The Columbus Blue Jackets got the talented center they sought to fortify their first playoff push. The Ottawa Senators hope they've got a goaltender for future postseasons.
The Blue Jackets traded injured goaltender Pascal Leclaire and a second-round pick in the 2009 draft to the Senators on Wednesday for center Antoine Vermette.
The 26-year-old Vermette had been pursued by the Blue Jackets for almost a year. He likely willplayoffs for the first time in the franchise's eight seasons.
"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."
In Columbus, Leclaire had lost his job to rookie sensation Steve Mason. The 26-year-old goaltender had eight shutouts a year ago while compiling a 24-17-6 record, but he has been sidelined by an ankle injury that required surgery on Jan. 23. He is not expected to play this season. 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.
Columbus general manager Scott Howson said Tuesday night that he had one player in his sights before the 3 p.m. Wednesday trade deadline. Howson also said that a long-term solution at center was his priority. Vermette was apparently that player, filling a dire need.
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's a 20-goal guy who's not having a 20-goal year," Howson said. "Hopefully he'll provide some energy for us and give us a jolt."
Vermette, under contract through next year at between $2.5 and $3 million per season, is known as a speedster on the ice.
"He's a good all-around player," said Columbus defenseman Mike Commodore, who knows Vermette from playing briefly with him last season in Ottawa. "And he can skate. He's one of the best skaters definitely that I've ever played with."
Vermette 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.
In 12 games this injury-shortened season, Leclaire is 4-6-1 with a 3.83 goals-against average and a save percentage of .867. He began the year as the Blue Jackets' No. 1 goaltender before hurting his ankle.
Mason, called up as insurance behind backup Fredrik Norrena, quickly established himself and is considered a favorite to be the NHL's rookie of the year. He is 25-15-3 with a league-best eight shutouts.
The math didn't favor Leclaire.
"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."
Norrena was later put on waivers. The trade of Leclaire leaves veteran Wade Dubielewicz, newcomer Kevin Lalande and minor-leaguer Dan LaCosta battling it out to be Mason's backup. Lalande was picked up Wednesday from Calgary for a fourth-round draft pick.
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. He will make $3.6 million next year and $4.8 million the year after that.
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."
The Senators also re-signed Filip Kuba, a Czech blue-liner, who was set to become an unrestricted free agent after the season. He will make $3.7 million each year. It had been thought that he was on the trade block as the 3 p.m. Wednesday deadline approached.
The 32-year-old Kuba was making $3 million this season, and has two goals and 27 assists in 54 games. He has 57 goals and 179 assists in 585 career games.