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Best of DBJ: Could Jack Johnson Be the Blue Jackets’ Rod Langway?

By Tom

DBJ note: As you probably are aware, I share assorted other thoughts on the Columbus Blue Jackets and the world of hockey at The Dark Blue Jacket blog, which has been around since 2009.  I’ve been fortunate enough to share the blog with a number of compadres over time, and Fox Sports Ohio has been kind enough to let me reprint some of their work here…a “Best of DBJ”, if you will.

We’ll start off this periodic series with a piece posted earlier this week by my friend, Alex Stallings.  It presents a fascinating historical comparison, one that’s sparked quite a discussion.  What do you think?

Could Jack Johnson Be the Blue Jackets’ Rod Langway?

In 1982 the Washington Capitals were coming off yet another season where they failed to make the NHL postseason. The organization had been in existence for eight years and had yet to make the playoffs even once. This was at a time 16 of the league’s 21 teams went to the postseason. The Capitals organization lacked leadership both off and on the ice and there was serious talk of relocating the struggling franchise. The Summer of 1982 helped turn things around for the Capitals, mostly due to two significant, gutsy moves. First the Capitals hired a young David Poile to fill their general manager opening. Poile was a former standout player at Northeastern University who joined the Atlanta Flames as an administrative assistant shortly after graduating and worked his way up to assistant general manager. Blue Jackets fans probably know Poile better as the man who has been the general manager of the Nashville Predators since their inception. Poile wasted no time making over the team and swung a huge trade within weeks of being hired. The Capitals sent team captain Ryan Walter and Rick Green to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Rod Langway, Brian Engblom, Doug Jarvis, and Craig Loughlin. The trade was instrumental in changing the face of the organization. Poile had this to say:

“This trade makes the Capitals competitive,” David Poile, Washington’s new general manager, said at a news conference at Capital Centre. “We’ve added four quality players. For the first time in Capitals history, we have a defense.”

Sound familiar? How about this quote from Langway:

“Washington got a great deal. Here I know I’ll have a chance to bloom.”

My favorite quote belongs to Engblom, who was in the Blue Jackets television booth as a color analyst after his playing career ended before moving to OLN and now NBC Sports Network:

“Winning and losing are kind of trends,” Engblom said. “You’ve got to break one to get into the other. It’s time for the Capitals to break a trend.”

This trade meant everything to the organization. They shipped out two very good players who went on to have success in Montreal (yes, both teams came out well in the trade) and received back the foundation they built their team on, namely defense. Langway was named captain before he had even played a game in a Capitals sweater. It didn’t hurt that the team had also just drafted a young defenseman by the name of Scott Stevens who would make an impact as an 18 year-old rookie. The Capitals made the playoffs for the first time the next season, and didn’t miss them again for another fourteen years. Although the team has still never hoisted the Stanley Cup, the Capitals shed their poor image and losing tradition in just one season.

I am not comparing Jack Johnson the player to Rod Langway, or Ryan Murray to Scott Stevens or Scott Howson to David Poile. Johnson’s defense would have to improve quite a bit to reach Langway’s level at his worst, Murray hasn’t stepped foot on NHL ice yet, and Howson… tries hard. My point is the parallels are there. The Blue Jackets have a poor image around the league and the only way to turn that around is to start winning games. The team is ready to ship out its captain Rick Nash, and the players they bring in from that trade should help form the core of this team. This trade could be the turning point of this franchise, and right now it’s on Scott Howson to get the best deal he can get. I was concerned the way this was dragging out until I read Elliote Friedman’s must-read 30 Thoughts column today where he had this to say about the situation:

9. Have always believed Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson’s best opportunity to deal Rick Nash will be after Parise’s decision. Think some other teams hoped their first-round picks would really appeal to Columbus, but that wasn’t the case. My guess is that Nash and Bobby Ryan, if Anaheim wants to do it, get dealt after Parise signs. If Pittsburgh doesn’t get Parise, Nash makes sense — assuming it has what the Blue Jackets want.

I’m glad to see that Howson didn’t value first-round picks in this draft. It was a shallow draft outside the top three, and neither the Oilers nor the Canadiens would have been potential trading partners for Nash. It seems Howson is hedging on either the Rangers or Penguins (or both) missing out on Zach Parise and then feeling pressure to up their firepower, thus overpaying for Nash. It’s a sound strategy, unless the opposing team’s GMs don’t bite or they get their fix somewhere else, like Anaheim. I don’t think this team can start training camp with Rick Nash as the captain and expect things to go smoothly, so Howson better hope his patience pays off. If it does the organization could reap the benefit for years to come and gain some respectability in the process. If not, the results could be messy.

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