It's been an interesting summer for Craig Hartsburg. Following a disappointing lone season as associate coach with the Calgary Flames, the longtime player and coach was scooped up by the Columbus Blue Jackets and given arguably the most challenging mission of his career -- establish a new identity for a last-place team that just traded its only all-star. And Hartsburg can't wait to get started.
A former head coach in Chicago, Anaheim and Ottawa, Hartsburg was released in June after the Flames hired Bob Hartley to take over the team. Barely two weeks later, the Blue Jackets hired him to round out the staff of Todd Richards, who was officially named the team's head coach in May after taking over on an interim basis last January. On the heels of one of the most eventful offseasons in franchise history, Hartsburg is looking forward to rebuilding the Jackets.
"It will be an interesting challenge. I'm really excited about helping Columbus build a strong identity and culture that we can have for a number of years," Hartsburg told NHL.com. "We know we're a team that has changed over the last two, three months. It's exciting that we can start to build something and put our stamp on it as coaches."
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While Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson made a number of roster changes over the summer, the biggest without a doubt was the July trade of franchise cornerstone Rick Nash to the New York Rangers. With the face of the Blue Jackets now gone, the job of establishing a brand-new identity for the team falls squarely on Richards and Hartsburg.
"It's going to be a group. When you look at how L.A. and Boston won, they had some really good players, but the identity of those teams was how hard they played together. That's how they won those Stanley Cups," Hartsburg said. "That's the direction that Columbus is trying to take now. We lost a terrific player in Rick Nash but I think the players we got back are going to fill that identity."
The Blue Jackets received veteran forwards Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov, along with defensive prospect Tim Erixon and a first-round pick for Nash, and also acquired goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky in a trade with the Philadelphia Flyers. But the Columbus cornerstone moving forward likely will be defenseman Ryan Murray, the No. 2 pick in the 2012 Draft and a player Hartsburg knows well, having coached him for two years with the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League.
Hartsburg left the Silvertips to join the Flames last summer, but he is looking forward to reuniting with his prized defensive prospect in Columbus.
"As a 16-year-old, there was no question that he had the hockey sense and poise to be a real good NHL defenseman," Hartsburg said. "He is the type of player and type of person that will fit into the program that the Blue Jackets are putting together. Eventually he'll be a top defenseman in the National Hockey League."