The 2016-17 Columbus Blue Jackets were, in a way, a gigantic redemption story.
If you had them making the playoffs in your preseason predictions or, even better, as a 100-point team, your friends probably wondered if something was wrong with you (or if you dropped some money on them in Vegas over the summer). But they were the sum of their parts, a collective bounce-back season that produced some encouraging storylines.
He's not eligible for this 1OB award, but the "comeback" category isn't complete if we don't mention John Tortorella, thought by many to be the first coach fired -- and now he's finalist (and, depending on who you ask, the odds-on favorite) for the Jack Adams Award given to the NHL's coach of the year.
So, all that being said, there are some serious contenders:
FORWARD SAM GAGNER
His tenure in Philadelphia didn't end well (it included an extended period in the AHL) in 2015-16, and as a result, Gagner sat unsigned deep into the summer before the Blue Jackets came calling. He signed a one-year, $650,000 contract with Columbus in an effort to revitalize his career, which seemed like an important thing to do at age 27 after a few years of shuffling from team to team. Gagner, a first-round pick of the Edmonton Oilers in 2007, came into the league with high expectations and those hopes were elevated when he dialed up an eight-point night against the Blackhawks a few years ago. But Gagner needed the Blue Jackets, and as it turns out, they needed him too; after 16 points a season ago, Gagner hit the 50-point mark for the first time in his career and set himself up for a significant pay raise come July 1.
GOALTENDER SERGEI BOBROVSKY
Bobrovsky said he felt personally responsible for the dismissal of former coach Todd Richards, who fell on the sword after the Blue Jackets self-destructed out of the gate in 2015-16. Bobrovsky was at the forefront of their issues and even admitted he'd lost his confidence five games into the season -- basically the opposite of what you want to hear from your $8 million goaltender. The best thing for Bobrovsky was the end of last season, and he went back to work with his overseas goalie coaches as well as with Nelson Ayotte, who concentrated on Bobrovsky's chronic groin issues. The World Cup of Hockey was the ideal launch pad for Bobrovsky this season, as he spearheaded Russia's run in Toronto and he hit the ground running with the Blue Jackets. After a season in which his save percentage barely crept over .900, Bobrovsky rebounded with a career-high 41 wins, a .931 save percentage and seven shutouts. Not surprisingly, it meant bigger things for the Blue Jackets as well.
FORWARD NICK FOLIGNO
Tortorella watched intently as Foligno, a first-time captain, tried to navigate the Blue Jackets through the choppiest of seas. He liked some of what he saw but there was plenty of reason for concern, namely that Foligno was obviously pressing and both aspects of his responsibility -- the production part and the leadership part -- suffered in part because of the other. Blue Jackets management had faith in Foligno bouncing back offensively because of his shooting statistics; in Foligno's best offensive seasons, he shot at or above 11 percent. In 2015-16, he converted on eight percent of his shots. If he continued to get opportunities, the data liked his chances of scoring more in 2016-17 and he did just that. He answered a 12-goal season with 26 this season and set a new career high with 185 shots on goal, and coupled with a 14.1 percent shooting rate, helped Foligno get back to his productive ways as a key cog in the Blue Jackets' offense.
THE WINNER IS...
Bobrovsky. No singular player is as crucial to the Blue Jackets' success as he is, and they needed him to put 2015-16 behind him...badly. He's likely to win the Vezina Trophy for the second time in his career.