I’m going so far out on a limb here, I believe you can hear it cracking from Columbus up to Cleveland and down to Cincinnati. I’m saying no one in the history of the NHL has ever completed the trifecta that Blue Jackets center Mark Letestu did last week: In the same week, Letestu scored a huge OT goal to beat the Anaheim Ducks at Nationwide Arena, he signed a two-year contract extension with Columbus, and he gave up his #10 jersey to all-star winger Marian Gaborik, after Gaborik was acquired on trade deadline day by the Blue Jackets.
Now that’s an active week, for any NHL player. Does Letestu agree it’s an all-time NHL record?
“It’s unique, unique circumstances,” he laughed. “I would hope it hadn’t happened to anybody else. All things considered, it was a fantastic week, obviously with the game winner, getting the extension, and then giving up the number. Giving up the number is just part of hockey. Marian’s been an established, elite player in this league for a long time. If that’s something that’s important to him, then I’m more than happy as a teammate to help him feel comfortable here and make his adjustment that much more easy.”
Marian Gaborik came into the league in 2000 (Blue Jackets fans are well aware of the infamous coin flip with Minnesota prior to that draft) and has scored 40 or more goals three times in his career, while Letestu was a rookie with the Pittsburgh Penguins just a few seasons ago. So the decision to turn the #10 sweater over to the established veteran was pretty easy for the younger guy, who chose #55 in its place.
“Sometimes a number just means a lot to a guy, and he doesn’t want to give it up,” said Letestu. ”But in this case, again, Marian’s been a great player in this league for a long time, and a lot of people associate that with number 10. So that’s just me being a younger guy in this league and helping an older guy out and giving him what he wants.”
OK, it all sounds like a good teammate wanting to extend a warm welcome to the newcomer. But, really, weren’t the negotiations long, and intense? After all, Letestu had all the leverage; he owned the #10 jersey. Did he at least demand a puck from Gaborik’s five-goal game in December of 2007 against the New York Rangers?
“There actually are no demands tied to it right now,” said the Alberta native. “He said we’d work something out, you know, whether that’s just a nice dinner or something. But there’s really no need; it’s just part of being a teammate, part of helping a guy out. And if he wants to take me to dinner, as teammates, that’s great.”
(Hmmm, I’m guessing that dinner may not involve a chain restaurant or paper napkins.)
And so, while the memories of his unlikely “trifecta” are still sweet, there’s now a more daunting reality for Letestu and his Blue Jackets teammates. It’s a new week, and Columbus finds itself dropping in the Western Conference standings after disappointing losses to St. Louis Friday and Minnesota Sunday. Letestu is realistic about what he and his teammates have to do in their quest to extend the season beyond April 27th.
“We have some home games here that are musts,” he admitted. “You know we have to get all the home points we can. Then we have to go on the road, and it’s going to be a tough road trip. We’re going into some tough buildings to get points, so we’re going to need some help. Really, out of the remaining games we almost need to have them all. It has to be a desperate mentality in here; it has to be a playoff mentality, and, you know, the mindset that we’re really playing for our playoff lives.”
Well said, #55. That’s not going out on a limb at all.