As the Blue Jackets prepare to enter training camp -- the famed two-mile run is just a week away, and the first preseason game is in less than two weeks -- there is reason for excitement.
Twelve of the top 13 point scorers return from a team that made franchise history by sweeping Tampa Bay and advancing to the conference semifinals.
Fourteen core veterans -- names like Atkinson, Foligno, Jenner, Bjorkstrand, Jones and Murray -- are locked up for at least the next two seasons with seven others facing restricted free agency, leaving the Blue Jackets in a solid place to try to build on last season's accomplishments.
Yet around the NHL, there is a feeling of uncertainty among analysts after the departures of Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel in free agency, countered by the addition of Gustav Nyquist. Columbus also has added Swedish forward Jakob Lilja, former first-round pick Marko Dano, and a bevy of NHL rookies who have been playing overseas in Alexandre Texier, Emil Bemstrom, Vladislav Gavrikov, and Elvis Merzlikins.
Time will tell which direction the season will go, but to get a feeling of the mood of the team as training camp nears, BlueJackets.com caught up with team captain Nick Foligno to talk about where things stand.
Foligno talks about the departures as well as those who will be Blue Jackets in the long term, as well as the team's mentality as it gets ready to return to the ice.
BlueJackets.com: As you look at the season right now, what's your immediate thought about what this team can be? You probably know what everyone is saying about the players you lost.
Nick Foligno: "I think it will be a team that either rises to the occasion or limits ourselves because of our thought process. I think we're a team that's grown in everything we faced last year, and we're going to apply that to this season where it gives us a new lease on life. We have guys that want to be here and now it's going to be about going out and proving it.
"The work is not going to get easier, it's going to get harder. I think our mentality has to be that it's a little bit of a chip on our shoulders, but we have a belief in this locker room that's stronger than anything that's said about us or anything that goes on throughout the year. If we have that and we really believe in it, we can be a team that's a force to be reckoned with."
Video: Foligno on visit to Browns practice, offseason losses
You said a lot will depend on the team's thought process. How do you as a captain make sure this team has the correct thought process?
Foligno: "It starts with me, right? I have to walk it and talk it and believe in it. If they see me doing that, then they'll fall in line. That's the type of group that we have. We're a close-knit group and we're going to do this by committee. It's going to be everyone playing their role, doing what's necessary to help us win. When you have that belief and understanding, you usually hit the ground running, and I think that our team will.
"I think guys are coming in knowing what is expected of them, and if they don't, they will know -- not from the coaches but from us as players. I think that's so important, when a room starts to mandate the culture and guys understand how we're going to go about winning. When it comes from the room and not the coaches, I think your team takes another step."
Have those conversations started, whether it's now or July 1 or whenever?
Foligno: "They started after the end of the season last year, really. I think we knew what the group was going to be and how to go forward. I really like our team. It's funny hearing the comments because we know what we have in that room. It's up to us to prove it. We can either prove everyone right or prove everyone wrong, and that's the fun part. We're going to go about it day by day, go about our business as Torts talks about, and just keep it in our room, keep it tight and have the belief, a solid belief, that we are a really good team. And if we do that, I'm sure we'll have a lot of fun along the way and have a great year."
The best teams I've been around have been motivated by things like not being believed in. Teams always say, "No one believed in us," but it seems that can be the most powerful motivator for a team.
Foligno: "Right now, it's temporary one way, and eventually when you have the respect of the league and you are a good team night in and night out and you've won some things, then it's keeping it in check and not getting too full of yourself, either. We have a good balance where there's expectations, but you can get caught up in the other side where everyone is telling you you're going to be a winner and you don't. For us, it's knowing we've been on both sides of that and just staying even keel. If we do that and we come together as a team, then I'm really excited about where our group can go."
Has there been talk among the guys that are signed long-term or guys that have been here for a while, about, 'OK, a few players left. Forget about that, we have what we have here.'?
Foligno: "I'm not going to worry about anyone who is not in our room. I've said that from day one. If you're in our room, I care about you and I worry about you as a teammate. With what we're trying to accomplish here as the Columbus Blue Jackets, if you're not in our room making us better or helping us win, you're not in my thoughts. I'm excited about what this group can attain. I think we have a great mix of young and older guys who are hungry to prove themselves and also prove themselves within the team environment, not for their own glory, but for what the team can accomplish when they play well for us. That's a great sign."
You kind of sound like the guys you just met up in Cleveland, Baker Mayfield and Freddie Kitchens, who have said, 'If you're not wearing brown and orange, you don't matter.'
Foligno: "Well, what kind of culture are we creating, right? It has to be that way. It's not to put anyone down for leaving. There's always reasons (guys leave), and good for them. I'm happy for those guys. They're where they want to be, and we have guys where they want to be on our team and that's what you want as a teammate, as a leader, as a person and as a fan. I'm really excited about what this group can accomplish if we come together, like I said, and have the right mind-set. We're going to have a lot of fun."
And that's kind of what I was getting at. There are 10 or 15 core guys who are either young guys who are going to be here for a while or older guys who have been here for a while that you guys can build around. People around the league might be discarding that, but there has to be a belief among that core.
Foligno: "There's a lot of hockey left in the guys that have been here, and there's a lot of hockey to be played for the guys that are just coming up. I think that's what is so cool is that we're a lot of guys in our primes right now. There's a real good core here. Any guy can step up at any moment and lead our team so it's really cool to be a part of. Sometimes change is good, and I think in this case it's going to be really refreshing for our group."
Is it almost exciting because of that?
Foligno: "Absolutely. I'm pumped for this camp. I'm really excited to get going with this group. Not to be rude to Torts, but I can't wait to get through this camp so we can get through to the real stuff. It's so important to go through this camp so guys see the level that we expect, but then (I can't wait to) get going with our group and get playing for real and really going out there and becoming the team that we think we can be."