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Numbers Game: Blue Jackets add Wisniewski

Scott Cullen
7/1/2011 11:32:28 AM
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Before the free agent market got underway, the Columbus Blue Jackets filled a major need, getting a defenceman to run their power play.

Numbers Game looks at the James Wisniewski signing.

The Blue Jackets Get: D James Wisniewski.

Wisniewski, 27, has been a hockey nomad in recent years, playing for four teams in the last three seasons, but signing for six years and $33-million should keep him in Columbus for an extended stay.

Since leaving Chicago in the spring of 2009, Wisniewski has been afforded the opportunity to play an increased role, ranging from 21 to 24 minutes per game and, last season, he developed into a power play quarterback, scoring 29 of his career-high 51 points with the man advantage.

His 51 points tied for fifth among NHL defencemen and 29 power play points ranked third among NHL defencemen last season, behind only Nicklas Lidstrom and Lubomir Visnovsky.

Given the Blue Jackets' long-standing needs to run the point on the power play, Wisniewski should fit the bill for this team.

His game isn't all about puck movement, however, as Wisniewski plays with some bite. He's been suspended three times -- notably an eight-gamer for this hit on Brent Seabrook and a couple games for his graphic interaction with Sean Avery last season -- and has 302 penalty minutes in 329 career games.

As Wisniewski's role has increased, however, he's generally taken a more disciplined approach, with last season's 38 penalty minutes in 75 games the lowest per-game total in his career.

While Wisniewsi was a career-worst minus-14 last season, much of that can be attributed to his unfortunate start to the season with the Islanders. While he had 21 points in 32 games, he was also minus-18, but he finished a more typical plus-4 in 43 games with the Canadiens. He did finish with a positive shot differential, according to www.behindthenet.ca.

His decision-making can get him into trouble but, generally, Wisniewski is a skilled, combative defenceman who will be able to play big minutes and anchor the power play for Columbus, which ranked 29th with the man advantage last season.

Whether that's going to be worth $5.5-million isn't really the point because, given Wisniewski's relative position in the shallow free agent pool, he would have been the best available defenceman on the free agent market.

The funny thing is, for years (pretty much from the time Anaheim stole him from Chicago) I've been touting Wisniewski as very underrated. Now that his cap hit of $5.5-million ranks 15th among all NHL defencemen, being underrated will no longer be a concern.

With Wisniewski headed for unrestricted free agency, Montreal was prepared to let him test the market and, as a result, got a fifth-round pick in exchange for the Blue Jackets getting a deal done before the free agent period kicks off.

Since Wisniewski was effectively a replacement for Andrei Markov on the Montreal blueline, once the Habs re-signed Markov, there was little need or expectation for the Canadiens to have another defenceman making more than $5-million per season.

If nothing else, the Columbus Blue Jackets are showing a certain desperation to improve this summer.

Trading for Jeff Carter and signing a top free agent defenceman like Wisniewski, they've addressed their two biggest needs and figure to be challenging for a playoff spot next season, or else.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

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