agreement has been worked out.

    The Blue Jackets' next captain should be selected with the four aforementioned players in mind.  In other words, if Rick Nash is going to be on the roster for the Jackets next season, then Prospal should be awarded the "C."  This would help minimize the awkwardness of the whole situation with Nash, and he is more likely to thrive under Prospal's leadership than any other player who could potentially become the captain.  Prospal's maturity and wisdom will play a big factor in keeping this team together, especially Nash.

    However, if Nash is traded before the puck drops in October, then the Jackets could take a gamble on Wisniewski, Johnson or Umberger. 

    I would contend that Prospal ought to be the captain whether Nash is in Columbus or not.  The team needs to award the "C" based on who has rightfully "earned it" rather than simply awarding it.  Prospal could be the caretaker while all of this is being sorted out and keeping in mind that this is a marathon and not a sprint.  The franchise needs to plan and act around long-term goals and successes rather than quick fixes and Band-Aid solutions

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