When a team has significant success or disappointment, all eyes turn to its leader. And so, with the Blue Jackets coming off the most successful season in franchise history, it's no surprise to see captain Nick Foligno named as a finalist for the Mark Messier Leadership Award given to "the player who exemplifies great leadership qualities to his team, on and off the ice during the regular season."
Foligno's journey as captain hasn't been boring. After taking on the role prior to the 2015-16 season, his father, former Sabres captain, Mike, told him "it's the best and worst thing all rolled in one."
Unfortunately, "the worst" came first. The Jackets stumbled out of the gate and finished a disappointing 27th in the League.
"My dad was right," Foligno said. "He knew me as a person, He knew that I would put a lot of it on my back. But I think you have to go through that and realize what you need to do better and how you can do better. I respect him so much for not trying to give me too much info. But that subtle hint was enough."
Video: Behind the scenes look at CBJ captain Nick Foligno.
Armed with the lessons of that season, Foligno turned the focus onto his own performance and returned to the Jackets for the 2016-17 season ready to lead by example. In 79 regular season games, the captain scored 26 goals, the second highest of his career, and 25 assists to put him at fourth in total points on the team.
Foligno learned how to manage success and control not only his emotions, but those of the team as they navigated the ebbs and flows of what would end up as a 50-win season. He focused on off-ice preparation and the work necessary to be sharp when he was on the ice at practice or in games.
"He has all of the traits of a leader and the competitiveness and the work ethic," Jarmo Kekalainen said. "He's a guy that our players look up to as their leader. He's even a better person than he is a hockey player, which I think anybody can be proud of."
Foligno drew notice off the ice as well.
He remains involved with the foundation named after his mother Janis, who passed away after a battle with breast cancer in 2009. For every goal Foligno scored, Papa John's Pizza gave $500 to the Foundation.
Additionally, this year, he and his wife Janelle gave gifts totaling $1 million to be split between Nationwide Children's Hospital and Boston Children's Hospital to fund continued work in the area of congenital heart care in honor of their oldest child, Milana.
Foligno also gave his time visiting pediatric units in Boston and Columbus and volunteering with teammates throughout the season. His efforts earned him his second Blue Jackets Community MVP Award.
"It was ingrained in me at a young age to give back," Foligno said. "I understood that it was an important value to have in my family and I felt good about doing it. It wasn't about a pat on the back, it was about making a difference."
Foligno may already be involved in the three communities, but his goal is to keep extending that reach.
"I want to touch as many places as possible that have touched us," Foligno said. "We've been blessed to have that affiliation with Nationwide Children's and Boston Children's and my mom's foundation. And we know that there's so many more people that will be able to get care (through these organizations). I'm trying to make it a circular thing where everyone is helping everyone."
The other finalists for the Messier Award, both captains themselves, also boast impressive years.
Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames
In his fourth year as captain, the defenseman put up a 12-27-39 stat line in 81 regular season games that included two short-handed scores and four game-winning goals. Off the ice, Giordano has continued his work supporting children's education. Since launching Team Giordano in 2014, he and his wife have directed $200,000 in funds to schools to support technology purchases, field trips and upgrades. The program has impacted 1,400 students so far. Giordano also received the 2016 NHL Foundation Player Award that goes to a player who applies the core values of hockey, including commitment, perseverance and teamwork, to enrich the lives of people in his community
Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks
The Ducks captain finished third in the NHL with 58 assists and 13th in total points (73) this season in 74 games. It was the fourth consecutive year that Getzlaf scored 60-plus points. He also produced over a point per game in 17 playoff games (8-11-19). With the season now over, Getzlaf is preparing to host the seventh annual Getzlaf Golf Shootout that benefits children with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a fatal disease that affects 300,000 children around the world. Proceeds from each event go towards providing life-saving drugs to affected children.
A unique aspect to the Messier Award is that Mark Messier, former captain of the Oilers, Rangers and Canucks, selects the three finalists and ultimately, the winner. It's one of two NHL Awards where those who have played the game decide the outcome. Those who have shared the ice with Foligno cement the impact the Jackets' captain has had.
"I have been on a lot of teams, and this is a group where you love everyone and care for everyone," Scott Hartnell said. "It starts with Nicky. His attitude, his love of life, not only for his family but our hockey family, is incredible. It filters through to everyone. I can't say enough good things about him."