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Wisniewski wants to help lead Jackets' resurgence

Friday, 07.01.2011 / 4:12 PM / NHL Free Agency 2011

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

James Wisniewski has been with five NHL organizations in the past 27 months, but he's going to have plenty of time to settle in one place now.

Wisniewski signed a five-year, $33 million contract Friday with the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the defenseman hopes to be part of the organization's first measure of sustained success. Columbus acquired Wisniewski's negotiating rights Wednesday from Montreal, and the Blue Jackets were able to lock him up before he became an unrestricted free agent at noon ET on Friday.

"I'm just kind of a loyal person and I felt how much they really wanted me," Wisniewski said. "I'm the type of guy who wants to play for an organization that wants me. Right away they were saying I'm going to be a big part of this organization moving forward. I wanted to be part of a team that was kind of starting fresh and trying to go on the rise, and I want to be one of the main guys who helps this team do that."

Last season proved to be a breakout campaign for Wisniewski. After being traded to the New York Islanders before the season, Wisniewski earned more offensive responsibility and his spike in production continued when the Montreal Canadiens acquired him in part to help offset the loss of Andrei Markov to a knee injury in December.

Wisniewski finished the season with 10 goals and 51 points, topping his previous high of 7 goals with Chicago in 2007-08 and 30 points with Anaheim in 2009-10.

"In my recent past I played in Chicago and why it didn't work out is because they looked at me as like a fifth and sixth energy guy," Wisniewski said. "They wanted me to go out there and bang and hit and fight. Coming off my last junior season I had 70 points in 50 games and won CHL defenseman of the year. I don't think a lot of guys can do that, but a fifth or sixth guy can't go out there and score 70 points. I am an offensive guy, but I can do that stuff as well. I've tried to make myself a whole, dynamic player."

The deal will cost Columbus $6.5 million per season against the salary cap. Wisniewski said the terms were agreed to late Thursday night, but the salary structure took until late Friday morning to finalize.

He was the last of several expensive defensemen to sign with their current clubs instead of testing the free agent market in the past couple of days.

"I do like poker, but I'm not that big of a gambler," Wisniewski said. "I'm really happy to become a Blue Jacket. I was with Chicago when they were on the rise. I actually got traded to Anaheim when they got to the conference finals, and I saw that city just starting to come around. They were just thriving for a winning franchise in the Blackhawks. From what I've heard that's what it is like in Columbus. They rally around the Ohio State Buckeyes, and they just want the Blue Jackets to succeed, and I want to be part of that.

"We were well-informed that the cap was moving up and when you saw [Kevin] Bieksa signed in Vancouver, [Joni] Pitkanen in Carolina and then [Christian] Ehrhoff signing in Buffalo, the guys that are in the group that we're in were starting to dwindle down. We were really aware of that, and obviously you can use being unrestricted to your advantage, but we found a good fit here in Columbus and we were happy with the deal."

Wisniewski is the second major addition of the offseason for the Blue Jackets, who are trying to get back to the postseason after a two-year absence. Columbus also traded for center Jeff Carter from the Philadelphia Flyers for Jakub Voracek and first- and third-round draft picks.

"After they traded for my rights and seeing the trade for Jeff Carter, I just had the feeling after talking to [general manager] Scott Howson, they are on the right path and they got the green light to change the organization around," Wisniewski said. "I don't think they're done."

I've been getting frustrated lately, and the only thing keeping me sane was the team winning and other people stepping up and scoring. Then you just kind of let it go and realize you can end the series with one shot, that frustration goes away for a brief moment, and that's what happened.

— Montreal forward Max Pacioretty after scoring the series-winner in Game 4 -- his first career playoff goal -- to eliminate the Lightning and send the Canadiens into the second round