The Blue Jackets knew Nick Foligno had upside when they traded for a 26-year-old versatile forward with undeniable skill.
They knew the potential was there for him to grow into a bigger role and become a prominent player for an emerging team, and in his three seasons in Columbus, Foligno has done just that.
In the midst of a career year - one in which Foligno is on pace to shatter previous career-high marks for goals and points – neither the Blue Jackets or Foligno wanted his contract situation to become a distraction as the team tried to dig itself out of an early hole and get back into the Stanley Cup playoff picture.
Due to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, Foligno would have his pick of the lot when it came to suitors and teams ready to make a pitch for him on the open market. He would probably be one of the most sought-after offensive players this summer, but that wasn’t near his mind when it came down to hammering out a new contract with Columbus.
Why? Because this is where he wanted to be. Foligno and his wife, Janelle, were big fans of Columbus from the moment they arrived in July 2012 and remaining a Blue Jacket was his No. 1 priority. On several occasions over the past few weeks, he has reiterated that fact when asked about his contract status: getting something done with the Blue Jackets was the focus, and would be until there was a resolution one way or the other.
PHOTOS: Nick Foligno gallery on BlueJackets.com
And what better way to ring in the new year than with a new deal?
Foligno and the Blue Jackets consummated a six-year extension in the hours before their New Year’s Eve game against the Minnesota Wild, ensuring that Foligno would be wearing a union blue sweater through (at least) the 2020-21 season.
“I want to win a Stanley Cup here with this group of guys,” Foligno said. “That was my commitment to (management), and to see them reciprocate that and then get a deal done…I couldn't be more happy. I’m so excited to be here for six years. My family’s ecstatic. We’re going to put some roots down here, and now, my goal is to better myself and help better this team. I want to help bring a (championship) here; that’s my ultimate goal and I think every guy in here feels the same way.”
In 36 games this season, Foligno has scored 17 goals (and had a couple called back, too) and 35 points. His goal total puts him on an NHL scoring list with names like Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Patrick Kane, Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos.
Foligno has become a reliable and dynamic player under coach Todd Richards, and in turn, he has repaid the coach with his ability to play all three forward positions and in all situations. When the Blue Jackets were absolutely besieged by injuries earlier in the season, Foligno reminded his coach that he had experience playing the middle and, if needed, could fill in and do the job.
“I feel like I’ve grown under the coaching staff here, and the organization believes in me,” Foligno said. “Anytime you have a belief in you from the organization, it makes you want to work that much harder for them. I want to make good on their belief in me.”
Foligno has a lot invested in Columbus, and it’s city and an organization in which he wants to watch his family grow. They welcomed their first daughter, Milana, last fall, and a heart problem detected at birth put Milana in a fight for her life. The Folignos were helped by the world-renowned medical team at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and also doctors in Boston, and Milana is now a healthy, happy one-year-old.
There are friendships on and off the ice, a mutual love affair between Foligno and the Blue Jackets fan base and several other factors that made committing long-term in Columbus the top choice for Foligno.
“(Columbus) is an extension of us,” Foligno said. “We want to put roots down here. We want to be part of Columbus and we’ve embraced it. The city’s embraced us. Look what they’ve done for our daughter…Nationwide Children’s Hospital saved her life. We’ve come to know so many good people here in a short time, and I think that was one of my deciding factors.
“It feels like a place you want your kids to grow up in, and my wife and I love it here.”