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Re-tooled Blue Jackets eager for more

Monday, 08.08.2011 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Re-tooled Blue Jackets eager for more
Patience has worn thin in Columbus, which has qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs only once in franchise history. With Jeff Carter, Vinny Prospal and James Wisniewski now in the mix, the Blue Jackets are eager to take the next step.
You kind of get the feeling Columbus Blue Jackets General Manager Scott Howson has had enough.

Enough of waiting on first-round draft picks to develop and deliver at a time when fans would prefer a win-now approach. While developing players within the system never is a bad option, the fact the Blue Jackets have qualified for the playoffs once in 10 seasons might indicate that patience is wearing thin.

On the eve of the 2011 Entry Draft, Howson put his stamp of approval on a trade to acquire perennial 30-goal scorer Jeff Carter from the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for 2007 first-round pick Jakub Voracek and a pair of 2011 draft picks, including the eighth choice. It was the start of pretty industrious offseason for Howson.

"I think the time has come for us to do something like this to try and bring an immediate impact on our team," Howson told the media following the trade. "Our fans have been very patient. It's been 10 years now and we just had to do something that's going to make us better right now."

FACTS & FIGURES

Record: 34-35-13, 81 points, 13th in West

Coach:
Scott Arniel (2nd season)

Interesting fact: Combining Rick Nash’s and Jeff Carter’s 34 and 36 goals, respectively, from last season, this upcoming year will be the first time ever the Blue Jackets have had two 30-goal scorers from the previous season.
Two days after dealing for Carter, Howson traded 2008 first-round draft choice Nikita Filatov to the Ottawa Senators for a 2012 third-round pick. He was the eighth first-round selection since 2000 to be dealt by Columbus.

By acquiring Carter, the Blue Jackets now have two elite offensive players, if you include Rick Nash. That was an attractive proposition for defenseman James Wisniewski, whose negotiating rights Howson acquired via trade with the Montreal Canadiens nine days after getting Carter. Wisniewski is the power-play specialist along the blue line the Blue Jackets craved. On July 1, Wisniewski agreed to a six-year, $33 million deal.

Howson knew that in order to land that big name free-agent defenseman, the team had to be more attractive and he believes the acquisition of Carter did just that.

"I think (the trade) shows people we made a statement," Howson said. "We're trying to get better now and hopefully they'll see us as a more attractive destination because we haven't done enough winning in Columbus to let that sell itself."

In an attempt to fill the void left by Kristian Huselius, who is expected to miss 4-6 months following July 14 surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle, Howson signed 36-year-old veteran Vinny Prospal last month.

Only time will tell how long it takes before the Nash-Carter combination takes flight, but there's no question the Blue Jackets are a better team now than the one that finished 13th in the Western Conference in 2010-11.



In order to reel in the big names, Columbus needed to part ways with some pretty good company.

At the top of that list were Voracek (Philadelphia), forward Scottie Upshall (Florida), defenseman Jan Hejda (Colorado) and goalie Mathieu Garon (Tampa Bay).

JACKETS: 3 QUESTIONS FOR 2011-2012


1. How will the additions of Jeff Carter, James Wisniewski, and others affect the team?
It shouldn't be a question of if, but how much will the Blue Jackets' additions improve the team? In what were arguably the biggest splashes in the franchise's history, GM Scott Howson appears to have primed his team to be in position to compete among the powers of the Western Conference.

2. Has Columbus finally found Rick Nash's complementary player in Jeff Carter?
It is unclear just how Carter will be used in the Columbus lineup. It would not be a surprise if he and Nash play together on the same line. But, even if they are separated, the balance of the lineup will be extended and make Columbus a tougher team to defend. Most likely, though, Carter will be the most talented center the high-scoring Nash has had during his tenure in Columbus.

3. Will Ryan Johansen make the team?
The No. 4 pick in 2010, Johansen's game only improved playing with the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League. At 6-foot-3, 196 pounds, Johansen appears to have the size to make it in the NHL this season. He also put up strong numbers with the Winterhawks last season, tallying 96 points.

-- Greg Picker
Voracek was the seventh pick of the 2007 draft. His second season, 2009-10, was his most productive as he totaled 16 goals and 50 points. He followed with 14 goals and 46 points last season. He has missed just five games in three NHL seasons, compiling totals of 39 goals and 134 points in 241 games.

Voracek was the first player Howson drafted with the Blue Jackets. The second was Filatov, the sixth pick of the 2008 draft, who just never worked out in his time with team. Despite making the club out of training camp last season, he had just 7 assists in 23 games. He played only 44 NHL games during pieces of three NHL seasons, scoring just 13 goals.

While Howson was disappointed the organization needed to part ways with Filatov, he admits there was no other alternative.

"It's not a great move and it isn't something that you want to do, but I believe we all make mistakes in this business and you have to move on from the mistakes," Howson said. "It had just gotten to the point where Nikita requested a change. We were either going to get this level of asset -- which was a third-round pick -- or we were going to let him stay in Russia again. It was just time for everyone to move on. I wish him all the best."



Where to begin?

At the top of the offseason wish list was a difference-maker at center to pair with Rick Nash.

Welcome Carter.

The 26-year-old Carter had 36 goals, 66 points and a career-high plus-27 rating last season. His top offensive season was in 2008-09, when he was second in the League with 46 goals. He's scored at least 33 goals in three straight seasons, and has 343 points in 461 games spanning six NHL seasons.

Howson then added the transitional dynamo on defense he sought when he acquired Wisniewski.

The loss of backup goalie Garon via free agency led to Howson signing goalies Mark Dekanich and Curtis Sanford. Dekanich, the probable backup to Steve Mason, has just 50 minutes of NHL experience but posted a 23-12-2 mark with a 2.02 goals-against average, .931 save percentage and four shutouts in 43 games with the Milwaukee Admirals, the Nashville Predators' top American Hockey League affiliate.

Howson also brought in Prospal, who was limited to just 29 games last season due to injuries, but produced 9 goals and 23 points in his second season with the Rangers. Defenseman Radek Martinek, who had 13 assists and 16 points while logging 20:50 of ice time per game with the New York Islanders in 2010-11, was signed and likely will round out the top six on the back end.



A quick review of the Blue Jackets' roster wouldn't tempt you to label them Stanley Cup contenders, but anything short of a playoff berth would be a monumental disappointment.

UP-AND-COMING: 3 PLAYERS TO WATCH

Jeff Carter, C -- Carter never was one for a lot of media hype; rather, he does most of his talking on the ice, racking up 181 goals and 343 points in 461 NHL games, as well as 13 goals and 21 points in 47 playoff games. Perhaps a change of scenery from Philadelphia to Columbus will do wonders for Carter, who has totaled at least 30 goals and 60 points each of the last three seasons, and only four players since the start of 2007-08, have scored more goals than Carter's 144. Columbus captain Rick Nash is right behind with 143.

Ryan Johansen, C -- The 6-foot-2, 192-pound Johansen is proving Columbus made the proper choice when they selected him with the fourth pick at the 2010 Entry Draft. Not only was he a force at the 2011 World Junior Championship for silver medal-winning Team Canada with 3 goals and 9 points in seven games, but Johansen posted 40 goals and 92 points in 63 games in his second season with the Western Hockey League's Portland Winterhawks in 2010-11.

James Wisniewski, D -- The search for a mobile defenseman was achieved with the signing of Wisniewski. Not only was he fifth among NHL defenders in scoring last season with 51 points, but he averaged a team-leading 22:56 of ice time with Montreal. His 29 power-play points, including 22 assists, also topped the team. The Blue Jackets certainly could use that, as they have finished in the bottom five with the man-advantage in five of six seasons since the work stoppage.
The additions of Carter and Wisniewski have given Columbus fans new hope. The whirlwind of offseason maneuvering by Howson has given Nash an optimistic outlook.

"To me, this is thrilling," Nash told reporters. "It validates the trust I put in (the front office) when I signed an eight-year extension (in 2009). Scott sat me down and said the whole goal was to build this team into a Stanley Cup contender. I commend them for trying to do exactly that."

That said, the Blue Jackets remain a tad thin up front after the top two lines, particularly with Kristian Huselius sidelined by injury. Still, don't be surprised if center Ryan Johansen, the fourth pick of the 2010 draft, earns a roster spot out of training camp and ultimately is in the running for the Calder Trophy as the League's top rookie.

The Blue Jackets also will need goalie Steve Mason to return to the form that earned him the Calder Trophy back in 2009, when he fashioned a 33-20-7 record with a 2.29 GAA, .916 save percentage and 10 shutouts. Mason has been average, at best, the previous two seasons. He went 20-26-9 with a 3.05 GAA and .901 save percentage in 2009-10 and 24-21-7 with a 3.03 GAA and .901 save percentage last season.

The Blue Jackets might look to make room for one of their defensive prospects out of training camp. High on the list is 2009 first-round pick John Moore, who had 5 goals and 24 points in 73 games for the Springfield Falcons of the American Hockey League in 2010-11. Moore also appeared in two games with the Blue Jackets last season and fared quite well.




Quote of the Day

When we started our journey we made a commitment to our fans to be relevant and to see the Chicago Blackhawks become the best professional hockey organization. There are not two finer symbols of that than Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. The commitment we have made to these incredible young men is equal to the commitment they have made to our team, our fans, our entire organization and the city of Chicago.

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