Let's talk a little CBJ leadership shall we?
When Rick Nash was drafted back in 2002 as the #1 overall pick the hope was that Nash would develop into the player and captain that the franchise could build around for the next two decades.
Fast forward 7 seasons later and not only is Rick Nash entering his 2nd full season as Blue Jackets captain but he is signed for the next 9 seasons.
Nash aspires to lead in the mold of a Joe Sakic and Steve Yzerman. Two long tenured captains who led by example on the ice and when they chose to spoke players stopped what they were doing to listen. I couldn't think of two better leaders both on and off the ice to look up to (okay..maybe Ray Bourque but that's just b/c he's my boy).
The Nash "plan" has certainly taken shape.
With 61 fully entrenched as the undisputed leader of this team for the next decade I thought it would be interesting to take at look at who will be his supporting cast for the upcoming season.
More specifically who gets the As?
Every year Hitch defines his "leadership group" in camp. The idea - he coaches the leaders and the leaders are expected to get buy in from the rest of the team. He also leans on these individuals during the ups/downs an 82 game season brings.
If I recall correctly here was last year's leadership group:
We know Peca and Malhotra will not return. From what I recall all 6 of these players shared the A at some point during the season with all the injuries.
There are a lot of worthy candidates on this Jackets squad for next season that could certainly be a part of this leadership group which is a testament to the type of players Howson has assembled.
I can't see Hitch removing Modin, Klesla or Commodore so it's a question of who replaces Peca and Manny?
I think RJ Umberger is an absolute lock to be a part of this group. As Aaron Portzline has put it so well a number of times - RJ has become the conscious of this team.
The final spot is a bit of a tossup.
At 30 years young Jason Chimera is one of the longest tenured Jackets who baring a trade will be entering his 5th season as a Jacket. I could see him being a guy who quickly gains the trust of the younger players and can fill that communication gap.
Jan Hejda puts in a hard honest night's effort night in and night out and I'm sure he would do whatever was asked of him. On the flip side I don't see him as the kind of guy who would take offense to not being a part of that group. Basically he's the ultimate team guy.
Sammy Pahlsson is the wild card for me. Commodore showed you don't have to be a long tenured Jacket to assume a leadership role. With such a well defined role on the team and being a seasoned veteran in this league he has a very real shot to fill one of those vacant leadership roles.
Fedor Tyutin has quickly become the Jackets best all around defensemen but may not be quite ready to assume a defined leadership role as he continues to round out his game. He's not going anywhere for a while so it wouldn't surprise me if he's part of that group sooner than later.
Raffi Torres is certainly a guy who has been through the nightly NHL battles and has leadership qualities but I think Hitch will want his full focus on getting his game back to his pre-injury level and let's face it, with his contract situation he may not be here past this year.
Antoine Vermette just hasn't been here long enough. If he does get extended his role as a leader could evolve quickly.
Kristian Huselius although he's a good teammate and by all accounts a respected veteran in the locker room it's just not in his persona.
Steve Mason was very vocal last season and I expect that to continue. I don't expect him to be included in this leadership team but regardless as the #1 guy Mase will have a voice in that locker room and in the media. It's just how it works.
Brassard, Voracek, Boll, Methot, Dorsett, Russell, Murray, Filatov.... certainly some of them possess leadership qualities (Brassard immediately comes to mind) but for now they won't be leaned on for any of that heavy lifting. That is for the veterans to shoulder and for the young guys to sit back, listen and learn.
So if I were a betting man here is my guess for Hitch's leadership group for the 2009-2010 season:
Nash - C
Commodore - A
Umberger - A
Chimera edges Pahlsson for his ability to communicate with the young players. Since I'm not in that locker I have no idea if this is true or not but it's just an educated guess based on Chimmer's personality and disposition.
Now there certainly isn't a rule that this group has to be a min/max of 6 players so perhaps Hitch goes with only 5 guys or maybe on top of Umberger he adds both Pahlsson and Chimera for a total of 7. Whatever is decided Hitch fully knows that there is such a thing as having too many chiefs and not enough indians.
Check out the new poll and vote on who you think will replace Manny and Peca in Hitch's leadership group. You can select multiple players.