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Nick Foligno on re-signing with Blackhawks, the captaincy, defending Connor Bedard, and more

Nick Foligno on re-signing with Blackhawks, the captaincy, defending Connor Bedard, and more originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

Chicago Blackhawks announced on Friday that veteran Nick Foligno signed a two-year extension at a cap hit of $4.5 million. The contract ties him to the organization through the 2025-26 season.

It seemed like a no-brainer for the Blackhawks, but Foligno wanted it just as much.

"We're really appreciative to the Wirtz family and Kyle and their commitment and what I bring and what we're trying to do here," Foligno said. "And that's the biggest thing, when I signed — even in the summer — in trying to turn this into a team that's respected and understands what it means to play Chicago Blackhawk hockey. Now I really get to put some roots down and dig in here and put that investment into it."

It would have been easy for Foligno to go Stanley Cup chasing at this point of his career. He's 36 years old and doesn't have a ring yet.

Foligno, no doubt, wants to be part of a run like that. He would like to help be the reason the Blackhawks can do it here.

"My biggest thing is, who's to say you can't win anywhere?" Foligno said. "I always laugh. I've been on teams that were supposed to win it last year and we didn't. And I've been on teams that no one expects anything and you go on a little bit of a run. So I have a hard time with that one. And I get it, trust me. I understand the position certain teams are in. But I just never really ever have played in my career that way. When the odds are stacked against you I think that's when you dig in the most, right?

"If we're really trying to build what we're trying to build in that room, then that has to get thrown out the window, anyway. There should be a belief that we have a chance to win every single night. Who cares what they say about us? It's what we believe in the room. That's, to me, the mindset and the attitude that we need to start believing in this room and have, and that's what I want to bring.

"That's the commitment I've made by signing here. It doesn't matter where you play, it's the group of guys, the guys that go to war and what we're trying to attain. What all the experts say? It's what we believe. I think that's the biggest thing — you have to believe in yourself first and hopefully I can do that with a lot of guys in that room that are starting to build that here."

After the extension was announced, the conversation quickly shifted to the captaincy and whether or not Foligno could be the perfect bridge captain before the Blackhawks inevitably slap the 'C' on Connor Bedard's chest. The Blackhawks have no plans to name a captain this season, but it will be a discussion at the end of the campaign.

That hasn't crossed Foligno's mind.

"Obviously it's a great honor," Foligno said. "I've worn that letter and I am who I am and have always been that way for as long as I can remember, so I don't get too caught up in that. It's a tremendous honor, and the captain that's come before me, I think he's worn it better than anyone in a lot of ways.

"In Jonathan Toews or whatever guy would ever put the C on, it's such a storied franchise. Any guy would be honored to wear it, but that's not why you're coming here. You're coming here just to make a difference.

"If it's organically put on you, or whoever rises to the occasion, that's great. That's the guy you want to lead and go with. For us, we're still trying to find our leadership group and who's going to make that push. It's something that I take a lot of pride in, in being a voice in that room, but so do a lot of other guys in there. There's a lot of guys worthy of it."

Foligno has already been a tremendous mentor for some of the younger players, most notably Bedard. Before training camp, Foligno invited Bedard over for dinner and their relationship has only strengthened since.

Foligno also understands that Bedard is Chicago's face of the franchise, which is why he was the first to stand up for the rookie phenom after Bedard fractured his jaw when he took a big hit from New Jersey Devils defenseman Brendan Smith on Jan. 5. Foligno fractured his left ring finger in his fight with Smith, and he would do it over again if he had to.

"You can argue it's a clean hit," Foligno said. "[But] it's our best player. He's going after our best player, right? And I think Smith is an honest player. I do. I have a ton of respect for him and I think he plays the game the right way but he targeted one of our players who was in a vulnerable spot at that time.

"I wonder what their reaction would be if we did that to [Jack] Hughes or anything, right? That's the game within the game. No ill-will towards Smith. He's doing his job for his team, but we're going to do the job for ours as well and back up our own, especially a young kid who's finding his way in the league and our star player. You've got to make sure he knows he feels protected and looked after and that's all that is."

Foligno has been skating on his own for the last few days but he's listed as week-to-week as he waits for the fracture to heal.

Bedard, on the other hand, is on a longer timeline. He was put on a 6-8-week timetable, but that hasn't stopped him from lobbying to skate already.

"He's dying," Foligno said. "It's pretty funny. The trainers were like, 'Hey, you kind of got to help us, he's not going to listen to us, so you've got to help us keep him at bay here a little bit.' It's been pretty funny.

"He's like: 'I feel fine,' I'm like: 'Man, just pump the brakes a little bit.' But that's who he is. That's why you love him, and I'm sure he'll come back an even better version of himself, which is a scary thought."

Joking aside, the Blackhawks will soon become an appealing destination for pending unrestricted free agents, in large part because of Bedard. Foligno will probably try selling guys on Chicago, but that interest from players around the league will come naturally if the team is trending toward building a winner on and off the ice.

"When you play on a lot of teams and you start telling guys what it is, because from the outside, maybe you don’t know, right?" Foligno said. "That’s an important part of it and it happens, right? I know [if] Patrice Bergeron doesn’t call me, I don’t go to Boston. So there’s a lot of things like that that happen.

"They can see OK, why is it that you believe so strongly in your team? And then you can maybe get some guys to really buy in.

"At the end of the day, though, what really speaks is our play on the ice. Teams play against you, they know how hard you play, what you’re trying to build and they want to be a part of it. That’s where I go to. If you can talk to some guys along the way and help in that regard, that’s great. But I think always, the play speaks for itself. And I want us to become a real hard team to play against."

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