Ottawa Senators' Nick Foligno (71) collides with Carolina Hurricanes' Jiri Tlusty (19) during second period NHL hockey in Ottawa, Tuesday April 3, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand
COLUMBUS, Ohio - Nick Foligno and Adrian Aucoin plan on introducing a breath of fresh air to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Both say they love being with the franchise. Both say brighter days are ahead. Both say the beleaguered Blue Jackets aren't far from being a really good team.
"I think we're going to surprise a lot of people this year," Foligno said.
Foligno was acquired on July 1 from the Ottawa Senators in a one-for-one deal for defenceman Marc Methot, then signed a three-year, $9.15 million contract with his new team. The Blue Jackets were the first team to inquire about the services of the 39-year-old Aucoin, a free-agent defenceman who signed a $2 million deal with the club.
It hasn't taken long for both to see the glass as half-full in Columbus.
Aucoin sees himself as a solid presence in the dressing room and a positive influence on young defencemen like John Moore, David Savard and the No. 2 overall draft pick last month, Ryan Murray.
"I think (my job is) helping the younger guys on defence and providing some stability," he said. With a chuckle he added, "I don't think I'm here to bring too much flash or anything, but to help the team get better."
There's plenty of room for improvement in that area. The Blue Jackets went 29-46-7 last year, the worst record in the NHL. On top of that, they were dysfunctional, with captain Rick Nash going to management in January and telling them he wanted to be traded.
So far, Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson has not met that request. Nash provided a short list of teams he's willing to waive his no-trade clause for, thought to be just six or so potential destinations. Howson did not return messages seeking comment on Wednesday but earlier told The Associated Press that he was working hard on making a deal but did not feel he was up against any deadline.
Until the Nash situation is clarified—meaning he's either traded or is retained—the Blue Jackets' future remains a big, bold question mark.
But that doesn't mean the newcomers aren't optimistic.
Foligno is coming off a banner season in which he set career highs in assists (32) and points (47) while playing all 82 games. He was one of the players who guided the Senators from also-ran to a solid showing in the post-season this past spring. Ottawa, as a No. 8 seed, took the No. 1 Rangers to seven games in Round 1, and actually led the series, 3-2.
If Nash is traded, Foligno will suddenly be one of the key offensive performers on the team. He doesn't mind that burden.
"No problem. You know what? That's part of the game. It's something that as you get older and more confident, you'll want that responsibility," he said. "That's not to say that I feel like I'm going to go out there and score 50. That would be great but I'm not going to put that kind of pressure on myself. I want to be someone that is out there in important situations and can help the team, whether it's to keep the puck out of the net or to score a goal late in the game."
He also isn't bothered by the low expectations in Columbus, which has made the playoffs just once in 11 seasons.
"This is actually the same kind of a thing we went through last year in Ottawa," said the 24-year-old left wing. "We were a team that didn't make the playoffs the year before and we kind of blew up the team and started a rebuild. With the hard work and the dedication that we put in in Ottawa last year, we were able to exceed expectations. Everyone picked us 15th in the East, and we made the playoffs. That's the kind of mentality I'm going to bring here."
Aucoin has played in more than 1,000 games with Vancouver, Tampa Bay, the New York Islanders, Chicago, Calgary and Phoenix in a career that spans 17 NHL seasons. He's been on some bad teams but mostly on good ones.
A year ago, the Coyotes had an uncertain ownership situation and didn't draw fans. But Aucoin was an integral reason why the Coyotes, with lots of good players and no household names, made it to the Western Conference finals.
With five young kids, he was looking for a good place to raise his family and to close out a solid career—and maybe spark a little of that playoff magic.
He blamed the Blue Jackets' horrible season on a woeful 0-7-1 start. And he said he might be one of the new additions—along with fellow blue-liner Jack Johnson—who will take a leadership role to help turn things around during hard times.
"Especially when you're a younger team, when you start losing games you start to question yourself and your confidence goes out and you're not sure you can win," he said. "If you can approach every game knowing that you can win, it's definitely doable. The players here are really good guys and work hard and that's a start. Then it'll just come down to accountability, doing what the coach says, and playing together."
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