In the brief history of the Columbus Blue Jackets, some very famous hockey names have donned the Union Blue in what has been a seemingly endless struggle to bring recognition, and excellent hockey to Central Ohio.
From Sergei Fedorov to Alexandre Picard and Espen Knutsen to Lyle Odelein, from falling stars to utter-failures of a draft pick, the Blue Jackets and their fans have seen it all ... minus the whole "consistent success" thing.
Here's a look at the most important players in the (so far) disappointing nine seasons of the NHL in Columbus. (Ed. Note: Before 100 comments on 'where's Hitchcock?', keep in mind the focus was on players for this list.)
Of the original Columbus Blue Jackets, Tyler Wright is one of the few who will always have a home with this team. After being acquired from the Penguins in the expansion draft that birthed both the Blue Jackets and Wild, Wright stayed in Columbus to become one of the longest tenured Originals, and a favorite amongst many fans.
Wright's time with the Blue Jackets ended before any CBJ blog ever existed and largely doesn't get the credit as a player he deserves. With the Jackets, Wright was the type of player that excited fans and added enough scoring to keep things interesting. Wright was able to put up three hat trick's in five seasons with the CBJ -- second to scoring machine Rick Nash(notes).
Unfortunately, Wright was part of the blockbuster trade that sent Francois Beauchemin(notes) and Tyler Wright (and later Todd Marchant) to Anaheim in return for former Red Wings star Sergei Fedorov(notes) ... and we all know how well that worked out.
After his playing career finished Wright found himself back in hockey working as the Jackets development coach where he continues to be a huge part of the franchise. Wright has been huge in the community and this summer the Blue Jackets want everyone to join-up and be a part of Team Tyler as Wright participates in the 2010 Ironman Canada on August 29. The donation drivewill benefit the "Hatsfor Heroes" program of the Columbus Blue Jackets Foundation. Please take a minute to consider donating.
Shelley has to be one of the longest surviving fan favorites ever. Even after being traded to the Western Conference rival San Jose Sharks, fans continued to cheer for him every time he enters Nationwide Arena, regardless of what team he plays for. Let's be honest here: Once a long-time player (five and a half seasons) is traded away, he is typically due a bit of recognition, but once that moment has passed, it's business time.
That being said, Shelley was a huge asset to the Blue Jackets in his prime and always stuck-up for his teammates. In his first three seasons in Columbus, Shelley amassed 206 (2001), 249 (2002), and 228 (2003) PIMs.
Those totals have only been challenged by the "new Shelley," Jared Boll(notes). While it is somewhat painful to type, it will be hard for any enforcer for the Blue Jackets to live up tothe character and class that Jody exemplified while he was in Columbus.
Shelley was moved out of Columbus during the 2007-08 season and the outrage was palpable, and still is among today's fans. As mentioned with Tyler Wright, Jody Shelley is a former Blue Jacket who, when his playing career is complete, will return to open arms in the Columbus organization.
The last of the original Blue Jackets has clearly been the franchise's second best player in the 10 seasons of Blue Jackets Hockey. David Vyborny earned a special place among many in the Blue Jackets organization especially owner and founder, John H. McConnell. It had been mentioned many times that "Veebs" was JHM's favorite player and he was a great one for the young Blue Jackets franchise.
Veebs signed with the Blue Jackets prior to the Inaugural Season in 2000, and still leads the Jackets record books in the total amount of games played (543), and most assists (204). What is amore staggering statistic is how many categories Vyborny ranks second in: Total points, goals, power play goals, short-handed goals, game-winning goals, shots on goal and multi-point games. Vyborny's stats are impressive alone, but what I was always impressed by was his ability to tough out any injury. Vyborny owns two of the top four consecutive gamestreaks by a Blue Jacket, he put together streaks of 194 games and 155 games before ending his NHL career after the 2007-08 season.
I was among many clamoring for Scott Howson tore-sign Vyborny during the 07-08 season and as the season wore on, it became apparent why I, nor any fan, should be a GM. Vyborny's production faltered significantly and he has been playing with Sparta Praha of Czech Extraliga ever since the Blue Jackets chose to not re-sign him.
The first franchise player and perennial scoring machine has been with the Blue Jackets since he was drafted first overall in 2002. Doug MacLean made one of the few smart moves during his Blue Jackets tenure and moved up to draft No. 1 and selected the future of the franchise, Rick Nash.
Nash has been Mr. Everything for the Jackets. He is the only player on the roster that any casual sports fan can name, and thus is the face of the franchise. Some people may criticize the consistency of his play or showing of desire but Nash is without a doubt the best and most important player to ever don the Union Blue.
When Adam Foote abandoned the Blue Jackets at the end of the 2007-08 season it was believed that the Jackets would play out the season without a captain until Rick Nash came forward to claim the Captaincy with no end in sight after last summer's mega contract extension Nash single-handedly made Independence Day 2009 the greatest holiday of my life. The Jackets were fresh off their first ever playoff appearance, Steve Mason had won the Calder Trophy, and Rick Nash showed that he is here to stay. It spoke volumes when it happened, and with recent circus acts like Lebron James and Ilya Kovalchuk, it makes me thankful each and every day for the attitude and respect Nash treated the fans and the Blue Jackets franchise with.
Rick Nash has had two moments that have helped put the Blue Jackets on the map.
The first one being "The Goal" against the Phoenix Coyotes on January 17, 2008.
Still gives me goosebumps to this day.
The biggest moment in franchise history came at the hands of Nash on April 8, 2009 in Chicago's United Center (3:30 mark). The game-tying goal led the Blue Jackets head first into their first ever post-season appearance.
What I want to see from Rick Nash is the Steve Yzerman moment. Anyone who has watched Nash play knows his ability to completely take over a game. Since the coaching stint of Ken Hitchcock, Nash has become one of the best two-way players in the entire league. Nash needs to have a stretch of games that propels the Jackets into the playoffs and beyond the first round to gain the truly elite status he deserves.
I believe in Rick Nash. We will all see this happen before his time in the NHL is over. Mark it down.
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Every "best of" list has to leave somebody off. I spent many hours debating with myself and close friends to make my best effort and get this as right as I could. To this point in franchise history the most notable omission from this list is very close between Geoff Sanderson and Rusty Klesla.
Klesla is an "original" Blue Jacket, but had a very small part in the opening season, playing only eight games, and since then hasn't been the special defenseman the Blue Jackets brass hoped for.
There are a few players who would certainly find a place on this list if you asked me again in five years, among these I include R.J. Umberger(notes), Antoine Vermette, Jakub Voracek(notes), Derek Dorsett. This group of guys haven't been around quite long enough to consider but are on the right course to beforever remembered by the committed fans of the Columbus Blue Jackets.