Monday, December 19, 2011

Phil Esposito's Team

Rick Nash, The Captain
This last weekend I had an opportunity to listen to Craig Patrick talk about some of the experiences in his career.  Fascinating stuff.  As hard as it is to deal with what is going on with the team these days, it is well to consider that this gentleman is going to have a real impact on the Columbus Blue Jackets organization, but it is going to take some time before we see it.  His impact will be on long term direction.

However, I think his immediate impact is somewhat related to this anecdote he shared with the audience.  I have tried to check my facts, but my memory is imperfect, so anyone else who heard him tell this, feel free to offer your impressions.

Craig Patrick became the General Manager of the New York Rangers in late 1980.  The Coach at the time of his hiring was an old friend, Fred Shero.  As Patrick told the story, he asked Shero about the team's identity.  His response was "It's Phil Esposito's team".  At this time, Esposito was at the end of his career, and as Patrick related, his age was starting to show.  Patrick related a conversation where he said "Fred, you're going to have to quit playing Esposito so much".  Shero's response was "If I don't play Esposito, I'll get fired".  Patrick's response was "If you keep playing him, you'll get fired too".

Sure enough, later that year, Shero was fired, and Craig Patrick became the Coach of the New York Rangers. As Patrick related, he did not play Esposito as much, and the upshot of this was a.) Patrick and Esposito did not get along real well, and b.) the next year, Esposito retired.

So what does this mean for the Blue Jackets?  It probably has occurred to you where I am going with this.

Two weeks ago, our own Dark Blue Jacket "popped the question", asking Scott Howson about this team's identity.  Howson answered with some comments about big, hard to play against Hitch-itudes.  This, however, is not correct.

The long sought identity to the Blue Jackets is this:  It's Rick Nash's team.  Pure and simple.

Saying that, like that, brings up all sorts of implications.  But it also puts a little bit of explanation on Scott Howson's comments regarding Scott Arniel, as reported on Puck Rakers.

If the true identity of this team is "Rick Nash's Team", and given the commitment of this organization to Rick Nash, Howson's comments only make sense in this context: That it is extremely important that Rick Nash figure out how to lead this team out of the wilderness in which they now reside.

Let's take a quick look at the guys Rick Nash has had as 'mentors' or 'examples' to help him in his quest to provide leadership to this group.

Probably the first was Ray Whitney, named as Captain as the first of a 'system of rotating Captains' in the 2002-03 season by franchise Czar Doug MacLean after the original Captain, Lyle Odelein was traded late in the 2001-02 season.  No other Captains were named in the 'rotation' and Doug did not want to give Whitney and extra year, so let him walk to the Redwings.

The next Captain was Luke 'One Punch' Richardson a genuinely good dude, stay at home defenseman.  He was Captain for the 2003-04 season, and for the first half of the 2005-06 season, when he resigned the Captaincy in the face of Doug's wrath, and was traded at the trade deadline.

A whimsical statement about Foote
Richardson was replaced as Captain by Adam Foote, who was a pretty decent Captain for the remainder of 2005-06 and  2006-07.  In the 2007-08 season, with Ken Hitchcock as Coach, it became apparent that the Coach was going to demand the players take ownership of the team, when he walked out of practice following a lack luster loss to a bad Toronto team.  This left Foote running the practice, and was a fairly effective coaching ploy, as Pazzy shut out Montreal in the next game, his triumphant return there.  Within a month or two of this incident, Foote had orchestrated his exit from Columbus.

In the vacuum following Foote's trade, Rick Nash declared he wanted the Captaincy, and it was awarded to him.  The initial year of Nash's Captaincy, was the 2008-09 playoff run.  That year Nash was extremely fortunate to have Michael Peca in the locker room who handled a lot of the interaction between the team and Hitch.  When Peca was not signed the following year, there was no real liaison between the locker room and Hitch, and I presume mis-communication ensued, and Hitch 'lost the room'.  Howson reacted with a number of experiments of bringing in old Captains to help Nash, all of which were spectacularly unsuccessful.

So here we are folks.  Its Rick Nash's team. No matter what anyone says, that is the way it is.  Nash hasn't had a lot to work with in terms of positive role models.  Maybe the 2006-07 version of Adam Foote, but that has lot's of baggage with it.  Maybe his best example was Michael Peca, who wasn't the Captain at all.  But as Howson has clearly said, its up to the players to figure a way out of this mess.  Leadership can be learned.  Nash needs to learn the right way to lead a team to a winning path.  And that is what this season is all about.


1 comment:

  1. I think Nash is part of the problem. You can't have a captain giving 100% effort 25% of the time and expect his team to give 100% effort 100% of the time.

    Give me Dorsett as captain, and trade Nash away to the highest bidder.


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