When the Columbus Blue Jackets traded Nick Foligno at last season's trade deadline, the team was without a captain for the first time since 2015, when Foligno was named the 6th captain in team history.
Between now and October 14th's season opener, the Blue Jackets and head coach Brad Larsen would be wise to make Boone Jenner captain number seven.
The only Blue Jacket on the roster with leadership experience while wearing a Columbus sweater, Jenner has been an alternate captain for the team since Foligno's 2015 captaincy. Last year, the A's were also worn by Seth Jones and Cam Atkinson.
And while there is no requirement for a team to have a captain, there is little debate that having one is a sign of stability and strength for a club. Currently, the other teams without a captain are the Arizona Coyotes, Buffalo Sabres, Calgary Flames, New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators, and the expansion Seattle Kraken. Most of those franchises are in some degree of peril, and none of them made the postseason last year. The Kraken will likely name a captain before their season starts, with Mark Giordano the frontrunner. He was the Flames captain for the last eight seasons before moving to Seattle in the expansion draft, and brings a load of leadership to the locker room.
That strength and stability are important for a team, especially one as young as the Blue Jackets. Yegor Chinakhov and Cole Sillinger, neither of which are old enough to buy alcohol, looked like men amongst boys throughout the NHL Propsects Tournament, and it appears that both have a good chance early in the season - perhaps for that season opener less than two weeks from now - to make an impact with the big club.
Those are just two of many young players who would benefit from the stability of having an undoubted locker room leader. At age 28, the longest-tenured Blue Jacket on the roster, and years of experience wearing the "A" with Columbus, Jenner is that leader.
In a summer interview with NHL Radio, he discussed the possibility of becoming the next Blue Jackets captain.
"As a player, leadership's always something I take a lot of pride in," said Jenner. "It's always kinda been part of my game, on the ice and off the ice."
"I want to push guys in camp and make sure we're all ready to go. It (being named captain) would be a huge honor."
This also may not be quite the rebuild that the Blue Jackets and some 5th Liners thought they had just a few short months ago.
With the exception of one period against the Buffalo Sabres in the preseason home opener, Columbus has been sharp both in practice and in the exhibition games. Patrik Laine seems motivated to improve off a disastrous 2020-21 campaign, as well as delighted to have Jake Voracek creating opportunities for him. Adam Boqvist has done nothing to create doubt that, even at age 21, he can't be a successful top-pairing defenseman in the short-term. Jake Bean, another new face, also impressed in his debut with the club.
It goes without saying that Stanley Cups aren't won in September (with the exception of last year, thanks Covid), but it's far better to start the season with a belief and at least some proof that the club may be more competitive than was anticipated over the summer. That is happening here, and having your ducks in a row when it comes to leadership is only going to be a benefit for a team that is believing in themselves.
Jenner, who signed an extension in July to keep him with the team through the 2025-26 season, also isn't going anywhere anytime soon. Drafted by the club in 2011, the Blue Jackets are the only franchise he's ever known, and the extension was a clear sign that this is where he wants to succeed. That commitment to the city and the organization should not go unrecognized, nor should it go unrewarded.
Prior to the start of training camp, Larsen acknowledged that the organization will be watching chemistry and leadership in the weeks leading up to the season.
“One thing that’s going to be intriguing to watch is the chemistry in the room,” said Larsen. “It’s changed. It’s shifted, and as leaders shift in that role with different guys, they need to accept that opportunity. We’re going to be watching closely.”
Watch closely, sure, but the choice is clear.
And it should be made before October 14th.