The Columbus Blue Jackets have named a new captain. The seventh captain in team history is Boone Jenner, and when you look at it, he really was the only natural choice for the role…and not just because he has one of the best beards in the NHL. To see why he was the right choice, let’s look at Jenner’s competition.
Blue Jackets Captain Decision Was 2-Man Race
A couple of names rose to the top of the debate for the next Blue Jackets captaincy: Jenner and star defenseman Zach Werenski. The latter just committed to the organization in a big way, signing a massive six-year pact with the team. While I can understand many teams’ desire to slap the “C” on their highest-paid franchise player, sometimes that isn’t always the best option; see Jack Eichel in Buffalo.
I would never suggest a falling out of such massive proportions between the Blue Jackets and Werenski, but just because someone is the face of your franchise does not mean they are the voice of the locker room.
The role of a captain, when you boil it down, isn’t to lead those outside of the locker room. It’s to lead the players inside the locker room. The main argument for a Werenski captaincy is that he is the fresh new face of the franchise. He’s still young at 24 years old. He re-upped with the team after so many others with star-caliber talent had left. There are so many things going right there. But is it something that the Blue Jackets would do?
Boone Fits Their History
Looking at the shortlist of Blue Jackets captains throughout their history and there are several factors that this group has in common. Here is the list of captains with when they served and their age when they were named:
- Lyle Odelein (2000-2002 – 32 years old)
- Ray Whitney (2002-2003 – 30 years old)
- Luke Richardson (2003-06 – 34 years old)
- Adam Foote (2005-08 – 34 years old)
- Rick Nash (2008-12 – 24 years old)
- Nick Foligno (2015-20 – 27 years old)
- Boone Jenner (2021-Present – 28 years old)
First off, only two of them have led the team in scoring while they were captain: Rick Nash and Ray Whitney. The other four were strong character players who had been around the league for a while. Boone fits the majority in this case, as he isn’t primed to lead in the offensive stats categories.
Not that Jenner is bereft of skill by any means, with a 30-goal season under his belt. But while that season is more than half his career behind him, he’s bounced around the lineup from the first to the fourth line, becoming an indispensable, versatile core member of the Blue Jackets identity. He fits the same mold Nick Foligno left in that regard, almost a Foligno 2.0.
The only real comparison to Werenski in Blue Jackets history is Nash. Werenski is the same age Nash was, and he has the same amount of years of experience. The issue is that Nash failed to live up to the hype as captain, starting strong by leading the team to their first playoff appearance, but after that, he led Columbus in a downward spiral until he was ultimately traded in one of the franchise’s darkest moments.
The trauma from the Nash captain years is still felt by the organization, which hasn’t put all its eggs in one basket since then. It’s hard enough to lose the team’s star player, but losing the star player who was also the team captain devastated the franchise. It would have been surprising to see the team choose the new young face in Werenski because of that history.
The other knock against Werenski is his new role as number one defenseman. In a season with so many moving pieces, head coach Brad Larsen is quoted as saying he felt the team needed a captain (from ‘Blue Jackets pull no surprise naming Boone Jenner captain: ‘He was the obvious choice,” Columbus Dispatch, October 12, 2021). The decision to add the pressure of the captaincy on top of becoming the top-dog on the blue line could be enough to shatter the progression of a stud asset who is committed for the next seven years. At this point, is it worth the risk?
For Werenski, I’m not saying we won’t ever see a “C” on his sweater. I’m just saying it makes sense that this year wasn’t his time. Foligno’s leadership was one of the most prosperous times in franchise history, which makes sense to find a similar player to lead the group heading forwards.
Boone Fits Their Identity
In the last six months, the Blue Jackets have radically reconfigured their roster. The team’s old identity was shipped out in a laundry list of transactions: captain Foligno; defensive cornerstones Seth Jones and David Savard; locker room glue guy Cam Atkinson; and the Godfather himself, coach John Tortorella.
The departures of old freed-up space have allowed a new team core dominated with skill-type players who aren’t known for their defensive prowess to arise. The likes of Jakub Voracek, Patrik Laine, and Adam Boqvist come to mind.
However, with all of the moves made, general manager Jarmo Kekalainen clearly expects a standard of play from his squad. Many have assumed that “standard of play” refers to a defensive responsibility and strong two-way play. Who better to lead the way than the tenacious two-way player in Jenner? That was rhetorical; there is no one better.
It Had to Be Jenner
The Frank Sinatra song, “It Had to Be You,” came to mind when thinking of who the new captain would be in Columbus. Quite simply…it had to be Boone. Wonderful Boone, it had to be you.
He personifies the Blue Jackets. A blue-collar player for a blue-collar town. Ultimately, he checks so many boxes in what teams look for in a captain. Jenner is in his ninth NHL season and has been a leader on teams that have performed across the spectrum: from bottom-dwelling lottery squads to teams contending for a division title. He checks the “Plethora of NHL experience” box.
Jenner recently agreed to stick in Ohio a little longer with a contract extension on the first day he was eligible to re-up. In re-signing with the team for another four years after this one, and at a reasonable cap rate, he checks the “Commitment to the Organization” box too.
Jenner is the only survivor of the Blue Jackets leadership group from the purge of the last six months and has worn an “A” on his sweater since he was 22. That’s not even mentioning captaining his Oshawa Generals and Team Canada at the U17s. “Pedigree of Leadership Experience?” Check.
Jenner was seated next to Nick Foligno in the locker room the last six years and soaked up leadership experience like a sponge. He’s been the heir apparent for a while, and now his time has come. He is on the throne and it’ll be riveting to see where he leads his team into this new era in team history.
Writer covering Columbus Blue Jackets.
Also a radio personality and reporter currently based on Vancouver Island.