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A Crazy Couple of Weeks

by Scott Howson / Columbus Blue Jackets

It has been a few of weeks since my initial blog and I wrote then that I expected there would be a lot of activity around the league and that we would be exploring all of the opportunities before us to improve our team during the coming days. Well, my expectations were met and then some as there were a number of high profile trades and signings throughout the league. I also believe our team is improved today compared to where we were then.

While we were in Minneapolis-St. Paul for the draft, we engaged in dialogue with a number of teams. One was the Philadelphia Flyers with whom I had numerous conversations dating back as early as last January. The day before the draft we reached agreement on a trade that brought us Jeff Carter in exchange for Jake Voracek and the eighth and 68th picks in this past draft. While it was hard to trade Jake, the chance to add an All-Star center in Jeff Carter made it an easy decision from our standpoint. Jeff fills a need at center that has existed in our organization since its inception. He is a gifted player and quality person who is going to be a cornerstone of Blue Jackets hockey for many years to come.

A lot was made about Jeff's initial reaction to the trade. I spoke to his agent, Rick Curran, multiple times after we acquired Jeff and I completely understood his need to take the weekend to gather his thoughts and come to grips with something that was changing the course of his life. The Monday after the trade, Scott Arniel, Rick Nash and I flew to Sea Isle City, New Jersey to visit Jeff. We weren't exactly sure what we were going to find when we got there, but I have to say that Jeff couldn't have been more welcoming and relaxed. We talked about a number of things and when we left I knew he was excited about the future and looking forward to the next chapter in his career as a Blue Jacket. He is coming to Columbus shortly to look for a place to live.

After adding Jeff to our lineup, we turned our attention to defense. As free agency approached, we identified a number of players that we felt could help our hockey club. One of the players we targeted as a high priority was defenseman James Wisniewski.

We believed James would be the ideal fit for us. He is a right shot, right side defenseman with a big shot and is good on the power play. He brings toughness and grit and has played in all situations during his career. We traded for his rights with the Montreal Canadiens two days before the start of the free agency because we wanted to get in front of James as soon as we could. He drove down from his home in Michigan on Thursday, June 30th, and several members of our organization spent time with him. We were impressed with his passion and excitement about being a part of what we are trying to build here and by the end of the night had basically agreed on a deal to bring him to Columbus.

We further solidified our blueline with one familiar face and another new one. On July 5, we re-signed Marc Methot to a four-year contract and avoided salary arbitration. Marc has worked extremely hard and improved his game every year he has been a pro and we have great expectations for him in the coming years. The following day, we signed Radek Martinek to a one-year contract. Radek is a very smart hockey player who moves the puck very well and has the ability to play against the top players in the league. He has had some issues with injuries due to his style of play, but he was given a clean bill of health by our doctors prior to his signing and we think he will be a positive addition for us this season. He also gives us another right shot on defense, which is something we were looking for.

We added several other players to our organization during the first week of July. We agreed to terms with goaltenders Mark Dekanich and Curtis Sanford, as well as forwards Alexandre Giroux, Andrew Joudrey, Nick Drazenovic, Martin St. Pierre and defenseman Aaron Johnson. The majority signed two-way NHL/AHL contracts and will provide competition, quality depth and give us roster flexibility this season.

At the goaltending position, we looked at a number of veterans to bring in to pair with Steve Mason. We decided not to re-sign Mathieu Garon, quite simply because he and Steve both catch right-handed and we felt that may have hurt us at times last year from a practice and preparation standpoint, particularly with respect to shootouts. It was really an interesting July 1 with regards to goaltenders. A number of them went very fast and when it came down to it, we thought the best available player at the position when we were ready to make a move was Mark Dekanich.

Mark has been one of the top goaltenders in the AHL over the past three seasons and we think he is ready for this opportunity. There have been a number of top AHL goaltenders who have made the jump to the NHL either as starters or quality backups in recent years – Pekka Rinne, Corey Schneider, Jonathan Bernier, Tuukka Rask – and we think Mark is ready to do the same. We have great confidence in Steve Mason as our starting goaltender and believe Mark will be a valuable addition and will help strengthen our club at that position.

In between the Jeff Carter trade and free agency, we selected six players at the 2011 Entry Draft. Without a first round pick, our draft was very different than in years past. Other than having to dispel the rumor that we had talked to Chicago about acquiring Brian Campbell – which never happened – it was a quiet night at our table at the Xcel Energy Center.

I told our scouts after we traded our first round pick that there were going to be very good players available throughout the second day and that it was our job to get them. We entered day two with the seventh pick of the second round – 37th overall – and as soon as we were on the clock our phone started ringing. I think five or six clubs called looking to acquire the pick and I couldn’t say no quick enough as a player we’d hoped would be there was – Boone Jenner, a center for the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League. We thought he would be picked in the first round. Boone is a hard-working, character player who brings a great work ethic and leadership to any team he plays on. Overall, we drafted six players – four forwards, a defenseman and a goaltender – that will add depth to our organizational roster.

Three of those picks – Jenner, defenseman Mike Reilly and center Lukas Sedlak – were among the group of players who attended our annual Development Camp from June 28 to July 2. It was five days of on and off-ice workouts, team building activities and nutritional education coordinated by our development coach Tyler Wright. We were very pleased with the work ethic and enthusiasm shown by all the young players who participated.

In the past week, we were able to acquire left wing Ryan Russell from the Montreal Canadiens for Mike Blunden. As I am sure most of you already know, Ryan is the identical twin brother of Kris Russell. We are also pleased to announce that we have agreed to terms with forwards Dane Byers and Cody Bass. All three players give us great organizational depth at forward and will make the competition for a roster spot during Training Camp in September even tougher.

Thanks for your support of Blue Jackets hockey. Just a reminder, you can follow me on @GMScottHowson

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