The Columbus Blue Jackets wanted to make a splash that would get their dwindling fan base buzzing.
Getting Jeff Carter certainly achieved that goal.
After two weeks of rumours, the Jackets dealt promising young forward Jake Voracek and their first- and third-round draft picks in Friday's draft to the Philadelphia Flyers for Carter, who instantly becomes the best center ever to play for Columbus.
The deal was a big hit in Columbus, which needed a headline grabber to sell tickets. Fan websites and the team site lit up with enthusiastic responses after word of the trade came out.
"Anytime a franchise acquires a player of this status it energizes the franchise," Columbus general manager Scott Howson said from St. Paul, Minn., where he was on hand for the draft, which begins Friday night.
While Howson was able to give his season-ticket holders something positive to talk about, the Flyers also achieved a major objective by clearing cap space to sign goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. They were far from done. In addition to signing Bryzgalov to a nine-year deal reportedly worth $51 million US, they then turned around and dealt captain Mike Richards to Los Angeles for forwards Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds and a draft choice.
"Those are two hard phone calls to make," said Flyers GM Paul Holmgren, his voice quivering and eyes misting over. "I think the world of both of them. That's difficult. That's the hard part of the job."
Holmgren said there were no real talks about trading either player until they acquired Bryzgalov.
Philadelphia won the Atlantic Division title last season with 106 points, but was swept in the second round by the Boston Bruins, who eventually won the Stanley Cup.
The Flyers' post-season run was short-lived because of problems in net. In the 11-game post-season, Philadelphia used three goaltenders with little success: Sergei Bobrovsky, Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton. Bryzgalov would help to solve that three-pronged problem in net.
Carter had 36 goals and 30 assists a year ago. His plus-27 rating was 13th best in the NHL. He led the Flyers and was seventh in the league. He also paced Philadelphia in power-play goals and game-winning goals.
Flyers fans were in shock. But those loyal to the Blue Jackets were optimistic for the change.
"Wow Really excited about Carter!! cbj fan I hope u guys are excited," Blue Jackets centre Derick Brassard tweeted.
Carter's agent, Rick Curran, confirmed the deal on Thursday afternoon. He said he was stunned by the news after being told repeatedly by Flyers officials that the club was not discussing trading Carter to the Blue Jackets.
"That deal is done," he told The Associated Press.
Carter's presence finally gives the Blue Jackets a top-line centre to pair with their best player, Rick Nash.
Scottie Upshall, a current Blue Jacket and a former teammate of Carter's with the Flyers, issued a warning on his Twitter account:
"Blue Jackets just picked up a World Class player & teammate in Carter. With 61 (Nash) on his wing, look out!"
Moribund power play
Carter should also invigorate a moribund power play, annually one of the worst in the NHL.
Voracek, a first-round pick in the 2007 draft, had 14 goals and 32 assists a year ago.
But the linchpin of the deal was clearly Carter. With the Blue Jackets' fan base flagging and with the franchise saying it lost $25 million last year, a dramatic move was needed. The 26-year-old instantly makes the Blue Jackets much, much better.
A year after he made almost no moves, Howson pulled off one that — for a change — energized Columbus fans beaten down by months of hearing about Ohio State's NCAA problems and the forced resignation of football coach Jim Tressel.
The six-foot-three, 200-pound Carter agreed in November to a $58-million, 11-year contract. Beginning next season, Carter's salary-cap hit will be $5.27 million. The contract also included a limited no-trade clause.
The Flyers needed to clear a significant amount of cap space if they wanted to sign Bryzgalov, an acquisition from Phoenix who would help rid them of their three-pronged rotation from last year.
Carter has 181 goals in his six full seasons in the NHL, all with the Flyers. He has had 46, 33 and 36 the last three seasons.
The Blue Jackets have tried building with youth, building around Nash, and building around goaltender Steve Mason. With Carter now in place, they have a second offensive threat for years to come.
"We gave up some pretty good assets, but we just think Jeff's a No. 1 centre in this league and he's an exciting player," Howson said. "Now, we have two elite forwards, and we'll try to keep building from there."
Voracek, who turns 22 in August, was the No. 7 pick overall just four years ago. The native of Czech Republic had nine goals and 29 assists as a rookie in 2008-09, when the club made its only post-season appearance. The six-foot-two, 214-pounder had 16 goals and 34 assists a year later.
The Blue Jackets owned the No. 8 pick in Friday night's first round of the NHL draft in St. Paul, Minn. The third-round pick is No. 68 overall.
Curran said earlier this week he had received assurances from the Flyers that they were not even discussing a deal with Columbus which would involve Carter. He said he and Carter had gotten word of the trade moments earlier on Thursday and both were stunned by the news.
"The only ones more surprised than you by the trade are Jeff and me," he said.