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Blue Jackets want goals, leadership from Hartnell

by Craig Merz

The Columbus Blue Jackets didn't trade for forward Scott Hartnell specifically to agitate the Pittsburgh Penguins, but his ability to antagonize certainly didn't hurt.

Hartnell earned a reputation as a Penguins-baiter during his seven seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers before being traded to Columbus for R.J. Umberger on June 23. He was particularly pesky, to put it mildly, when the Pennsylvania rivals met in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2008, 2009 and 2012. There wasn't nearly the same level of vitriol when the Blue Jackets and Penguins played in the Eastern Conference First Round in April, a series won by Pittsburgh in six games.

Even though the Penguins have gone through a turbulent offseason they are still considered a contender in the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference. Clearly, the Penguins are still one of the teams to beat.

That's why Hartnell's 91 career playoff games could come in handy for the Blue Jackets, a franchise that has played all of 10 since joining the NHL in 2000.

"The Pens are not my favorite team probably by far," he said. "I know they don't like the Flyers and obviously myself.

"Coming here, I think they're only a couple hours' drive from Columbus, I'm excited to stir that pot a little bit and get under [Sidney] Crosby's and [Evgeni] Malkin's skin and frustrate them like I usually do. I'm a hard guy to play against, and when you hit those guys they get off their game and makes it a little frustrating."

Hartnell, 32, gives the Blue Jackets another skilled player with an edge. Think center Brandon Dubinsky and how he corralled Crosby in the playoffs.

"I don't mind (Hartnell) being a player who plays well against Pittsburgh," Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said.

But the Blue Jackets need more from Hartnell than just being a pest. They lost 18 goals in trading Umberger, but feel Hartnell can match the 20 he scored for the Flyers last season.

"He thinks the game fast. He knows where to go," Kekalainen said.

The Blue Jackets, who did not name a captain last season, also expect Hartnell to be a leader and a mentor to their young players.

"He's not a guy anybody in the locker room has to wonder what's he done or what kind of career he's had," Kekalainen said. "He can have a voice in the locker room right away. He has that experience. He's been to the Stanley Cup Final."

Getting Hartnell, along with the free-agent signing of right wing Nathan Horton in July 2013, were among the reasons Dubinsky last month signed a six-year, $35.1 million contract extension.

"The front office has made it quite clear they want to win, whether it's signing me, signing Horton, going out to trade for Hartnell," Dubinsky said.

Just don't expect Hartnell to change his style now that he's an elder statesman on the Blue Jackets.

"I've made a lot of money being that agitating guy, going to the net, making it hard on goalies, finishing every check," he said. "Working hard and working smart, that's a big part of my game."

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