COLUMBUS, Ohio — In the summer of 2003, defenseman Darryl Sydor was traded from the Dallas Stars to the Blue Jackets and there was some fanfare to the deal.
Sydor was an old-school professional, a talented offensive defenseman and a winner. He was a "good guy in the room," as they say.
But those were the dark days of a young franchise run by Doug MacLean, who, at the start of the 2003-04 season, was the president, general manager and coach of the Exxon Valdez.
As dysfunction took its full grip and losses mounted, Sydor got this look. If you have seen the Edvard Munch painting, "The Scream," you know the look. "Face-melting" is one way to describe it.
MacLean did the right thing and wheeled Sydor to the Tampa Bay Lightning prior to the next trade deadline. Sydor, who won a Stanley Cup with Ken Hitchcock in Dallas in 1999, went on to win a Cup with John Tortorella in '04. MacLean went on to draft Alexandre Picard.
Players come and go
Players, prominent and not so prominent, come and go. It is the nature of the game. Just the other day, Jack Eichel's agents issued a statement which said, in essence, "The Buffalo Sabres promised that our client would have been traded by now."
Eichel's situation — which includes a hefty contract, a herniated disc and comedic decade of Sabres mismanagement — is complicated. It's an egregious example of how relationships can sour. But it happens.
Jackets fans know this well enough.
They have lived through the Rick Nash soap opera, the exploding Jeff Carter experiment and the Artemi-Panarin-led mass exodus of 2019. Over the past year, they have watched Josh Anderson race to the exit, Pierre-Luc Dubois quit and Seth Jones say he wanted to test the market ("as is his right" is trite-but-true finish to the Jones clause.)
Taken separately, each of these situations can happen anywhere. Taken together and concentrated, they created a perception that nobody with any star power wanted to play in Columbus.
It's not altogether fair, but so it goes.
What players want is to win and get paid, usually in that order. They want to be on a Cup contender tomorrow, which, as it turned out, is exactly what happened to Sydor in 2004.
There can be other considerations. Panarin and Jones, for instance, wanted to play in big, American markets. But they definitely got paid and they certainly believe they can win in New York and Chicago. At some point.
Can the Jackets aspire?
Jarmo Kekalainen's blueprint
In a span of eight days in July, Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen began unrolling his blueprint for building a Cup contender.
He traded Jones in a blockbuster; selected three players (including two centers) in the first round of the draft; acquired two young, talented defensemen; traded all-time Jacket Cam Atkinson for a new-old Jacket, playmaking winger Jake Voracek; and signed Dublin native Sean Kuraly.
Among other things.
Then, on the ninth day, Kekalainen signed defenseman Zach Werenski to massive contract extension. And symbols crashed.
I am among a legion of folks — within and without the media — who thought Werenski was going to use the Jones playbook to plot a path toward unrestricted free agency (as is his right). It was stunning, then, when the announcement came Thursday night that Werenski was now locked up through 2027-28. In Columbus.
With the stroke of a pen — on a six-year extension with an average annual value of $9.583333 million, which is $83,333 more than Jones' AAV — the perception that anyone with any star power didn't want to play in Columbus was vaporized. Crash.
"Me and Seth, ever since I joined the league, played together and he's one of my best friends — and obviously I wish him nothing but the best in Chicago," Werenski said. "But I am ready. I'm ready to be a true No. 1 and show everyone I can do it without him."
The days of a Jones-Werenski pairing were always numbered, if only for reasons of salary-cap management. One $10 million defenseman leaves room to build under the cap, but two of them would be crushingly onerous.
Werenski's signing a significant development
Still, even with Jones taking himself out of the picture, the Werenski signing is a significant development. It can be looked at as a validation, given by "name" player whose star continues to rise, of the seriousness of Kekalainen's rebuild.
"I had a good conversation with (coach Brad Larsen) and I started feeling excited again after seeing the plans, seeing what they did at the draft, and really that whole week," Werenski said. "I was fully on board. I love the players they brought in, the moves they made. ...
"I saw the plan moving the right way and I wanted to be a part of it."
Werenski wants to win and he's betting on Columbus. If the plan works, there will be others. That is a sea change, or, at the very least, a wave we have not before seen on the Scioto.©2021 www.dispatch.com. Visit dispatch.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.