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500 games in, Foligno and Savard have helped build Blue Jackets

Franchise stalwarts have ushered in franchise's most successful era

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

A dream came true for David Savard on Oct. 7, 2011. 

At the time, he wasn't the bushy-bearded, shutdown NHL defenseman Blue Jackets fans have come to know and love. Sporting a much more cleanly shaven face, Savard stepped onto the Nationwide Arena ice for the first time as a Blue Jacket that night in a 3-2 loss to Nashville. 

He made his debut the same night as Cam Atkinson on a team with big hopes that had just acquired Jeff Carter to add to a young core that included Rick Nash, Derick Brassard and Kris Russell.  

The optimism didn't last long. Columbus started 0-7-1, head coach Scott Arniel was fired in January, Carter was traded in February and a disaster of a season ended with just 29 wins, fewest in the NHL. 

It was into this mix that Nick Foligno was added that July via trade with Ottawa. Three weeks later, Nash was also traded, leaving Columbus' without its captain and best player, and on top of that, an NHL lockout loomed. 

Welcome to Columbus. 

More than seven years later, Foligno and Savard can look back with pride. From that valley the two have helped build a peak -- a franchise that is one of just three to win 45 games each of the past three seasons; one that is fourth in the NHL in wins the past three seasons; and one that is among the seven to reach the playoffs each of the past three seasons. 

Video: It's the most adorable carpool yet

That's why it's fitting the two are set to play in their 500th games with the franchise in back-to-back contests; Foligno hit the milestone mark in Thursday night's game vs. Carolina, while Savard will get there tomorrow in Philadelphia. 

In those 500 games, Foligno and Savard have watched the Blue Jackets franchise mature into what it is today. Not only that, they've been two of the main drivers of the culture change that helped make it happen.  

"I think the biggest thing I'm proud of is I've been able to be here and help turn this team into what I am seeing it now as -- as an elite team that is close to challenging every year for the holy grail, so to speak," Foligno said. "In the eight years that I've been here, it's gone from when I got here, how unfortunate the situation was, to where we've brought it to -- the fan base, how excited they are, how engaged they are, how good our team is every time we step on the ice." 

"I think when I first showed up, pretty much the same time as Fliggy did, I think the team mentality was completely different," Savard said. "I think we showed in the last few years that we're a legit team, and even when people don't give us a chance to do anything, we regroup and stand our ground." 

It's now become almost impossible to tell the story of the Blue Jackets -- and certainly of the team's revival -- since the arrival of the two players. They along with Atkinson and Brandon Dubinsky, who also came to the team via trade the same summer as Foligno, represent the old guard that still remains that has helped usher in the success the franchise sought. 

Foligno, in fact, has become the face of the organization since being named the team's sixth full-time captain after the 2014-15 season. With 126 goals and 166 assists for 292 points since joining the team, he's been a key part of the on-ice success, a gritty player whose fierce determination to win has come to serve as a model for the franchise. 

Off the ice, he's done more than just funny pizza commercials, as his approachability, quick wit and giving personality -- including the $500,000 donation he gave to Nationwide Children's Hospital in 2016 -- have made him one of the most popular players in team history. 

"He does such a good job of putting the team first and putting the Blue Jackets in front of the city, too," Savard said. "I think he's done a good job going around and done a lot of good things for the community. That's why he's our captain. He's a role model for us in the room and the community. It's great to have him on our team. Hopefully he'll play 500 more." 

Foligno would agree with that sentiment, and he has similar kind words for Savard. An offensive defenseman in juniors who was a fourth-round draft pick of the team in 2009, Savard went from someone viewed as a fringe NHL player to one of the sport's most consistent shutdown defenders. 

A dependable blueliner, Savard has racked up 40 goals, 111 assists and a plus-42 rating in eight-plus seasons while skating an average of more than 20 minutes per game. In addition, the imposing figure signaled by his 6-foot-2 frame and lumberjack beard is offset by a fun-loving personality that caused Foligno to label him as a "goofball." 

Video: An up-close look at Savy's beard journey back in 2017

"I don't think Savy realizes how big of a leader he is on this team, too," the captain said. "He's quietly been a guy that everyone looks to. He plays hard minutes. He's gone from being an offensive defenseman to now being in more of a shutdown role and handled that as much of a pro as anyone, and he still has the flair to score some big goals and make some big plays for us." 

The two also spoke of the joy of watching each grow not just within the team concept but in life. Both are now fathers -- Foligno is now 31, Savard 29 -- who have become parts of the Columbus community. 

They're also an integral part of Blue Jackets lore, just like the six players -- Rick Nash (674 games), Fedor Tyutin (553), David Vyborny (543), Atkinson (537), Jared Boll (518) and Rostislav Klesla (515) -- to come before them.  

If it's up to them, the ride won't end anytime soon. There's unfinished business to be had, both for the team, for its history and for the community. 

"I think that's why I feel so proud to be a Blue Jacket," Folign osaid. "There are some really good guys in here feeling the same way, and we're all just trying to do our part. It's special to be among those names, but hopefully there's many more games to come." 

"I've been lucky enough to be here my whole career," Savard said. "I love the city and hopefully I can stay here for a long time." 

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