Foligno Signing Strengthens Blue Jackets' Core

With the signing of popular forward Nick Foligno to a long-term deal, Jarmo Kekalainen and John Davidson have added a very important brick to the foundation.

It's been quite a stretch for the Blue Jackets' Nick Foligno. The birth of his daughter, Milana, her subsequent travails with a severe mitral valve issue, and Nick's perseverance throughout it all were well documented in Dan's excellent piece from earlier this season. He went on to score one of the most memorable goals in Blue Jackets' history in last year's playoff series vs. Pittsburgh . . . after calling his shot. This season, he has simply put the club on his shoulders, posting 17 goals, 15 assists and 32 points in just 34 games. His goal total is good for 8th in the NHL, tied with some stiff named Ovechkin. In between, he has emerged as a dynamic leadership figure for the club -- on and off the ice -- and his ritual post-game hugs with Sergei Bobrovsky provide iconic images that NHL marketing departments drool over.

So, as the Blue Jackets' faithful began filing into their Nationwide Arena seats last night for the calendar year 2014 finale against the Minnesota Wild, it was somehow fitting when the Twitterverse began chirping that Foligno had inked a six-year, $33 million dollar contract extension. The buzz was palpable among the hockey illuminati in the crowd, and when Mike Todd made the formal announcement to the packed house, the roar was unequivocal --- Blue Jackets' Nation approved.

In announcing the deal, GM Jarmo Kekalainen confirmed what everyone else knew:

Nick has been an important contributor to the growth of our team over the past two years and keeping him in the Blue Jackets family has been a priority. . . The fact that we were able to get this deal done is a testament to Nick’s commitment to our team and this community and we couldn’t be more excited that he will be a Blue Jacket for many years to come.

Not surprisingly, Foligno echoed the similar sentiments:

This is where I wanted to be. I talked to my wife. We love it here. This is where I want to win, where I want to be. I'm proud of what we've accomplished and I want to see it through.

It seems unlikely that the Blue Jackets could have foreseen just how much of a dominant role Foligno would assume with the club when they acquired him for defenseman Marc Methot prior to the 2012-13 campaign. Sure, Foligno was coming off his best season as a pro in Ottawa, but most had Foligno pegged as a good 15-goal/30-point guy who had a bit of a temper and suffered from inconsistency. Boy, were they wrong . . .

Sure, Foligno's numbers have been terrific. He has refined his game and become a true threat in the offensive zone. He has an uncanny ability to maintain possession and create space, and combines a deft passing touch with a solid shot. He's not afraid of the tough areas of the ice, and has shown a willingness to do whatever is required to further the team's success. Move from wing to center? Sure. Penalty kill? Of course. Block shots? No worries. Yesterday, Jarmo referred to him as a "heart and soul guy"-- and that is a perfect description.

Foligno's true value transcends the numbers, however. While his game has matured, it is his growth and development as person and player that has been the most evident. As I discussed in this piece back in August, Nick has developed that unique combination of maturity, skill, leadership and passion . . . all tempered by perspective . . . that is truly hard to find. The Blue Jackets front office have repeatedly said that they were waiting for a leader to emerge, and that is precisely what he has done. He doesn't need to put himself artificially in front of the crowd . . . it just happens. "The Hug" is precisely the type of spontaneous, perfect gesture that signifies a pre-eminent role within the organization . . . and among the fan base.

It is to the Blue Jackets' credit that they quickly recognized Foligno's emergence and how he could be a key "brick" in the foundation going forward. At age 27, Foligno is young enough to be productive throughout his new deal, and relate to the hordes of youngsters on the Columbus roster. By the same token, he has enough experience and gravitas to be able to effectively send messages when they need to be conveyed.

At a $5.5 million cap hit and actual salary Foligno joins the ranks of Ryan Johansen, Scott Hartnell and Brandon Dubinsky among the forwards (discounting Nathan Horton's contract for obvious reasons). With the salary cap likely to rapidly escalate during the term of Nick's deal, this represents a nice slot for his combination of skill and leadership. Whether he puts up 30 points or 70 points, he's going to be a key contributor for a long time, and the organization is sending a strong signal that it is willing to reward guys who make the sacrifices required to lead and excel. Pay attention, Cam Atkinson.

From an overall salary structure perspective, the deal is a nice one. The Blue Jackets retain ample salary cap room to get a long term deal done with RFA Sergei Bobrovsky, who has to be encouraged with the long term signings of Foligno and Dubinsky. Calvert, Letestu, Skille and Gibbons can all be signed at reasonable numbers, and a host of entry-level guys with lots of talent are waiting in the wings. The unexpected emergence of guys like Morin and Connauton provides some real options to the front office team. What seems to be slowly emerging is an upper echelon of players who are well-paid, but not overpaid, supported by a host of young and hungry guys chomping to reach those levels. Those guys have others nipping at their heels. That's a healthy structure, from both fiscal and competitive perspectives.

It's an over-used phrase, but it is nevertheless appropriate here. This was a win-win deal for all concerned -- the Blue Jackets, the fans and Nick Foligno. Hugs all around!

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