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Whose Jersey Will the Blue Jackets Retire First?

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Not a ton of options 17 years in, but some good choices

NHL: Preseason-Pittsburgh Penguins at Columbus Blue Jackets Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The recent announcement that the Tampa Bay Lightning will retire Vincent Lecavalier’s jersey got me thinking: Who will be the first Blue Jacket to see his jersey hang in the rafters at Nationwide Arena?

A few factors obviously play into the decision to retire a jersey:

  • Length of time served with team
  • Statistical achievements and records held
  • Significant moments in team history
  • Community image and contributions
  • Embodiment of team culture and values

The first retired Blue Jacket may need that last point in his favor, though not necessarily. Take Lecavalier’s choice quote from Monday’s announcement: “People were saying, 'You'll never win there. How do you play there? It's hot.' But, obviously, we proved them wrong.”

That quote weighed on me when writing this list, because I don’t think we see Rostislav Klesla’s number going up (although perhaps there’s an exception for someone similar later in this post). You’re going to need to win some games over a long period of time to achieve immortality. David Vyborny, RJ Umberger, Fedor Tyutin...great guys who rank highly in the franchise record books, but they never won anything here. Important players in the club’s history, no doubt, but a retired jersey feels like a participation trophy in this case. I haven’t heard too many people clamoring for any of those guys. So we’re working with current-ish players here. Also, try to think of these players in a vacuum—don’t assume it’s Bobrovsky and Foligno and Atkinson playing together for the next 10 years while we construct these elaborate fantasies I fervently hope come true.

So, who are the most likely candidates right now? In no particular order:

Sergei Bobrovsky

Numbers with CBJ: 247 GP, 139-84-20, .923 save percentage, 2.36 GAA, 19 SO

Probably the odds-on favorite at this moment. Two Vezina trophies in addition to franchise records for most wins, save percentage, goals against average and shutouts (tied with Steve Mason on that one, but he needs one more to hold it outright). Everyone loves him. He’s one of the two best players this team has ever had (Sergei Federov notwithstanding) and if he replicates his first five seasons while, y’know, figuring out this playoff thing, he’ll be in the Hall of Fame conversation.

So let’s run with that. His contract is up after next season, and you figure a 31-year-old goaltender who’s won two Vezinas (perhaps more by then) would want a long-term deal worth a boatload of rubles. Let’s assume he posts upper echelon numbers over the next two seasons, stays relatively healthy and signs that deal. I think if he retires as a Blue Jacket in his mid-to-late-30s and posts the kinds of numbers we’ve grown used to (accounting for age), it’s a no-brainer to retire his number. I’m not even sure he couldn’t play the last season or two somewhere else. But how much will postseason success play into it? Several more Stanley Cup stinkers like we saw in April could change the discussion quite a bit, and I don’t think five seasons in Columbus is near enough for a jersey retirement.

Bottom Line: He keeps up his elite play, signs and plays through his next deal, wins a few playoff series and he gets it. He wins a Cup, though, and it’s a done deal.

Cam Atkinson

Numbers with CBJ: 382 GP, 121 G, 227 P, 102 PIM

Who doesn’t love Cam Atkinson? The diminutive sniper with the 10,000-watt smile has nothing but great things to say about Columbus, the only NHL city he’s ever known. The subject of trade rumors every March, the 28-year-old is on the final year of his deal and cracked the 30-goal barrier for the first time last season.

He’s second in franchise goals scored, 168 behind Rick Nash. He’s fourth in points and he will likely catch R.J. Umberger’s 250 this season for third place. Who knows what he’ll do on a first line with Artemi Panarin and Alexander Wennberg, assuming he even stays in Columbus?

Bottom Line: I think he’ll need to win more than, say, Bob, who has the individual accolades and gaudy stats in a solitary position. He’ll also need some big playoff moments on his résumé for consideration. And the thing about Cam: he’s never been a superstar. He’s not Lecavalier or Alfredsson or Lindros. That said, he made his first All-Star Game this past year, so he’s on the cusp. If he signs and plays through a long-term deal while winning some playoff games and hovering around 25-30 goals for most of those years (especially if he assumes some leadership role later on), I think it’s worth having a conversation about. Not as good a chance as Bob, but decent.

Nick Foligno

Numbers with CBJ: 345 GP, 93 G, 219 P, 282 PIM

The Captain. After a rocky start wearing the C, Foligno turned in a solid 2016-17 campaign. More publicly active in the community than anyone on the current roster, he’s one of those universally praised hockey guys everyone loves. He even won the two big humanitarian awards the NHL hands out at the last All-Star break. He’s only broken 30 goals once in his five seasons with the Jackets, but I don’t think he needs the numbers as much as a player like Cam. He’s signed through the next four seasons—let’s say he averages something 20 goals and either retires or leaves. Is that enough?

Bottom Line: The more I think about it, the more I see it. But he needs postseason success more than anyone, as he won’t hold many statistical records. If he finishes out this deal through 2021 with similar numbers (he’ll be 33 when that deal expires) and signs one more while at least making some deep playoff runs, that may enough on longevity and leadership alone. If he wins the Jackets’ first Cup as captain (regardless of anything else), it’ll be hard to say no.

Jody Shelley

Numbers with CBJ: 380 GP, 11 G, 29 P, 1025 PIM

This sort of makes sense, right? Not now, of course, but way down the road. An original Blue Jacket, Shelley has returned as an enjoyable color commentator and a fantastic ambassador for hockey in Columbus. He embodied those tough expansion Jackets during the lean years and is another one of those “great hockey guys.” He’s got a street named after him in Canada. He’s got a plum gig, so why go anywhere?

Bottom Line: Well, this assumes the current No. 45 Lukas Sedlak won’t score 30 goals for the next 15 years and win the Cup. That may be a safe bet. If Shelley continues in his color job or at least a visible role with the organization (management excluded, unless he helps them win), this would be an extremely Blue Jacket jersey retirement. Honor the man and his dedication to Columbus, the Blue Jackets and hockey in general. Am I talking myself into this? Maybe. But he’s gonna have to be here for a long, long time to qualify.

Rick Nash

Numbers with CBJ: 674 GP, 289 G, 547 P, 568 PIM

Please don’t close your browser. Hear me out. The current franchise leader in goals, assists, points, season goals, season points, even strength goals, power play goals, (deep breath), short-handed goals, game-winning goals and games played, Rick Nash has accomplished more statistically as a Jacket than anyone else. He was here for nine seasons. But he asked out. He left. We know it, we boo him for it.

Aaron Portzline has talked about it, we’ve all thought it...but what if Nash came back to finish his career? He’s 33 years old and in the final year of a $7.8 million deal in New York, so it’s tough to see him returning to Columbus next summer. Stranger things have happened, though, and what if he were to come back eventually to help the Jackets win it all?

Bottom Line: Time heals all wounds. We’ve all had our hearts broken and time is the only way to get over an ex. Let’s pretend he comes back as an old man after the Jackets have found some sustained success (the best revenge is living well, after all), we cheer him as he helps the team make a run...what then? I genuinely don’t know. He didn’t do anything to change the culture, à la Lecavalier, but he’s incredibly important to the history of the Columbus Blue Jackets. It’s doubtful given the way he left, but it’s sports. Anything can happen.

Honorable Mentions

Matt Calvert: The longest tenured Blue Jacket, he’s got some memorable moments (the puck to the head, scoring the franchise’s first playoff game-winning goal, a hat trick)...but his numbers are stinky. Given the way the talent level has risen over the last half decade, it’s tough to envision even if he stayed here for the rest of his career (and who knows how long that is for a 27-year-old bottom-six winger built on speed?). Maybe, but it’s a long shot.

Seth Jones/Zach Werenski: Few have started their careers in Columbus on a better pace to get their jersey retired, but it’s obviously way too early for either of them. Keep it up and we’ll talk.

Jared Boll: A guy can dream.