When the New York Islanders lost John Tavares to unrestricted free agency, it represented the worst case scenario for a team with a star player on an expiring contract. That same scenario may play out twice for the Columbus Blue Jackets next summer.

Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky are undoubtedly causing some headaches for Blue Jackets management, with neither willing to negotiate contract extensions as they head into their final years before free agency. There’s certainly an argument to be made that they’re the two best players to ever suit up for the Jackets, and the Blue Jackets may be forced to trade them to recoup assets.

This situation, while far more cordial, is reminiscent of Jeff Carter, Adam Foote and Rick Nash’s exits from Columbus. Rather than diving into that misery, let’s take a few minutes to appreciate one star who is in Columbus for the long haul: Cam Atkinson.

With the departures of Matt Calvert and Jack Johnson, Atkinson and  David Savard take over the mantle of the longest-tenured Blue Jackets, having both debuted on opening night in the 2011-12 season.  While Savard may be primed for a(nother) breakout season, Atkinson is already an established top-line player who has scored his fair share of memorable goals.

Atkinson went all-in professionally on the Blue Jackets last season, when he inked a seven-year extension that should keep him in Columbus through the 2024-25 season. If he walks away from the game or the team after that (he’ll be 36 at the conclusion of the contract), he will have been on the Blue Jackets roster for 14 years — which would make him the franchise’s longest-tenured player ever.

Even before the extension kicks in, Atkinson has carved out one of the best careers in team history. Here are his all-time franchise ranks so far.

Cam Atkinson on the CBJ Leaderboard
  Atkinson Total CBJ Record
GP 447 (6th) Rick Nash – 674
G 145 (2nd) Rick Nash – 289
A 128 (7th) Rick Nash – 258
P 273 (3rd) Rick Nash – 547
SHG 8 (2nd) Rick Nash – 14
+/- 28 (1st) Atkinson – 28
GWG 30 (2nd) Rick Nash – 44
Hat tricks 4 (2nd) Nash (5) 

Over the last few years, Atkinson has made the jump from useful middle-six winger to no-doubt top six mainstay and occasional All-Star, so his chances of surpassing Nash in a few of those categories seem pretty solid. And if he did, it’s be a turning point for the franchise’s overall narrative.

Nash’s name on those leaderboards evokes memories of a superstar who struggled to keep awful teams afloat year after year before things finally reached a breaking point. The best player since Nash – perhaps even better, actually – to play in Columbus is Artemi Panarin, who wants out after just one season.

Being able to point to Atkinson as the most productive Blue Jacket would mean a lot for the franchise and its fan base. He’s a great story – a former late-round pick, labeled ‘undersized,’ who worked relentlessly to make an NHL lineup, embraced the culture shift that came with John Tortorella’s arrival, became a fixture on both special teams units, earned an all-star nod and a long-term deal, Atkinson’s arc could mirror that of many fan favorites in other, more established hockey markets.

That’s one hell of an on-ice legacy for Atkinson – the chance to be the team’s first true mainstay star – but that’s not where his contribution to Columbus hockey stops.

As we’ve covered before, Atkinson is planning to open a state-of-the-art facility with a friend. Blue Jackets team reporter Brian Hedger had more details about the facility, and it’s an impressive endeavor, to put it lightly.

The Battery Hockey Academy is housed in a warehouse that was once used to construct 50-caliber bullets for the U.S. military. Its large open space was perfect for how its new owners planned to use it.

Inside, will be a 75-foot by 55-foot studio ice rink for individual and team instruction, along with a 60-by-60 synthetic Glice rink to be used for stations focused on stickhandling, shooting, body positioning and even body-checking.

There will be a room to hold team video breakdowns, a state-of-the art weight room for off-ice training and even a kitchen for teams that might want to host meals there. Open to all ages, the main attraction is a circuit-training course using hockey skills, designed specifically to help individual players improve their skills.

Atkinson isn’t just committing to the team, he’s committing to the community when other star player have refused to in the past. He’ll stay in Columbus year-round and train at The Battery – likely bringing in teammates (or perhaps influencing more to stay in the summer) – being a visible reminder of Columbus’ growth as a hockey market.

He’s not the future face of the Blue Jackets – that honor likely goes to Seth Jones or Zach Werenski – but Cam Atkinson is the future face of Columbus hockey, and the city is lucky to have him. 

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