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Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski meet the media in Columbus

At long last, the kingpins of the new look Blue Jackets have announced their presence in Columbus. On Wednesday, James Wisniewski and Jeff Carter smiled for the cameras, accepted new threads from GM Scott Howson, and played their own personal version of Meet the Press. Their arrival in Ohio is to symbolize a new era in Blue Jackets hockey—an era where the hockey team will do what it takes to be competitive in the Central Division.  More importantly, the two newcomers are expected to help Columbus annually contend for a playoff spot. At the end of the day, that’s what these deals are all about.

If nothing else, these moves were Howson’s Hail Mary: they better work or he’ll be looking for a new job.

Howson addressed the media and immediately explained why the organization was so excited to bring in Jeff Carter and what it will mean to the franchise:

“When we looked at our roster at the end of the year and analyzed where we were and what we needed to do, we had two main priorities: Try and acquire a top center and improve our defense. Now, top centers are not easily available. I think before we acquired Jeff, in the last decade or so, only two had been ever traded – and that’s Joe Thornton and Brad Richards. We had been working on trying to acquire Jeff for a long time. The talks went in fits and starts, and they got very serious on June 1. And finally when Paul was ready to pull the trigger we were only too happy to be there and meet the price and acquire Jeff.

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 – they’re all really good down the middle and we feel now with Jeff, with Antoine Vermette, Derick Brassard, and Sammy Pahlsson, Derek MacKenzie, and with Ryan Johansen coming, we have a chance to be very strong down the middle.”

It’s no secret that Carter was upset about being traded by the Flyers a day before the NHL Draft. He remained silent for days after the trade refusing to give as much as a quote to the media. The reality was that he was less upset about the destination than he was about the trade in general. He was told by the Flyers management that he wouldn’t be traded; when he was moved it was a shock to the young sniper. When he finally spoke to the media, it was explained that he was devastated by the way Philadelphia handled the situation—not that he was traded to Columbus.

Carter spoke about his feelings about being traded after signing a long-term deal in Philly:

“When it all went down, I was in shock. There were a lot of emotions going. I took some time to kind of sit back and think of everything before I came out and talked. I didn’t want to come right out and say something that I might regret down the road. But, you know, with Scott (Howson) and Scott Arniel and Rick coming in and talking to me, you know, when they left my house that day I was really, really excited. We talked about the future of the team, the direction, and the city, and all that. And from the moment they left I was real excited.”

There’s no doubt that Carter is the kind of player that the Blue Jackets have been looking to land for a long time. He’s a top-line center with elite offensive skills and has shown the ability to play a strong two-way game. Actually, he’s exactly the type of player all 30 teams in the league would love to have (make that 29). Ever since the trade was announced, Blue Jackets fans have been dreaming about how the Carter/Nash duo could fill the nets next year. Come to think of it, fans outside of Columbus have been wondering the same thing—when was the last time fans outside Columbus wondered about the Blue Jackets for any reason?

The press conference wasn’t Carter’s alone. The team also took the opportunity to introduce their prized free agent signing in defenseman James Wisniewski. The 27-year-old former 5th round draft pick was fifth in the league in scoring (for defensemen) with 51 points. He has 21 points while playing the first half of the season with the Islanders; then stepped up his game with 7 goals and 30 points in 43 games for the Montreal Canadiens. The offensive production last season were careers highs across the board and catapulted him into the discussion among star defensemen. Aside from the offensive numbers, GM Howson was excited about the “sandpaper” that he’d bring to Columbus’ defensive corps. Again, the Jackets acquired a player who will play both sides of the puck.

Part of the reason that he may have not received the full recognition is because he’s bounced around over the last few seasons. Starting with a midseason trade in 2009, Wisniewski has played with the Blackhawks, Ducks, Islanders, Canadiens, and now the Blue Jackets. Coming into the offseason, he’d played on three consecutive one-year deals that helped keep him motivated. He addressed the fear that he’d get comfortable after scoring his big payday after a series of one-year deals:

“I’m the kind of guy, I want to earn the contract. I feel even more pressure this year than I did going into my free agent year – and that’s one of the biggest years of your life. For those critics who say I’m a No. 4 at best, I’m going to prove them wrong.”

But Wisniewski wasn’t done there. He doesn’t play on just collecting a paycheck for the next six years either:

“I don’t want to lose every day. That makes life miserable. With Rick Nash being who he is and Jeff Carter being a top center — those guys don’t come along too often. I look forward to getting this started.”

One thing is for sure—he certainly talks a good game. Elliotte Friedman has his take on Wisniewski and his ability to handle the added pressure that comes with a $33 million contract:

“Like many of us, his greatest strength is his greatest weakness. He is supremely confident. Wisniewski will not feel the pressure of being paid like a No. 1 defenceman, because he thinks of himself as one. That’s important, but gets him into trouble sometimes.”

The next step for Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski will be to translate all of this enthusiasm into some wins. The new faces will undoubtedly help the team on the ice—but this is a team that has desperately needed some help. As has been mentioned ad nauseum, the Blue Jackets have only made the playoffs once and they’re still looking for their very first playoff victory in franchise history. Both of the newcomers are used to making the playoffs and they’ll hope to keep the trend going in their new home.

Scott Howson will hope they can keep the trend continuing as well.

Senators, Panthers fail to gain in Eastern playoff races

OTTAWA, CANADA - FEBRUARY 7: Jay Harrison #44 of the Carolina Hurricanes celebrates his game winning overtime goal with team mate Jeff Skinner #53, during an NHL game at Scotiabank Place on February 7, 2013 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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PHT already touched on the Florida Panthers falling to the Calgary Flames on Friday, but in tandem with the Ottawa Senators losing to the Carolina Hurricanes, it makes for a night of teams failing to gain valuable points out East.

With the Montreal Canadiens failing lately, the Senators had a chance to take first place in the Atlantic by tying the Habs in points while holding games in hand. Instead, they’ll need to wait.

For the sake of simplicity, here are the Atlantic rankings, with emphasis on the top five.

1. Canadiens – 72 points in 61 games played
2. Senators – 70 in 59
3. Maple Leafs – 68 in 60

Bruins – 68 in 61
Panthers – 66 in 60
Sabres and Lightning have 62 in 60, Red Wings have 58 in 60

You can see the Panthers hanging around the perimeter of the top three; a point or two would have made them a bigger threat to Toronto and Boston. Alas, even with a heavier slate of home games lately, Florida has lost two straight at home.

Here’s an updated look at the wild card races after the Panthers failed to make up some ground:

1. Blue Jackets – 79 in 58, more concerned with Metro races
2. Islanders – 68 in 60

Bruins – 68 in 61
Panthers – 66 in 60
Flyers – 63 in 60

Tiebreaker situations would have meant that the Panthers would have ended tonight technically outside of the playoffs anyway, but a win or even a “charity point” congests an already snug situation. Instead, they stayed put and wasted a game.

Ottawa’s still in a solid situation to overtake Montreal or at least maintain a round of home-ice advantage as the second seed in the Atlantic. So while both teams are kicking themselves for their losses, the Panthers have more to be upset about.

Ultimately, some of the biggest winners in the East were teams that didn’t play or that have a lot less to play for.

(Perhaps the Hurricanes feel a little more optimistic, by the way, as 58 points in 57 games played means they could at least theoretically fight their way back into the discussion.)

Road warriors: Flames move to first West wild card spot with win vs. Panthers

SUNRISE, FL - FEBRUARY 24: Troy Brouwer #36 of the Calgary Flames celebrates his second period goal against the Florida Panthers with Lance Bouma #17 and Matt Stajan #18 at the BB&T Center on February 24, 2017 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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The road has been doing both the Calgary Flames and Florida Panthers quite a bit of good lately.

Calgary moved to the first wild card spot on Friday after beating the Panthers in Florida by a score of 4-2. So far, they’ve grabbed at least a point in every game during a road trip that ends in Carolina on Sunday:

Feb. 18: 2-1 OT loss at Vancouver
Feb. 21: 6-5 OT win at Nashville
Feb. 23: 3-2 win at Tampa Bay
Tonight: 4-2 win at Florida

You can’t totally blame the Panthers if they almost miss their road trip.

They rattled off five straight wins through what seemed like a brutal road haul on paper, but now they’ve lost back-to-back home games in regulation. With five of six and six of seven slated in Sunrise, the Panthers need to make the most of these opportunities. So far … not so good.

Here’s how the West wild card situations look now:

1. Flames – 68 points in 62 GP
2. Predators – 67 points in 60 GP

Kings – 62 in 60 GP
Jets – 62 in 63 GP

(The Blues could easily slip below the Predators into the wild card spot, as they also have 67 points in 60 games but hold wins and ROW tiebreaker advantages.)

So, Calgary might not manage to maintain its hold over the first wild card spot, but this streak makes a playoff berth look far more likely.

Capitals could make home-ice advantage a serious edge in playoffs

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 01: Brett Connolly #10 of the Washington Capitals celebrates his goal with teammates against the Boston Bruins during the third period at Verizon Center on February 1, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Look, there’s no escaping the naysayers who will dismiss just about any Washington Capitals accomplishments with snark about past playoff letdowns.

All the Capitals can do is march forward and lock down as many edges as they can.

With 89 standings points after a tight 2-1 win against the Edmonton Oilers on Friday, the Capitals look increasingly likely to have home-ice advantage either through the East (seven-point edge on the Penguins or the entire playoffs (five-point edge on idle Wild, who only hold a game in hand on the Caps).

Now, it’s fair to argue that home-ice (or home-court) advantage matters less in hockey than some other sports. Sure, you can line-match more often with the last change, among other advantages. Still, the biggest edges might be mental.

That said … those small edges might be enough for a team as loaded – and with as much urgency – as this rendition of the Capitals.

Heeding the call at the Verizon Center

They’ve now won 13 games in a row at the Verizon Center, improving their overall home record to 25-5-1.

The Capitals are still a strong team on the road (16-7-6), yet that home record is lofty. It also could come in awfully handy, particularly if they face off against the Penguins again. Pittsburgh’s 24-4-3 home mark contrasts sharply with a more modest 13-10-5 road record.

Perhaps this talk is all small potatoes. Still, when you consider how close things have been – in this age of parity, and in the extremely competitive Metropolitian Division specifically – it could be quite the edge.

In short, the Capitals are a pretty scary group possibly with home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. At least as of right now.

As far as the Oilers go, they’re locked in a tight race for second in the Pacific, as the Ducks currently hold the ROW tiebreaker. Grabbing at least a standings point in this one would have helped … but that’s a tall order against the Caps in their own backyard.

It wasn’t all good news for Washington, tonight:

Loss vs. Pens at Stadium Series could push Flyers to sell at trade deadline

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 28:  Chris Pryor, Director of Scouting (R), and Ron Hextall General Manager of the Philadelphia Flyers (L) sit at their team table on Day Two of the 2014 NHL Draft at the Wells Fargo Center on June 28, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Is a cross-state, historic NHL rivalry not enough to drum up interest in Saturday’s 2017 Stadium Series between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins? Maybe a trade deadline hook will do it for you.

As the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Sam Carchidi reports, Flyers GM Ron Hextall already rules his team out as buyers. That leaves two options, really: standing pat or going into “sell mode.”

Hextall provides an interesting nugget in that regard: it might just come down to what happens against the Penguins tomorrow, via NHL.com’s Adam Kimelman:

It seems odd to imagine that the difference between generating zero versus two standings points might dictate a team’s direction, but it also shows the power of parity in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Granted, it’s not like Hextall locks himself into one direction based on the result. Still, it sounds like that game could have some power in swaying his decision.

The Flyers have some interesting trade chips if they do decide to make a move. Michal Neuvirth fears being moved, while Steve Mason at least needs a new contract, leaving their goaltending future up to question.

There are some other interesting UFAs, particularly in defensemen Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto.

Some Flyers fans believe that they should indeed be sellers, though it’s tough to imagine many of them rooting for the Penguins to win just to make it happen.