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Clark preparing for first game with Blue Jackets

Tuesday, 12.29.2009 / 3:11 PM / NHL Insider

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

Chris Clark never saw it coming.

Clark went from captain of the Washington Capitals, one of the NHL's top teams, to a member of the struggling Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday when he was traded along with defenseman Milan Jurcina for veteran forward Jason Chimera.

Both newcomers will make their debut with Columbus on Tuesday night when the Blue Jackets visit the New York Islanders.

"I didn't see it coming," Clark told NHL.com after his first morning skate as a Blue Jacket. "But things happen, and they happen for a reason."

In the Caps' case, the problem was too many good players on the right side with Alexander Semin, Mike Knuble, Eric Fehr and Matt Bradley playing well, Clark had been moved to the left side but wasn't seeing a lot of ice time there.

Clark was the third-longest-serving captain in Washington history, trailing only Rod Langway and Dale Hunter. He was given the "C" before the start of the 2006-07 season, and went on to post career-highs of 30 goals and 54 points. But he missed most of the last two seasons with injuries, and other players have stepped up in his absence. He had 4 goals and 15 points this season.

"The last two years have been kind of rough with long-term injuries," he said. "Hopefully it's all behind me now and I can start fresh."

Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock was enthused about adding Clark's presence in the locker room of a team that ended a nine-game losing streak with a 1-0 overtime win against Detroit on Monday.

"He's been a captain everywhere," Hitchcock said of the 33-year-old, who will start out on a line with Fredrik Modin and Samuel Pahlsson. "He was a captain in the American Hockey League, a captain in the NHL -- an assistant captain in Calgary. He's been a good player for a long time."

With a youthful team that's hit some bumps after making the playoffs for the first time in franchise history last spring, Hitchcock is hopeful that a player who can contribute both on-ice production and an experienced voice will help his club snap out of its slump.

"Our young guys need that voice inside the locker room to help us engage and get better," he said. "You can't have enough of those guys -- provided they can play. There's no point being a leader if you can't go out on the ice and play, and Chris has shown the ability to play this year. He's played well.

"If he can continue to become the voice of reason in the locker room, with the experience we need -- we've got to get through some tough games here. We're going to get through some tough times and come out on the other side in the right place."

Clark said he's not a rah-rah guy, but thinks he can give his new team a boost.

"I hope I don't disappoint in that area," he said when told of Hitchcock's words extolling his leadership skills. "It's not something where I'm an overly vocal guy, but maybe some on-ice stuff could help."

Jurcina, a big defenseman, fills a more immediate need for the Jackets, who are without regulars Rostislav Klesla and Mark Methot and needed help on the blue line. The 6-4, 236-pounder had 4 assists in 28 games with Washington.

Hitchcock said Jurcina would likely be paired with either Jan Hejda or Kris Russell -- but admitted that he didn't know much about his newest defenseman.

"I don't know him that well," he said. "He's a big guy who moves the puck well. I can probably give you a better evaluation after a couple of games. He's a right shot, big guy. I talked to a couple of Slovak guys that know him well and that I've coached before, and they speak very highly of him.

"We're going to give him a real go here and see how he does."

While Clark says he's looking forward to helping the Jackets make a push for the playoffs, he admits that leaving a team he'd been with for several years was difficult.

"It definitely is," he said when asked about leaving the team he'd been with since 2005. "We started at the bottom five years ago and worked our way to the top of the League. It's nice to see where that would have gone."

Quote of the Day

I downplayed the first one because I thought it's just a hockey game. We just want to win the game; it's against our rival and we want the two points. I downplayed it, but now having gone through the first one I look back and say, 'Geez, that was really cool.' I think as I've grown a bit older I've got a lot more appreciation for what we're allowed to do every day.

— Capitals forward Brooks Laich on the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, the second one of his career after 2011 in Pittsburgh