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.