Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Jackets also send second-round pick
ESPN.com news services
The Columbus Blue Jackets traded goalie Pascal Leclaire and a second-round pick to the Ottawa Senators for forward Antoine Vermette.
Leclaire, scheduled to return in three to four weeks from an ankle injury that required surgery, is earning $3 million this season, $3.6 million next season and $4.8 million in 2010-11. He limped into a post-trade news conference, his foot in a walking boot.
"If anybody wants to buy a condo, it's available," Leclaire joked.
Leclaire was 24-17-6 last season, with eight shutouts, but was rendered expendable in Columbus this season with the emergence of rookie sensation Steve Mason.
Vermette, 26, who has two years left on his current contract, is earning $2.525 million this season and $3 million next season. The Blue Jackets were desperate for help on the power-play and penalty-killing units, and Vermette will be positioned on the first line between Rick Nash and Kristian Huselius as Columbus makes its first playoff push in the franchise's eight seasons.
"Vermette is a player who can play significant minutes for us. He is a guy who can play on both ends of the special teams. We think he is a good fit short and long term. He is a good, competitive player," Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock told ESPN.com Wednesday morning.
Vermette has nine goals and 19 assists in 62 games this season. In five full seasons, all with the Senators, he has 80 goals and 87 assists in 359 games.
He was Ottawa's second pick, and the 55th overall selection, in the 2000 entry draft. Last season was his best in the NHL, when he totaled 53 points on 24 goals and 29 assists in 81 games.
"I was in treatment in the medical room and I was hearing my name," Vermette said in a conference call. "It's not like it's something I'm not used to at this time of year. I heard my name quite a bit on TV the last couple of years [in trade rumors]. But it sounded like they kept saying my name quite a bit. So I kind of looked up and I asked, 'Did I just get dealt?' And nobody was talking in the room, so I knew something was done."
Columbus defenseman Mike Commodore, who knows Vermette from playing briefly with him last season in Ottawa, said: "He's a good all-around player. And he can skate. He's one of the best skaters definitely that I've ever played with."
In 12 games this season, Leclaire is 4-6-1 with a 3.83 goals-against average and a save percentage of .867. He began the season as the Blue Jackets' No. 1 goaltender but was placed on the injured reserve list Oct. 27.
Mason, called up as insurance behind backup Fredrik Norrena, quickly established himself and now is considered the front-runner to be the NHL's rookie of the year. He is 25-15-3 with a league-best eight shutouts.
Norrena was later put on waivers. The trade of Leclaire leaves veteran Wade Dubielewicz as Mason's backup.
Leclaire, the eighth overall pick in the 2001 draft, has a career mark of 45-55-12, all with the Blue Jackets, with a goals-against average of 2.82 and a save percentage of .907.
"Mase is playing extremely well," Leclaire said. "It's not the first time that a young goalie comes in and there's an older goalie. Usually in that kind of a setup, the older goalie goes. I'm not stupid. I know how things work."
In Ottawa, he will compete with Alex Auld and Brian Elliott for the starting job. The Senators have struggled to find a quality netminder in recent years and see Leclaire as the kind of player they've needed as a foundation for their defense.
"Going to Ottawa, it's a great challenge for me," said Leclaire, who is from Repentigny, Quebec. "It's close to home. My family and friends never got to see me play often at the NHL level. I'm really excited to go to Ottawa."
Columbus came into Wednesday in sixth place in the Western Conference with 70 points. The top eight teams qualify for the playoffs. The Blue Jackets are just four points behind fifth-place Vancouver -- but also just six points ahead of 12th-place St. Louis.
"I look back and I've never missed the playoffs, even one year," Vermette said. "I don't know if it's a good sign, but I hope I can be a lucky charm or something and keep the streak alive."
Information from ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun and Scott Burnside and The Associated Press contributed to this report.