Like the rest of us, Columbus Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno is adjusting to his new reality of staying at home, as the NHL season is on pause. The 32-year-old Foligno and his wife, Janelle, have three kids, ages 6, 4 and 2.
“I’m getting a nice dose of what my wife deals with on a daily basis,” Foligno said. “It is kind of fun, though. Like you’re making up for lost time. I’ve chosen to look at it that way, so I don’t feel like I’m so stressed out.”
As the kids settle into more dad time — “they’ve stopped asking when my next game is. I think they’ve realized there are no games right now,” he said — Foligno is busy working out at his home gym, fielding calls from teammates and participating in NHLPA calls as the league tries to navigate this unprecedented time.
In a wide-ranging interview, Foligno touched on how he has navigated his self-quarantine, tips on working from home, concerns about escrow, what he believes is the most practical plan for returning to play and how long he thinks the season can extend.
On what was going through his mind when the NHL season was postponed …
I don’t think I was as informed as everyone else. A lot of us were wondering, what is going on? Our governor in Ohio was one of the first to really shut everything down, so it hit pretty close to home for us. Like, we’re going to play in front of no fans? This is so odd.
So you’re angry at first. This is our job. We love playing in front of fans. That’s a big part of why we do this. We wrapped our heads around it, and we were ready to do it if that was the case. More information starts coming out. Then the NBA player [Rudy Gobert] tests positive. Everything started unraveling, like, whoa, this is a lot more serious than people realized. So quickly you start doing your own research of current events and realize how big of a problem this has become in other countries.
It was good we were trying to be proactive, but man, it’s hard when you go from 100 to 0. Because this time of year, we’re ramping up. We were about to play the Pittsburgh Penguins, huge Metropolitan Division rival, huge four-point swing for both teams. So it’s hard to go from that mentality to, like, go home, and we’ll tell you something further. Like, what? There’s no real answer.
I do really feel like we’ve handled this the right way, and that has given me some light at the end of the tunnel. If we do this the right way, then we can get back to normal life. I’m not even concerned about sports anymore. When you talk to all of your friends and see how their lives are affected, and small businesses that have to close their doors or lay off people, it’s much bigger than you and what you’re dealing with.
On his first few days of self-quarantine …
I’m a pretty high-energy guy. If you ask anyone else, I’m hyper, I’m excited, so to have no answers and nothing to do and no way to exert physical energy, it was, like, a weird couple of days. I kind of came down from that. Getting on phone calls with the NHLPA has helped me because it channels my energy to that. I have a gym here at the house, and that has kind of saved me. I went on a couple of jogs since, and that has helped.
I was thinking about some of my teammates who live in condos and stuff, and it must be so tough to tell them to stay ready, and you’re doing push-ups and sit-ups, and there’s nothing else.
On advising teammates after the NHL said all players could go home until at least April 6 …
David Savard and I have been on the most calls with the union, so we have the most information. A lot of our teammates turned to us, and it’s tough because they were almost asking for permission or advice for things I don’t really have answers for. They were like, “Do you think I should go home?” I’m like, “Well, I can’t tell you that. I don’t live your life. But here’s what I would do in your situation …” You don’t want to give them bad advice, but you also don’t want to leave them hanging.
The one thing everyone wants to know is, “When are we going to play again?” That’s the No. 1 question on everyone’s mind, and that’s the one no one can answer.
The hardest part was guys figuring out if they should go home or not. That was a really hard thing. First off, nobody wants to leave. Some guys are better set off in their summer homes, with their gyms or a little more space than their playing cities. The guys in Europe were in a tough situation. They obviously saw what was going on in Europe and had concern for that. But also, you want to be near your family during a time like this. So I don’t blame guys for leaving. The league allowed it, so they have every right to go and do that.
Obviously, it makes for tricky situations now with the travel bans. But at the end of the day, it’s just about everyone’s safety and their comfort at a time like this. It’s unprecedented. I don’t think anyone wants to be left alone with their own thoughts right now. Thank god for social media and FaceTime, and I’ve seen all these new apps now to get together with guys, HouseParty and Zoom. I’ve learned more about these social gathering apps than I ever have in my life. My wife and I were joking, “We’re busier now, virtually, than we ever were before this happened.” We used to just be home by ourselves. Now we have FaceTime dates with all of our friends — it’s pretty hilarious.
On a fair and reasonable expectation for returning to play …
I mean, we’re in playoff position, so I’d like to just start. But it’s hard. I think there’s a number you have to get to if you’re going to do that … whether you can get every team to 75 games. Right now, we’re at 72. To be fair, you’d want to get everyone to that, and so you could just get some games in before you get to the playoffs, so you’re not rusty jumping into your first playoff game.
I’d hope — obviously, for a lot of reasons — we can get somewhat of a normal season back. But the reality of it is probably pretty slim, with the time crunch that we’re putting ourselves into as this thing continues to go. I could see it being some kind of play-in, then having the playoffs. Maybe it’s shorter rounds to get the first rounds out of the way. I still think you need to have a seven-game Stanley Cup Final series — and the conference championships, too — to make it part of history and fit the mystique of the Stanley Cup. It would keep that thought in everyone’s mind of how hard it is to win the Cup.
I just don’t know what the time frame is. We don’t know what the league’s date is that we really need to start going in order for us to play.
I don’t know if I should be saying this, but I will. I don’t know if it makes a ton of sense for us to play into August. I think that’s pretty dangerous coming into another season. You want to have a great season the following season, and I don’t know if that gives guys enough time to rest and recover. If you think of the amount of games some guys would play, you’re adding on another 20 games, plus a full season, then playoffs again. That’s dangerous for some players, especially star players — the guys fans want to see — they’re usually playing deep into the playoffs, so we have to be cognizant of their health and safety. We want to make our league as great as it could be going into this big TV deal that everybody knows about. There’s so much that goes into it.
On concerns about how the NHL’s pause will impact the salary cap and escrow …
It’s concerning. Escrow is something we always talk about. It has been debated since the last CBA got signed. We’re not happy with the way escrow works. We understand it. It just doesn’t seem like it adds up the way we wanted to or we feel it should. A lot of times it feels like it’s out of our control.
I think, again, here in this situation, with a situation that’s out of everyone’s control, escrow is only going to impact us again. It sounds like a selfish thing to talk about, especially considering everything going on in the world. For me to say I’m really concerned about it, no. I feel like I’m in a place right now where I’m concerned with people’s health and happiness and a lot more life stuff than the business side of hockey right now.
On communication with Blue Jackets coaches, trainers and management …
John Tortorella, I mean, he has gone off and hibernated somewhere. He’s got his farm, so he’s good to go. We’ve texted a couple times. Trainers, same thing, they are just checking in to see how you’re feeling. Their priority is always making sure you feel good. If there are any injuries, they want to make sure you’re not having effects from them that they don’t know about because we’re not around.
Management, which is really nice, has emailed us every day an update from their side of things and what’s going on in the world landscape. In case guys are not talking to people or don’t have that information readily available, that has been nice for guys to have as a nice summary.
Otherwise, just checking in with guys when you can. And just go about your day. I can’t get over how busy I am, playing principal and teacher. I’ve worn every hat in the school system. My daughter is 6. It’s so crucial for her to continue her education. My son is in preschool, so we’ve been reading to him. I’ve probably read every single book in this house over and over. It’s pretty monotonous.
On his message to Blue Jackets fans …
I’d say hockey is second right now. We all love the sport, and we all love our team, but our community is more important, and I hope people take this seriously because this is a serious situation that we’re dealing with — maybe not to you directly, depending on your age and demographic, but to people’s families. And there are a lot of people that are affected differently, whether their immune systems are compromised. My daughter’s someone I think of, with her health condition. My daughter has a congenital heart disease. Her heart condition actually affects her lungs. Her mitral valve is the one that didn’t develop, which brings blood from your lungs. We’re not going to live in fear, but we’ve definitely been cognizant about what she does and how we go about people. My wife has done a lot of online ordering and sprays everything that comes in.
You have to be selfless in a moment such as this and realize that if you can do all those things, then hopefully we’re gonna get back in that arena, cheering each other on, playing in front of our fans and putting this all behind us and doing it together. If you want the Blue Jackets to come on the ice as badly as we want to come back on the ice, then let’s do our part so we can get back in Nationwide Arena and have as much fun as possible.
On advice for working from home …
Good luck! I laugh because I have a lot of friends who FaceTime us, and they have their setup at home. A husband and wife: She has the kitchen table; he has the bedroom. They have their computers all set up. And I definitely think you need some away space. Our kids have quiet time when they just go to their rooms and have their own time away from each other.
I think social distancing in the house is very important, whether that’s because of a pandemic or just in general and normal life going on. My advice is there’s nothing wrong with a little time apart in a house if you can get on opposite ends. My wife and I notice how much more we get done around the house when the kids are preoccupied. Even [my wife] and I, she goes down to work out; I go and do something else. Because let’s be honest, we’re not used to being in each other’s space this much.
We’ve made it work, and it has been a lot of fun for us, but I’m sure it’s hard on everyone.