The beleaguered Buffalo Sabres and their fans will not be forming a Rostislav Klesla fan club anytime soon. Klesla was traded by the Phoenix Coyotes to the Washington Capitals at the trade deadline. Before Klesla could even schedule a flight to D.C., the defenseman was traded to Buffalo on the same day. Three days later, Klesla essentially said “Thanks, but no thanks” to the Sabres’ franchise.
Today, “Rusty” Klesla announced his retirement from NHL. He went on to declare he’d take the rest of the season off before the big Czech rekindles his hockey career playing somewhere in Europe. This obviously doesn’t sit well with the Sabres or their AHL affiliate. It’s the third Sabre this season to refuse to report to their minor-league affiliate.
While Buffalo fans will understandable be up in arms, Columbus Blue Jackets fans will always look back on Rusty with fondness. He was their first ever draft pick after all, going fourth overall in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. For the first time ever, the city of Columbus had drafted their own, their first pro player from a major sports league.
He only played eight games in the team’s inaugural season, but for the next 10 seasons, Rusty was a fixture, sometime’s the lone constant on the club. He saw it all, from the franchise’s infancy and the mass excitement it brought, to some of its darkest years and rush of the Blue Jackets’ sole playoff appearance. Outside of Rick Nash, Klesla is the face of the old (and far too neon green) CBJ logo era.
He threw his big body around, crushing people into the boards or clearing the crease. He was a steady hand in his own zone. His inability to make a quality outlet pass was sometimes maddening and his overall offensive prowess weren’t stellar, but he was still a fan favorite. He always gave the impression that he loved Jackets fans just as much — if not more.
When David Vyborny, a fellow Czech, left Columbus in 2008, it left Klesla as the last remaining player from the original Blue Jackets’ team. When Rusty himself was traded to Phoenix, it ended a 10-year reign as one of Columbus’ most beloved players. Upon Klesla playing his first game back in Nationwide Arena wearing a Coyotes sweater, the club gave him a video tribute and fans fittingly gave him a rousing ovation.
Now that injuries have piled up and his best years seem to be behind him, relegation to the AHL doesn’t seem to sit well for the former fourth-overall pick. He’d rather take his skills and twilight playing years to Europe, closer to his Czech Republic home.
Whenever he comes back to his second home in Columbus, he’ll always be greeted with a smile and a smattering of thank yous for giving Columbus a decade of gritty play and a plethora of fond memories from the Blue Jackets’ very genesis.