Cam Atkinson had every right to be upset. Imagine being at a draft party signing autographs and mingling with fans one night. Then the next day, his world was turned upside down in a flash.
That’s the day the call came from Blue Jackets’ GM Jarmo Kekalainen. “We traded you to Philadelphia Flyers.” Fans got to see this moment on an episode of Behind the Battle.
As management left their office seats, John Davidson could be seen giving the sign of the cross. Kekalainen was heard saying “another fun phone call to make.” This was a huge moment for the team and one nobody saw coming, including Atkinson himself.
They say character is how you respond to something. If you needed any more evidence of Atkinson’s character, just look at the way he handled this trade. Even to this day, he handled everything with professionalism and class.
When Atkinson takes the ice Thursday night at Nationwide Arena with hundreds of friends and family in attendance, it’s going to be an emotional moment for him. Why? That’s because like Nick Foligno earlier this season, Columbus is and will be Atkinson’s home.
Atkinson’s Blue Jackets’ Legacy
Atkinson will be remembered for being one of the greatest Blue Jackets of all time. That’s no exaggeration. When Rick Nash is the only player ahead of him on the franchise scoring list, you see Atkinson’s impact.
Atkinson scored 20 goals in six consecutive seasons including 35 in 2016-17 and 41 in 2018-19. He was one of the Blue Jackets’ most prolific scorers. He also had a helping hand in bringing Columbus their first ever playoff series victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Atkinson’s on the ice work speaks for itself. But off the ice, we could sit here for hours talking about the work he’s done and continues to do in the Columbus community. His Battery Hockey Academy is running strong. Several folks from there will be at the game Thursday. He continues his work with the Force Network Fund. Giving back will always be at the forefront with Atkinson no matter which jersey he has on.
To top this all off, the way Atkinson has handled himself since the trade cements his legacy as one of the greatest Blue Jackets ever. When his career is over, he will be remembered most for everything he gave to Columbus, the team who originally drafted him out of Boston College.
The Trade Aftermath
Back to the trade. Atkinson was part of the Blue Jackets’ leadership group that met at Kekalainen’s house to talk about the direction of the team. Although what was said remains a mystery, it was clear that a lot was said amongst those in attendance. It was clear the team was heading for a reset.
Imagine being in Atkinson’s shoes for a minute. He was still a Blue Jacket. He was at Nationwide Arena on night one of the draft (I saw him for myself.) He was there to celebrate the dawn of a new Blue Jackets’ era with Kent Johnson, Cole Sillinger and Corson Ceulemans drafted in the first round. The future appeared to be bright.
But then in an instant, everything changed. Everything that Atkinson knew was suddenly going to be different. He was no longer part of the Blue Jackets or their bright future. Talk about being blindsided going from draft party to gone in less than 24 hours. But as Kekalainen said, they’d meet for coffee to talk. They eventually did. Both sides came away with no hard feelings with Atkinson even going as far as understanding the business behind the deal and embracing the new opportunity.
The Atkinson for Jake Voracek trade remains one that has benefited both sides. The Blue Jackets wanted a bigger body who could make plays while the Flyers needed a goal scoring sniper. Atkinson enters Thursday night with 23 goals and 50 points on the season. His 27 assists is one off a career high. Although it’s been a bad year for the Flyers, he leads them in scoring.
Atkinson could have chosen to be bitter about how his Blue Jackets’ tenure ended. But that’s not who he is. Not only has he gone to Philadelphia and given the Flyers everything he has, he continues to hold Columbus in high regard and has no hard feelings about the trade.
Columbus Will Be Atkinson’s Home
Thursday night has been circled on Atkinson’s calendar since the schedule was first released. That day is finally here. It will be his first game against the Blue Jackets on the rink he played his entire career on.
But even though he has a Flyers’ jersey now, Atkinson will not only be in Columbus during the summers, he’ll return to Columbus full-time when his playing career is over. He says Columbus is home and will remain that way. He promised as much in the past and will fulfill that promise when the time comes.
Hockey can be a brutal business sometimes. But ultimately, how someone handles the circumstances will be the thing that ultimately gets remembered the most.
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This is especially true for Atkinson. He will always be a Blue Jackets’ great. But thanks to his character and the way he continues to hold Columbus in high regard, he has elevated himself to Blue Jackets’ legend. Although he doesn’t wear their sweater now, he continues to demonstrate the qualities of a Blue Jacket.
When his name is introduced to the Nationwide Arena crowd on Thursday, he should be greeted with many cheers. He’s handled everything with exceptional class and will always have Columbus in his heart.
There is a game to be played between two Metro rivals on Thursday. But it will also mark a celebration of one of the greatest Blue Jackets of all time.
Atkinson is coming home. Hopefully he’ll be ready for a warm welcome because it’s coming. And it will be emotional for everyone involved.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2021-22 season will mark eight seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.