This has been a longer summer than normal for Blue Jackets head coach Scott Arniel, but three weeks from the start of training camp, he's wearing an eager grin.
It's no secret the hockey operations staff has garnered the majority of offseason attention with high-profile additions of Jeff Carter, James Wisniewski and Vinny Prospal. After the conclusion of the 2010-11 regular season, the club outlined areas of need with the NHL Entry Draft looming and free agency following soon after. Like a proud parent checking items off a holiday shopping list, Arniel watched as Howson upgraded the roster with serious offensive weaponry.
Columbus added over 50 goals in those three players alone, with Carter leading the pack at 36 total tallies. Arniel has poured over line combinations for his new additions, trying to get an early read on where the newcomers might fit.
Most of those decisions will come in training camp, he said, but adding players who fill immediate needs was of utmost importance.
"Looking at center ice and on defense, our biggest needs as a hockey club have been filled," Arniel told BlueJackets.com. "We got ourselves a quality player in Jeff Carter who doesn't come around very often, and gives us options and credibility in the middle of the ice.
"The additions on defense really help us, too. We signed two veteran players who can skate, shoot and kill penalties. It's exciting because these players make our team better."
Arniel wants the Blue Jackets to be a team on the attack – a club that possesses the puck with regularity and spends the majority of the game in the opposing team’s end of the rink. Wisniewski's special teams prowess (10 goals, 51 points last season) immediately boosts the power play and will give the Blue Jackets a presence on the point. Versatile, skating defensemen topped the list of priorities for the Blue Jackets once free agency opened.
Others needed not apply.
"That's how we want our team to play and be - mobile," Arniel said. "We weren't looking for stay-at-home defensemen; we clearly wanted guys who can jump up in our attack and fit into our style of play."
However, with a hole to fill on their second pair the team did need another steady, under-the-radar type like Radek Martinek, who could prove to be a key add. The veteran was slowed a bit last year due to injury, but club doctors deemed him ready for the 2011-12 season before his signing.
In almost a decade with the New York Islanders, Martinek was a fan and coaching staff favorite for his dependable game and character. Known as a smooth skater who can play big minutes against top players, Martinek figures to pair up with Marc Methot on the Blue Jackets' shutdown unit.
"I talked to (former Islanders coach) Scott Gordon and his previous coaches and everyone spoke very highly of him," Arniel said of Martinek. "He works hard, he's a fitness freak and has a great attitude.
"He really can defend and has proven that against some of the players in the league. He's been a solid NHL player for a long time, and we're certainly happy to have him here."
With the positive additions to the roster came an unfortunate subtraction. Kristian Huselius underwent surgery on a torn pectoral muscle earlier in the summer and is expected to be out through the end of 2011 calendar year. The Blue Jackets sought a veteran who could play a top-six forward role and found a quality player in Vinny Prospal.
The team had considered adding a veteran forward even before the injury to Huselius, Arniel said. But the surgery amped up the need to replace his scoring and they had Prospal targeted all along.
"Vinny is a huge add for us," Arniel said. "He has proven he can play that kind of role and we think he's going to make our group better.
"That said, we think very highly of our young players, too, but this move helps buy some time for them to grow and develop." And of course, the burning question for many Blue Jackets fans: will Jeff Carter and Rick Nash develop scoring chemistry next to each other when the regular season begins?
"I really believe in them," Arniel said. "Great players have a way of figuring things out – they're both too good. They are both north-to-south players who are extremely tough to knock off the puck.
"There will an adjustment at first because they haven't played together. But I expect they will have the puck a lot and create tons of offense for us."