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Blue Jackets sign D Wisniewski

NHL.com @NHL

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - The Blue Jackets, after failing to make the postseason for the 10th time in 11 seasons, had every intention of being a serious player this offseason.

After all, as long as they were in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, they knew they needed some major changes to contend in 2011-12.

Well, so far, so good.

Columbus on Friday signed defenseman James Wisniewski to a six-year contract. The deal was announced an hour before Wisniewski, 27, whose rights were acquired from Montreal on Wednesday, would have become an unrestricted free agent.

The agreement comes a week after Columbus sent a message to the league by acquiring high-scoring forward Jeff Carter, 26, from Philadelphia.

"James is a player we identified very early on and we are thrilled to have him as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets," general manager Scott Howson said. "He brings offensive skill and grit to our blue line, character to our dressing room and will be a key contributor to our hockey club."

Columbus shipped a 2012 seventh-round draft choice to the Canadiens for Wisniewski, one of the biggest names on the defensemen free-agency list this season.

He has 27 goals and 121 assists with 302 penalty minutes in 329 career NHL games with the Canadiens, Islanders, Ducks and Blackhawks. Last year, he had 10 goals and 51 points with Montreal and New York.

Wisniewski has a plus-5 rating for his career, and in helping Montreal to the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs last season, he tied for fifth among defensemen in points, and was seventh in assists.

"My family and I are really excited to be a part of the Blue Jackets organization and I'm looking forward to getting to Columbus to help this team win games," Wisniewski said. "I think this is a team that is ready to take the next step and I'm excited to help us become a winning team and a Stanley Cup contender."

Wisniewski is a Canton, Mich., native, who was the 156th overall pick in the 2002 NHL draft by Chicago. After several stops, he now joins a club that could truly use a boost on the blue line.

In 2008-09, Columbus had 41 wins and 92 points, qualifying for the playoffs for the first time. They have not been back since, finishing below .500 in each of the last two seasons, registering 79 and 81 points, respectively.

It's that lack of success - and playing in the Eastern time zone as a Western Conference team - that has helped lead to a bout with anonymity in league circles.

But that's why players like Carter and Wisniewski are on board now.

"A lot of people don't know much about us," Carter said in a conference call with the Ohio media on Monday. "We're still a work in progress. And if we can add a few more pieces to the puzzle, I don't see any reason why we can't contend for the playoffs this year."

Consider Wisniewski another piece.

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