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Kekalainen: Hartnell an ideal fit for the Blue Jackets

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

It was music to Jarmo Kekalainen’s ears.

During his first conversation with Scott Hartnell, whom the Blue Jackets were hoping to acquire in a trade for RJ Umberger, the 32-year-old veteran forward wanted to know exactly what was in store for the organization.

The trade hinged on Hartnell’s decision, as he was the owner of a full no-trade clause on his contract with the Philadelphia Flyers. So when trade talks between the two teams heated up, Kekalainen received permission from the Flyers over the weekend to speak with Hartnell and give him a first-hand look at the present and future of the Blue Jackets.

And the number one question Hartnell had?

“He asked if we were committed to winning,” Kekalainen said. “That was his only concern wherever he was going to go; he said ‘I’m 32 years old, I have a lot of money, but I want to win.’ And that’s basically the question I wanted to hear and the answer I wanted to give.

“He had a lot of questions. He wanted me to talk about the team, where we’re heading and how I felt about the future. The question was ‘can we win, can we be better in the future? Why?’ That was the hard question that he wanted to ask me…that’s all he wanted to do in the future. He wanted to go to a team that he feels has a chance to win the Stanley Cup.”

Hartnell approved the move by waiving his no-trade clause and the deal was completed Monday morning, seven weeks after the season ended and seven weeks after the Blue Jackets received Umberger’s trade request.

Kekalainen and the Blue Jackets knew they had a tricky situation on their hands with Umberger, who had three years left on a five-year extension and made it known to management that he no longer wanted to play in Columbus. Kekalainen was determined to make the most of it, and was determined to improve his team in the process.

With the acquisition of Hartnell, Kekalainen believes he did just that.

The 32-year-old Hartnell is a seven-time 20-goal scorer and has been a key part of several Flyers playoff runs, and is also one of the NHL’s most popular personalities. Hartnell immediately plugs into the Blue Jackets’ top six forwards and adds elements of skill, competitiveness and leadership to a team that’s already considered to be on the upswing.

“He brings character, leadership, and he’s been far in the playoffs and knows what it takes to win,” Kekalainen said. “He thinks the game fast, he knows where to go. When you get to play with the players he’s played with on previous teams, it’s a testament to his hockey sense, the way he thinks the game. I’ve always said that’s a more important part of quickness, is the thinking part of your game and he will fit that.

“(Hartnell) plays exactly the way we want the Blue Jackets to play. He’s hard to play against, and when you talk to different sources around the league, they all same the thing: you hate to play against him but you’d love to have him on your team. That’s the way we feel about him; he’s a tough opponent, someone you always notice and hated from the press box but always thought it’d be nice to have him.”

Kekalainen said that a player with Hartnell’s career credentials becomes an instant presence in the Blue Jackets dressing room. He played in a Stanley Cup Final, played deep into the spring and was a valuable contributor on several playoff teams during his time in Philadelphia, all the while earning a reputation as a solid citizen and a quality guy that younger players look up to.

Hartnell is not a short-term fix, either; he has five years remaining on a six-year extension he signed while with the Flyers in 2012 and figures to have a large role on an emerging Blue Jackets club.

“He has respect from the room right away because of what he’s done in the league,” Kekalainen said. “Everybody knows what he brings on the ice and he’s going to have to do it here again, obviously, but he’s not a guy that everyone in the locker room has to wonder what he’s done or what kind of career he’s had – everybody’s aware of that. I think he can have a voice in the locker room right away. He’s a guy that knows what it takes to win, and that’s the same thing he’ll have to bring for the Blue Jackets."

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