Blue Jackets veterans believe in culture built in Columbus
Leaders say team foundation is strong even after offseason departuresby Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com
John Tortorella admits there's already a chip on his shoulder when it comes to the Blue Jackets' 2019-20 season.
And it seems no player has embraced a similar attitude as much as Cam Atkinson.
Surely, the core group of Blue Jackets is disappointed to see talents like Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky and Matt Duchene leave in free agency, but none has been as vociferous in defending the Columbus franchise and what it represents than Atkinson this offseason.
"We're in a position where the culture we built the last four years -- if you don't want to be here, we don't want you here and we don't need you here," Atkinson told SportsNet last week at the NHL media event in Chicago.
Atkinson has echoed that same mentality in other media interviews over the summer. It's a response born of pride and passion, both in what he's helped build in Columbus and in the future he's pledged to the team with a contract that runs through the 2024-25 season.
"I think a lot goes into it," Atkinson said when asked why he's been so vocal this offseason. "I'm hopefully here for another six years. I've been here the longest. Especially being a leader, you want guys that want to be excited to come to the rink every day and push other and wear that Blue Jackets sweater and represent Columbus as a whole and just be proud.
"Next year is going to be my ninth year. My first six were tough times when people didn't want to put on that sweater and represent Columbus. Being an older guy and going through the roller coaster and now being part of something special and the culture we've built the last four years, it's an honor to wear that sweater.
"We still have to prove people wrong, and that's great. That's what's gotten me to where I am today is proving people wrong every single year. I'm definitely excited to get 'er going and get through this training camp and start the regular season."
Video: Media Day: Cam Atkinson
It's a similar mentality throughout the Columbus organization, it seems. Despite being fourth-winningest team in the NHL in the regular season and only one of three teams to win 45 games each of the past three years, the Blue Jackets come into the season being counted out by many around the league because of the key offseason departures.
It's led head coach John Tortorella to say he doesn't give a hoot about what the analysts say, while general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said he's "fed up" having to talk about the perceived backslide the organization could take.
Captain Nick Foligno has heard the talk as well but believes the Blue Jackets will be fine. The reasons? A combination of the past success that has been build and a strong core of young players who have helped build it.
Much like Atkinson, he came to the organization at a time when it had made just one playoff appearances in its first decade-plus and has watched how it has matured over time.
"I think that's what I love about this team is we're becoming a team," Foligno said. "It's not a bunch of misfits anymore. There's a role every guy plays now. When you look at the great teams, that's usually how it works. Every year, this is what you're getting out of them. You know it's tried and true, and we're starting to see more players like that you can rely upon.
"I think that's really what has made me appreciate the ways we've gone about our roster here is we're really growing something from the foundation up, and the foundation is strong."
Part of that is because of personnel, with the Blue Jackets returning what they believe is one of the NHL's strongest core groups. Many of the team's top players are locked up for the foreseeable future and still have room to grow with a number of them just reaching their primes.
But there's also a culture that has been established by this group that shows no signs of waning. Columbus has build a consistent winner the past three seasons and feels that experience will help the franchise continue down the right path.
"We have high expectations," assistant captain Boone Jenner said. "We know it's not easy to be a good team in this league. I think we've raised the standards within our organization of how hard we're going to work and how hard we're going to push each other to get to those levels."