Welcome to Jackets 20, a series which celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Columbus Blue Jackets by profiling 20 of the most important players from the first two decades. Today, we remember the first great goal scorer in franchise history, Geoff Sanderson.
Before the Blue Jackets entered the league, to call me a casual hockey fan would have been overstatement. I liked the Mighty Ducks films and I played a lot of NHL 94 on the Sega Genesis, but that’s it. As a result, none of the inaugural season Jackets were known to me, and prior to this point I had not done a deep dive into their pre-Columbian careers.
I remember Geoff Sanderson as a great goal scorer here, and this had been a part of his game for the first decade of his career as well. Drafted by Hartford in the second round of the 1990 draft, Sanderson made his debut at the end of that season and in just his second full season, at the age of 20, he scored a career high 46 goals and 89 points. He followed up with a 41 goal effort in the next season, and by 1997 he had recorded four seasons with 34+ goals and 65+ points.
By the second half of the 90s, the dead puck era was in full swing and Sanderson saw his numbers dip. After the Whalers moved to Carolina (*), Sanderson was on the move to Vancouver then Buffalo where he played for two more seasons. He scored four goals in 19 games in the 1999 playoffs as the Sabres won the Eastern Conference. In summer 2000, however, he was 28 years old and coming off a 26 point season. As a result, he was exposed to the expansion draft and eligible to be selected by either Columbus or Minnesota.
(*) As he points out in the video below, Sanderson almost came to Columbus in 1997, when Columbus and Raleigh were the two contending destinations for the Whalers.
Good First Impression
Sanderson earned an assist in the first game of the 2000-01 season, then experienced a five game point drought as the team fell to 1-5. From then on, the Jackets proved a surprisingly tough team to play — albeit not a great one — and Sanderson led the way with 30 goals and 56 points.
One fun thing about an expansion team is that every accomplishment puts you in the record books, at least temporarily. While Sanderson’s season and career totals have been surpassed by guys like Rick Nash and Cam Atkinson, he at least can hold a claim to some franchise firsts.
On December 8, 2000, the Blue Jackets won an overtime game for the first time, and who else but Sanderson could score that game winner:
Side note: with the video quality and the appearance of the fans, it feels like the clip could be anywhere from 20 years old to 40 years old.
In February of that season, Sanderson recorded the team’s first hat trick:
The Big Year
Injuries struck in the second season, but Sanderson bounced back with an even better performance in 2002-03. His 34 goals still ranks sixth for most goals in a season by a Jacket (behind three Nash seasons and two Atkinson seasons). His 67 points is tied for tenth, with Nash’s 2009-10 (trailing two Artemi Panarin seasons, two Nash, and one each from Ray Whitney, Nick Foligno, Ryan Johansen, Atkinson, and Andrew Cassels). This year included his second CBJ hat trick, a FOUR goal effort at Calgary.
In 2004, Sanderson was traded at the deadline to Vancouver for a third round draft pick (which would become goaltender extraordinaire Dan LaCosta). He was waived after the season and re-claimed by Columbus, but the lockout delayed their reunion. Just two games into the 2005-06 season, Sanderson left the Jackets for good in a trade with Phoenix which included Jason Chimera.
Sanderson scored 25 goals that year, but his health and production rapidly declined and his career was done by 2008. I remember being sad when Columbus felt they could move on from him, but by then Rick Nash had arrived and was ready to carry the mantle of the high-scoring left winger.
As a new fanbase, we would be drawn to players who gave us a reason to watch. Someone like Jody Shelley got attention for fights, but Sanderson created new fans with every goal he scored in those early seasons. I count myself among them.
For an update on his life now, check out this interview Shelley did back in May:
What are your favorite Sanderson memories?