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Hartnell convinced Columbus has winning foundation

by Craig Merz

COLUMBUS -- After forward Scott Hartnell got over his initial shock last week of being told by Philadelphia Flyers general manager Ron Hextall that he longer fit in their plans, he hoped to make the best of the situation.

For the 32-year-old Hartnell, that meant waving his no-trade clause to join the Columbus Blue Jackets in a trade Monday that sent forward RJ Umberger back to his former team. The Flyers also received the Blue Jackets' fourth-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft.

Umberger, 32, had requested a trade after the season because his playing time had diminished under coach Todd Richards even as the Blue Jackets moved toward their second Stanley Cup Playoff appearance in franchise history.

On the other hand, Hartnell completed the first year of a six-year, $28.5 million contract, which carries an average annual value of $4.75 million through the 2018-19 season.

He was not expecting, nor sought a trade, but said he has come to grips with no longer playing for the Flyers.

"A team that wants you is a better place than a team that doesn't want you," Hartnell said. "It made it an easier decision for me to go to a team that was very, very excited to have me than a team that basically said I was done there."

Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen had two conversations with Hartnell before the trade to make sure he wanted to join the Blue Jackets.

The Blue Jackets got burned in June 2011 when then-general manger Scott Howson traded forward Jakub Voracek to the Flyers for forward Jeff Carter, who made it clear from the onset that he did not want to play in Columbus and was traded eight months later to the Los Angeles Kings for defenseman Jack Johnson.

"[Hartnell] had a lot of questions, but the only real hard question that he asked me is he wanted to know if we were committed to winning," Kekalainen said. "That's his only concern wherever he was going to go.

"He said, 'I want to win. I'm 32 years old. I've made a lot of money. I want to win.' He really wanted me to talk about the team and where we're heading and how I felt about the future. The question was do we think, and I think we can win, are we going to be better in the future?"

Hartnell got his questions answered not only by Kekalainen but also Blue Jackets president of hockey operations John Davidson, who worked in the same capacity for the St. Louis Blues from 2006-2012.


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"Just hearing the passion J.D. has for the city of Columbus, for the team and just looking at his record and what he did in St. Louis," Hartnell said, "it wasn't an easy decision but to hear all the different people talking about how good the team is and trending upward and I was going to be a big part of it, I was really happy to do it."

He also was impressed with the Blue Jackets' performance in taking the Pittsburgh Penguins to six games of the Eastern Conference First Round.

"They had just as much chance to win that series as Pittsburgh did," Hartnell said. "They've got a young, great D that carry the puck. Their forwards are quick and fast and hard to play against.

"All I want to do is win. Columbus has a great chance moving forward."

Hartnell, 32, had 20 goals and 52 points in 2013-14, his seventh in Philadelphia. He scored at least 20 goals in five of those seven seasons. He has 250 goals and 537 points along with 1,452 penalty minutes in 953 games since debuting with the Nashville Predators in 2000-01.

Umberger, who played three seasons at Ohio State University in Columbus before turning pro, had 120 goals and 250 points in 445 games for the Blue Jackets since being acquired from Philadelphia before the 2008-09 season. He has 169 goals, 366 points and 278 penalty minutes in 673 NHL games.

He has three seasons left on his contract and will cost $4.6 million against the Flyers' salary cap.

The Flyers and Blue Jackets play for the first time next season on Nov. 14 at Wells Fargo Center.

"I loved my time there," Hartnell said. "But sometimes it's time to move on and try something new."

Kekalainen believes Hartnell's style of play and the way Columbus is trying to play the game will be a perfect fit.

"He was a tough opponent, someone you always noticed," he said. "You hated him from the press box, but you always thought it would be nice to have him on your team.

"He brings character, leadership. He's been to the battle. He's been far in the playoffs. He knows what it takes to win. He plays exactly like we want a Blue Jackets player to play."

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