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Hartnell deal allows Jackets to take "next step" in offseason

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen knew that resolving the RJ Umberger situation had to happen sooner than later.

There were a few options on the table, but at the forefront, it was either a) fulfill Umberger's request to be traded - and do so within the parameters of his no-trade clause or b) use a compliance buyout on the remaining three years of Umberger's contract before the NHL's compliance buyout window closed on June 30.

Option B was a last resort. Kekalainen was focused on getting a fair trade for Umberger completed and wanted to make the Blue Jackets a better club in the process, and while he had a few irons in the fire, he was focused on getting a deal done with the Philadelphia Flyers.

Kekalainen wouldn't go as far as to say he was relieved with Monday's trade - which kicked off NHL Draft week with a bang - but admitted he was happy to accomplish two offseason objectives with one transaction.

"We know where we’re at now, where before, we had a player who didn’t want to play here anymore and requested a trade," Kekalainen said. "Until it was completed, we still had his salary on the sidelines and couldn’t take the next step. Now, I think our plan’s set with one of our needs being filled – whether it was trade, free agency or anything – was a player on the left side that can play in the top six, top two lines, and Scott Hartnell fills that need for us.

"With this trade, we’ve filled that need and taken the next step from the unknown…and now we can move on and make the next decisions."

Most of the Blue Jackets' offseason work will be done in-house, as the team has several restricted and unrestricted free agents to re-sign. Kekalainen said the Blue Jackets extended qualifying offers to all of the team's RFAs on Monday, a week ahead of the league-mandated deadline before negotiations on longer-term deals can continue.

At the forefront of the RFA pool is 21-year-old center Ryan Johansen, who broke out with a 33-goal season to lead the Blue Jackets offensively in 2013-14. Kekalainen said that talks are ongoing with Johansen and other players with expiring contracts, but no deal should be considered pending.

And while part of the Hartnell-for-Umberger trade involved satisfying the request of a player who no longer wanted to be in Columbus, Kekalainen said that didn't necessarily change his approach to the trade.

In acquiring Hartnell, a player who has scored 20-plus goals seven times in his NHL career, the Blue Jackets have a veteran forward who helps them right away - so, to call it a "relief" wasn't something Kekalainen was interesting in doing.

"I had feelers out there for a little while and there were a few maybes, just preliminary discussions about this or that," Kekalainen said. "It was last week when (Columbus and Philadelphia) started talking about terms of this type of trade and whether it was something both teams would be interested in, and then there was the no-move hurdle that we had to get past.

"It’s good, I’m happy. I think we got a good player and a player that will make us better. That makes me very happy, yes."

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