The leadership quality of Devil’s captain Jamie Langenbrunner has been questioned since last year’s mid-season slide, a trend that’s worsened as it crossed into this year’s campaign. At this point in the season, Langenbrunner’s been as ineffective as most of the players on this team have been with only three goals and eleven points in eighteen games, going a minus ten. As captain, there’s added pressure for Langenbrunner to take initiative in these hard times. The “C” on his jersey means he should be motivating his team mates on and off the ice and lead by example, which doesn’t seem to be the case based on his play and attitude.
After last year’s first round playoff exit, the third consecutive under Langenbrunner’s captaincy, it was clear changes were needed. Over this past off-season, I preached it was time to dismantle the old guard and install newer and younger faces on the roster. Most people disagreed. Changes were made, but Lamoriello added instead of replaced because he seemed too stubborn or committed to let go of his long time core players he’s achieved past success with. Change can happen to this team any time between now and this year’s trade deadline, even beyond then to a lesser degree. Save a few line shuffles, injuries, and AHL call ups, nothing significant has been attempted to shake things up and lift them out of this funk. If that blockbuster trade or coaching change isn’t in the cards as many fans are hoping, why not switch up leadership roles in the locker room?
If this were considered, who should inherit the “C” from Jamie Langenbrunner’s jersey? With few positives and so many first year players in the Devil’s locker room, candidates are scarce. Patrik Elias has been there and done that, Ilya Kovalchuk has enough on his plate to worry about, Zach Parise’s injured and rumors are circulating on his certainty to remain in the team’s long term plans. Colin White’s been on this team longer than anyone outside of Martin Brodeur and Patrik Elias but doesn’t appear captain-like material. With all things considered, I would nominate Jason Arnott and for good reason.
Jason Arnott had a prior stint with the Devils where his and the team’s successes were well documented. So far, he seems to have continued where he left off, leading the team with nine goals and is second in points with fourteen. His play brings the closest form of consistency any player’s showed this year and I’d say he’s one of the few players bringing their A-game each night. When he was initially re-acquired by the Devils, there was a lot of concern about his age, health, and productivity. So far, I can say in confidence he’s shutting his critics up. You can say he’s leading by example with his play and being a long time veteran and former captain himself, I wouldn’t doubt the other players listen when he speaks in the locker room.
The fact that this is Arnott’s first year back in the organization on his second stint could make it all the more better to give him the “C“. He’s familiar with the organization and their philosophy, which has changed very little if at all during his time away. There’s been a considerable amount of time since he last played for the Devils (eight and a half years) so he hasn’t overstayed his welcome, contrary to what some fans believe could be the case with their current captain. To make matters more intriguing, Arnott stated multiple times New Jersey was his top trade destination. Despite the current circumstances, he wants to be here and based on what he says to the media, sounds committed to the team and intent on helping push a turnaround in any way possible, all quality signs of a true leader.
A shakeup of this magnitude wouldn’t be overly drastic but a change in looking to a new face as their leader could get the team going. Like I said, Arnott is familiar with the organization and some of the players that were here during his first stint. He’s returned to the Devils wiser, more experienced and his prior history with the team doesn’t necessarily make him an outsider. With Arnott currently being the team’s most potent scorer, if the pressure of the added “C” doesn’t alter his game, seeing their captain spearhead the team’s positives to date could be contagious amongst his team mates.