COLUMBUS, Ohio - Defenceman James Wisniewski signed a long-term deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets this month because he sees potential.
Just like he did five years ago in Chicago.
Wisniewski, of course, wasn't with the Blackhawks when they won the Stanley Cup two seasons ago, erasing years of mediocrity and worse. But he watched from afar, and remembered those days in the Windy City, where the team was being built back up and paying some tough dues along the way.
"We were at bottom of the barrel," he said of the 2006-07 Blackhawks.
And he wasn't kidding. In fact, those Blackhawks finished last in the Central Division, two points behind the 73 of the Blue Jackets.
Fast forward to 2011. Wisniewski again is in the Central Division. Again, he is part of a team that finished in last place and is eager to make the post-season. And as he donned his No. 21 Blue Jackets jersey for the first time on Wednesday, he couldn't help but think back to his time in Chicago.
"I saw the upside of what we can do with the right draft picks and the right signings," he said. "(That was) a team that won the Stanley Cup a couple of years ago."
Wisniewski, and fellow new addition, forward Jeff Carter, hope to be able to say the same about the Blue Jackets someday soon. But for now, the two players, who were formally introduced in a mid-week press conference, will have to settle for that aforementioned potential, and the power of some positive thinking.
"Obviously with the acquisition of (Carter), it made my decision easier to come here," Wisniewski said. "As a free agent you want to come to a winning team. You don't want to spend six years of your life losing here."
Wisniewski, who has also played for the Canadiens, Ducks and Islanders, signed a six-year, US$33=million contract on July 1, after his rights were acquired in a trade with Montreal. Carter, who wore a No. 7 jersey, was acquired June 23 from Philadelphia for right-winger Jakub Voracek and draft picks.
Carter made it to the second round last season with the Flyers, and Wisniewski and the Canadiens were eliminated in the first. But they now belong to a team that went just 34-35-5-8, and finished with six points less than the rest of the Central (81).
Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson, though, set out to change all of that this off-season. And so far, so good, as Carter, 26, appears to be the No. 1 centre the team has been seeking for years to play alongside all-star Rick Nash.
"Top centres are not easily available," Howson said. "I think before we acquired Jeff, in the last decade or so, only two had been traded. They were Joe Thornton (of the Sharks) and Brad Richards (of the Rangers). If you look at all the top teams in the NHL, all the true contenders, they're strong down the middle, whether it's Vancouver, Philadelphia, Chicago."
Only four players since the start of the 2007-08 season have scored more goals than Carter's 144. Nash is right behind with 143.
"It's a fresh start, a new beginning," Carter said. "Columbus is a team that has been working its way up, building something here. They have a lot of young players that are really starting to come into the game."
Carter, who signed a long-term deal with Philadelphia and had become part of the fabric of that much-beloved franchise, was initially reluctant to comment on the trade to the media or even meet with Blue Jackets officials. But he said that was because he was in shock after signing that 11-year, $58-million contract in November with the Flyers, the club he broke into the NHL with in 2005.
After Howson, coach Scott Arniel and Nash visited him, though, he was satisfied with what we heard.
"When they left my house that day I was very, very excited," Carter said. "I'm trying to come in here and be a piece of the puzzle and turn things around and win some hockey games."
Wisniewski, 27, had similar sentiments.
"I want to be a part of the missing piece of the puzzle," he said, "not just part of the puzzle."
But in reality, the puzzle will not be complete for some time because of a right pectoral muscle tear suffered last week by left-winger Kristian Huselius. He might not return until January.
Howson, in the interim, is looking for a replacement.
"There are some opportunities out there," he said. "It could happen soon. It's something we want to try and address. If we don't address it, we do have some internal candidates that will be able to jump up into that role for short periods of time."
Though still optimistic, Carter was concerned over the loss of Huselius.
"You look at our team, it's a pretty young team," he said. "To lose a guy like that who knows what it takes. It's definitely a blow to the room."