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Commentary: A big day, but a bigger game

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

The early part of yesterday's NHL trade deadline bonanza was more like a pitcher's duel: an exercise in strategic positioning, shrewd signals and no tipping of the hands.

For those folks who took the day off work to enjoy the trade deadline with friends, have some beers and relax, they got their wish on the relaxing part with a lack of activity around the league until the 2 p.m. hour struck. As it does every year, the final hour before the deadline had an almost-Pavlovian effect -- and then it all kicked into high gear.

To continue on this baseball analogy, the Blue Jackets began to make their move as the day went along. When talks became serious on Marian Gaborik, it was like GM Jarmo Kekalainen and the hockey operations staff started to get runners on base and then move them over...slowly but surely.

By roughly 2:15 p.m. ET, they had agreed on a major deal with the Rangers and had loaded the bases.

With the final approval from Gaborik himself, the 31-year-old star forward cleared the bases by showing no hesitation in joining the Blue Jackets. Kekalainen and Jackets president of hockey operations John Davidson had orchestrated the biggest deal of deadline day and made waves around the hockey world by acquiring a crucial piece in their playoff push -- but the most incredible thing is they did so without compromising the future of the organization.

Does that sound familiar? Well it should, because it's exactly what management said it would not do. There was no interest in rental players from the Blue Jackets, and Kekalainen said they would only show interest in moving a first-round pick if it were lottery-protected; a new twist in the NHL draft lottery process is that all non-playoff teams are involved, meaning the Kings or Rangers (both teams who had first round picks now owned by Columbus) could win the lottery and obtain the No. 1 overall pick if they missed the playoffs.

The Blue Jackets stuck to their game plan with regard to the future, but they also had a keen and aggressive eye on the present. Sitting one point out of a playoff spot with 12 games to play - the biggest of which taking place in just a few hours at Bridgestone Arena - they wanted to add to the current group and boost the offense.

By acquiring Gaborik, Blake Comeau and bolstering the goaltending with Michael Leighton, it's safe to say Jackets management got a lot of things accomplished yesterday.

But now that the deadline has passed, it's time for the Blue Jackets to convert their excitement and invigoration from the past 24 hours into success on the ice. With precious time left in the regular season and seemingly no competing teams ready to drop out of the race, the Blue Jackets only have one option -- win, win...and win.

As the saying goes this time of year, the most important game is the next game, and the Blue Jackets don't need reminded of what happened in their last trip to the Music City. They were feeling pretty good and riding a 12-game points streak, and got jumped out of the gate as the Predators scored four times in the first 10 minutes of the game.

They didn't let that bad feeling fester for long, and battled through a 1-0 shootout loss in Vancouver before heading back to Columbus with a big 6-4 win in Calgary to close out a four-game trip. The exclamation mark on the week came last Sunday afternoon when Mark Letestu tallied the game winner over the Anaheim Ducks, vaulting Columbus into eighth place and setting the stage for an exciting week.

This time of year, all one can ask for is management to do whatever it can to make the team better. Now that Davidson and Kekalainen have done their part, it's in the hands of the coaches and players to step up, grab hold of the rope, and keep this thing going in the right direction.

Buckle up.

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