NHL

Blue Jackets Turning to New Leadership Core

First it was David Savard and Nick Foligno last season. Then it was Seth Jones before the draft. Then it was Cam Atkinson during the draft.

Four core members of the Columbus Blue Jackets were traded to new teams. It truly is the start of a new era of Blue Jackets’ hockey. With that new era comes a new core of leadership.

Some Familiar Faces

The Blue Jackets took care of an important piece of business on Wednesday when they signed Boone Jenner to a four-year contract extension worth $15 million. The new contract will start after next season. With all of the recent changes to the team, Jenner now becomes the longest tenured Blue Jacket.

Jenner’s signing was deemed a priority by GM Jarmo Kekalainen. Here is what he had to say about signing him for four more years.

Boone Jenner reiterated how much he loves it in Columbus. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

“We are very pleased to have come to terms with Boone, who has been an integral part of our team for the past eight seasons, on this extension,” Kekalainen said. “From the day he was drafted in 2011, Boone has been a consummate professional with his work ethic, character and leadership. He is an important part of our hockey club and ensuring he remains a Blue Jacket for years to come was a priority for us this summer.”

Despite all the departures, Jenner expressed his excitement to remain a Blue Jacket. He loves everything about Columbus and said as much on Wednesday.

“I love Columbus. I love everything about it. I wanted to stay here,” Jenner said. “I think as you go through your career, guys you’ve played with and whatnot are going to go to other teams and things like that are going to happen, but talking with the guys that we have traded for and signed and everything like that, it makes it pretty exciting. Everyone is getting ready to go…I love Columbus, everything about it and am just thrilled to be back with the group here.”

While Jenner remains the most familiar face, some other familiar faces will be looked upon to join this new leadership group and help steer the team in the right direction. Most notably Oliver Bjorkstrand, Zach Werenski and newly-acquired Jakub Voracek will be part of this group.

New Faces in Town

Joining this new leadership core will be hometown hero and playoff veteran Sean Kuraly. The Blue Jackets agreed to a four-year contract with Kuraly worth $10 million. He will bring a wealth of knowledge to the leadership team based on his time with the Bruins and who he was able to learn from.

Led by the likes of Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara when he was there and others, Kuraly got to see firsthand what made that group so successful. He hopes to bring that to this new leadership group.

Sean Kuraly Boston Bruins
Sean Kuraly is grateful for the time he had with the Boston Bruins. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

“First off, I’m grateful for guys like that,” Kuraly said. “I was just put in a heck of a situation to be in front of leaders and players and people like that. And I try to take as much in as I could over the past four to five years with them. I think you take a lot of things from them. One thing you take from guys like that is how even keel they are. It’s up and it’s down and they seemed always, show up and be doing the same sort of things in practice. Our practices were tough. Guys worked hard and I’m sure that’s the same way here with the group that’s here.

“Practice habits. (They’re) always competing hard. And right after it’s over, you’re all good your teammates you work on the same team that night or the next day. There’s a lot to take in from those guys and was just grateful to be in the same room as them.”

Kuraly of course comes back to his hometown years after playing for the AAA Blue Jackets. Like Jenner, Kuraly knows how great of a city Columbus is. Now it will be up to this new leadership group to help convey that message about Columbus despite all of the recent high-profile departures. For Jenner, it’s personal. It’s rubs him the wrong way.

“I’m a guy that’s been here eight years now, and it’s a tremendous city,” Jenner said.

As for if Jenner is in line to be the next captain, that seems to be the belief amongst those around the team. But there have been no official discussions yet. Jenner said the team hasn’t asked him about it yet. And Kekalainen said they will take their time in naming one and that it will be obvious when the time is right to name one.

Truly the End of an Era

In all, 13 of the 20 players who dressed for Game 4 of the 2019 First Round Series against the Tampa Bay Lightning are gone. This also includes head coach John Tortorella. It’s truly a new era of Blue Jackets’ hockey.

Foligno. Jones. Savard. Atkinson. They have all moved on. New leadership is in place and ready to embark on the 2021-22 season. Training camp is just weeks away.

But it was time. The old core enjoyed some success but could never get over the hump in the playoffs. As Kekalainen has said, it was time for some changes and hard ones at that. With Jenner extended, Kuraly signed and Voracek acquired, the Blue Jackets will have a much different look next season.

The new leadership core is ready and excited to get going. Thanks to their moves leading up through free agency, the future is bright again for the Blue Jackets. But it took moving on from beloved players to get to this point.

It’s truly the end of one era and the start of another. It was a bold and necessary move for the Blue Jackets. In the end, it was best for business.


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