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Stanley Cup Final

Wisniewski seeks long-term niche in Columbus

Friday, 09.23.2011 / 3:00 AM / NHL.com's 30 in 15

By Pete Jensen - NHL.com Staff Writer

When the Columbus Blue Jackets acquired the rights to free-agent-to-be defenseman James Wisniewski in late June, the plan was to fill the latter of their two biggest needs by the start of free agency.

It's safe to say they executed.

Days after their bold acquisition of center Jeff Carter from the Philadelphia Flyers, the club signed Wisniewski to a six-year, $33 million contract July 1. For a franchise that has qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs only once in 11 seasons of existence, the pieces finally were beginning to fall into place.

"It wasn't a type of signing where you're just going after the money," Wisniewski told NHL.com. "It was the type of signing that showed they were trying to make their organization better. Obviously, everyone knows around the League -- it's not rocket science -- that in order to win, you need to spend money. The acquisition of Carter, my deal and (Fedor) Tyutin's deal for six years each and having Rick (Nash) already here long-term showed they're not content with being a bottom-feeder."

After playing for four teams in three seasons, James Wisniewski was happy to sign a six-year, $33 million contract with the Blue Jackets on July 1. (Photo: John Grieshop/Getty Images)
After an up-and-down 2010-11 season that saw Columbus finish 16 points behind the Chicago Blackhawks for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, owner John P. McConnell and General Manager Scott Howson made concerted efforts -- via trade and free agency -- to improve the nucleus of the Blue Jackets' roster. For second-year coach Scott Arniel, having his offseason wish list granted makes all the difference in the world as the team strives for the postseason in 2011-12.

"At the end of the season we had meetings with our owner, and he wanted to make sure we were doing all the right things and that there were no limitations -- that we could go out there and get that center and that defenseman," Arniel told NHL.com. "When you see your ownership doing those things, it gives you great confidence."

Wisniewski, who found himself entering free agency at age 27, expressed an eagerness to find a home this offseason that would suit his family long-term -- being that the blueliner had played for four teams in the last three seasons. Coming off a season in which he set career-highs in games played (75), goals (10) and points (51) with the New York Islanders and Montreal Canadiens, Wisniewski saw a promising situation in Columbus -- and became a part of it.

"(Columbus) is a diamond-in-the-rough city," Wisniewski told NHL.com. "With the city being such a huge sports city, this place can absolutely blossom into one of the biggest hockey cities in the country. I think around the League it maybe has a bad rap -- I don't know why -- but after living here in the suburbs with the golf, the fishing and the summertime, I don't think you can pick a better place. Having been on one-year deals for five years in a row, it just seemed to fit right for my wife and family to be settled into one place for a long period of time."

With 7 of his 10 goals in 2010-11 coming on the power play and the Blue Jackets sporting the League's second-worst power play last season, Wisniewski and Columbus appear to be a perfect marriage.

The emerging defenseman said the opportunity to shine on the man-advantage for a team that needs his presence may be the best part about him playing for the Blue Jackets this season.

Wisniewski said that during his time with the Anaheim Ducks, playing behind Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer on the depth chart inspired him to occupy a similar role someday.

"Last year was my first year being a No. 1 power-play guy -- I always had that in me, but I just never had the opportunity to before," Wisniewski said. "The Islanders and Canadiens were not high-scoring teams, so I look at (last season) as just the beginning. Now, being on a team like this, with Nash, Carter and hopefully three high-powered offensive lines spread out, I can just keep getting better and better. I'm confident that -- through playing with these guys for long periods of time -- we can definitely do some damage."

With the newly-acquired Wisniewski and recently re-signed Tyutin in their primes, the foundation on the back end is in place as the playoff-starved Blue Jackets seek to climb the Western Conference standings. Arniel said the plan is for this to be the case for years to come.

"It's very important to have stability on the blue line," Arniel told NHL.com. "If you look around the NHL, any of the teams that are in the upper echelon of the League usually have two big horses for defensemen -- two guys that can log a lot of minutes. Tyutin can do that and Wisniewski can do that. They can play in all situations, and with both of them being 27 years old and being here for six years, we know they will be big for this organization for quite some time."

It means a lot to us, we're very excited. We're looking to continue to build on [our] top core talent of young players. It's just a great opportunity for us to really build high.

— Panthers vice president of hockey operations Travis Viola after Florida won the No. 1 pick in the NHL Draft Lottery