Monday, September 16, 2019

Nick Foligno: Two Autographed Cards

(As per years past, this is a twin-post with my "regular" blog, where I predicted the Columbus Blue Jackets would finish eighth - or fourth, but mostly eighth - in the Metropolitan Division in 2019-20).
My thing is, you don't leave a good team to try to find another one. What we're building in Columbus, everyone is excited to be part of it. You want guys fully on board.
That's Nick Foligno. The captain's words couldn't be clearer: the departures of unrestricted free agents Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky over the summer left a sour taste in many players' mouths, and head coach John Tortorella as well:
I'm pissed. Yeah, I'm pissed. I'm pissed for my players. I'm pissed for my organization. And I'm pissed on behalf of my city.
I have a tremendous amount of respect for all of them. I do. A tremendous amount of respect. But don't talk about goddamn winning, like you want to go somewhere to win. It's right there in front of you. I respect them all. But I don't want to hear 'I want to win' when it's right fucking here. I respect them, but I'm really pissed. It was right there, where we were really progressing.
And that's where I agree wholeheartedly with all of them - when these guys were kids, the Columbus Blue Jackets didn't exist; none of the Jackets' players and staff dreamed of playing for them, and probably not even for a team that hasn't been around for two whole decades, doesn't have much history let alone that of winning (and had never actually won a playoff round before). But they all landed there, and not only did they make the best of it, they were starting to make a habit out of getting on the at-times-champions Pittsburgh Penguins' nerves, particularly Sidney Crosby.

When they landed against one of the best teams of all time - the 2018-19 Tampa Bay Lightning - in the first round, they didn't just lie down waiting for a beating, they took the game to them and did the impossible: they swept the Bolts in four straight games.

Coach Tortorella and GM Jarmo Kekalainen built a system and a roster, respectively, that enabled a small-market team to rival the greats. It's even better when they can rely on superstars to support it and add an extra layer of offense, but it's effective enough to stand on its own. And something Torts is adept at is creating team spirit, team chemistry. Whether he unites the team against himself or instills an "us-against-the-world" mentality, he always knows exactly the right buttons to push to have his teams work as a single unit.

21 of the 23 guys on last year's opening roster had that, from Foligno to goal-scoring machine Cam Atkinson to 21-year-old #1 centre Pierre-Luc Dubois to star defender Seth Jones to his partner Zach Werenski to Team Canada alumnus David Savard to 25-and-under drafted and "home-developed" talents like Ryan Murray, Boone Jenner, Josh Anderson, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Alexander Wennberg, Markus Nutivaara and Lukas Sedlak to acquired defensive veteran leaders like Brandon Dubinsky, Scott Harrington and Mark Letestu.

The other two have left for cities with brighter spotlights, leaving the bulk - the core - to deal with the unfinished business at hand: pursuing further playoff success. Foligno, having had separate health scares to his two children last season, is particularly looking forward to a full season of just concentrating on hockey.

I thought it'd be nice to showcase his ascension in the Blue Jackets' ranks with these two cards, first sporting the alternate captain's "A" on card #56 from Upper Deck's 2015-16 Series 1 set:
And here he is sporting his current captain's "C", on card #37 from Upper Deck's 2017-18 MVP set:
He succeeded Rick Nash (2008-12) in the title in 2015 (the position had been vacant for two seasons). The previous wearers of the "C" had been Adam Foote (2005-08), Luke Richardson (2003-05), Ray Whitney (2002-03) and Lyle Odelein (2002-02). There's a strong tradition of the captaincy remaining with strong, blue-collar-type players which, in my opinion, is a good thing. You want guys who set the example for the rest, and effective hard-working guys who are good enough to occupy the middle of the line-up and/or have Stanley Cup-winning experience is a plus.

Foligno, son of hard-working semi-star Mike Foligno, is that kind of guy on this team, no longer the #1 (Dubois is) but still the team's heart and soul; I figure the next in line for the title is Jones. He signed these two cards in fading black sharpie in February, after scoring a goal in a loss to my hometown Montréal Canadiens.

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