Columbus Blue Jackets tired of being NHL doormat

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Captain Adam Foote issued the decree before camp started, warning those entering not to step on the logo in the middle of the room. Opposing teams have spent most of the last five seasons walking all over the team, so Foote's law is a symbolic response. The Blue Jackets are hoping the team that went 12-27-2 in the first half of last season is history, and the squad that went 23-16-2 in the second half is back.

"I fully expect us to play with everybody and be in contention in the Western Conference," Columbus coach Gerard Gallant said. "I look at my team and there shouldn't be any excuses. We're at the stage now where if we get an injury or two, we've got enough depth to take over and still be very competitive every night."

The two newest players have made it clear they won't abide losing. Anson Carter, signed as a free agent just before camp got under way, said times have changed from previous years when only a few teams had a legitimate chance of winning the Stanley Cup.

"But now anybody can win the Stanley Cup," Carter said. "If you have a great run coming down the stretch, you have to be lucky with injuries and have to play together as a five-man unit out there. Having said that, I don't see why we don't have the ability to make the playoffs."

Fredrik Modin is the other new face up front. Acquired along with Finnish goaltender Fredrik Norrena from Tampa Bay in the deal that sent goalie Marc Denis to the Lightning, Modin has scored between 30 and 60 points each of the last eight seasons.

The presence of Carter and Modin and the re-signing of budding Russian star Nikolai Zherdev after a contentious summer of negotiations means that Rick Nash doesn't have to handle all the scoring.

Nash, the youngest player to lead the NHL in goals (2003-04), missed all but three of the Blue Jackets' first 31 games last season with knee and ankle injuries. Without him, goals were scarce and the club got off to 9-22-0 start.

He rebounded nicely to finish with 31 goals and 54 points as Columbus made its too-late push. Now, with the reinforcements up front, he can play without carrying the whole scoring load on his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame.

"It's only normal in any sports for guys to go down," said the 22-year-old Nash, who has spent three years in the NHL. "With Anson, Modin and Zherdev coming back, we've got a lot of players who can fill the scoring role. So we've got a lot more talent and depth."

Future Hall of Famer Sergei Fedorov, picked up in a deal last November from Anaheim, was a force late in the season even though his numbers were down (12 goals, 31 assists). He'll miss the start of this season with a shoulder-joint injury.

"There have been some good additions to this team," Fedorov said before the start of his 16th season. "We've got a variety of players, a variety of experiences. I like to think positively and think we'll be an exciting team to watch."

Despite those veterans, a sizable chunk of the Blue Jackets' hopes rest on two unproven but promising youngsters.

Pascal Leclaire inherits the No. 1 goaltender job after the Denis trade. He's coming off a solid debut season with an 11-15-3 record. He had a 9-5-2 mark and a 2.85 goals-against average after Jan. 1.

Leclaire has never played more than 46 games as a professional. That's just over half a season, so Norrena will likely see plenty of time as a 32-year-old NHL rookie.

Much depends on 19-year-old Gilbert Brule, who wowed the coaching staff a year ago during camp but missed most of the year with a fractured sternum and broken leg. The sixth overall pick in the 2005 draft is back this year and will likely center the third or fourth line.



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