Senators acquire Leclaire and draft pick
Deadline day deal sends Vermette to Columbus, top stopper to Ottawa
|Antoine Vermette speaks with Ottawa media after learning he had been traded by the Senators to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for goaltender Pascal Leclaire and a draft pick.
But the Ottawa Senators figure they really have gained something huge for their future with the acquisition of goaltender Pascal Leclaire from the Columbus Blue Jackets earlier today. Senators general manager Bryan Murray had to surrender forward Antoine Vermette, a player the Jackets have long coveted, to get the deal done, but also picked up a second-round pick in this year's NHL entry draft in the process.
"It's difficult and disappointing to have to gave up Vermette," admitted Murray. "He's been here for a long time and been a good player. But I think the first thing we had to accomplish here (at the deadline) was to get better in one area and that's goaltending. We have solid guys but to get the chance to get a top-end goaltender is a priority in any organization. The ones that normally have success have that."
Leclaire instantly becomes the No. 1 man between the pipes in a Canadian market where hockey is king. Expectations will surely be ratcheted up immensely over those in football-mad Columbus, but the 26-year-old native of Repentigny, Que., is eager to embrace that challenge.
"I've heard about everything that is going on there," Leclaire told reporters on a conference call when asked if he's ready to handle the pressure that goes along with being a Senators goaltender. "I don't come in as a saviour or anything like that. Hockey is a 20-player (game) and I just want to come in and help the team ... I'm excited to be a part of that group."
Senators fans will have to wait until next season for that to happen. Leclaire had ankle surgery six weeks ago, ending his season in Columbus. Doctors have told the goaltender, who started walking without crutches last week, that he should be fully healthy by the end of April at the latest.
"I dealt with my foot the whole year," said Leclaire, who lost his starting job with the Blue Jackets to rookie phenom Steve Mason. "Maybe it slowed me down a bit but what's done is done. I'm really confident that once my foot is good, I'll be at 100 per cent and I'll be looking forward to playing at a high level again."
The Senators undoubtedly hope that means they're getting the Leclaire who, in 2007-08, ranked second in the National Hockey League with nine shutouts while posting a 24-17-6 record, 2.25 goals-against average (seventh-best in the league) and .919 save percentage. Later, he went 4-0-0 at the 2008 IIHF World Hockey Championship in Quebec City and Halifax with a Team Canada squad that included Senators forwards Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza.
"He had a lot of success in Columbus and we're pretty excited to have him here," said Heatley. "I've played with him at world juniors and the world championship, so I know him a little bit. I'm looking forward to having him here. He's a great guy."
So, too, is the player heading out the door, and that was the one damper on the deal for the teammates who say they'll miss Vermette's presence in the locker-room and on the ice.
"It's never easy seeing a friend and a teammate move to another team but that being said, it happens," said forward Chris Kelly, his long-time linemate and penalty-killing partner. "I'll miss Antoine, especially his friendship and playing with him for six years.
"You're never prepared for things like that. All the guys wish him the best of luck. Antoine was a very popular guy in this room and got along with everyone. He definitely will be missed."
Certainly, it was a tough morning for Vermette, who was drafted into the NHL in 2000 by the Senators, the only NHL organization he has ever known. But he is looking forward to what awaits him in his new home, where it's being suggested he'll centre a line that includes high-scoring Blue Jackets forward Rick Nash as Columbus bids to make the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
"Since I was a kid, I've never missed the playoffs and that's another chance I'm looking forward to, having another good run in the playoffs."
Leclaire, meanwhile, intends to arrive in Ottawa on Thursday afternoon to meet his new teammates and begin the next chapter in his career.
"There's always pressure everywhere you play. I put pressure on myself to perform well," he said. "I think the most important thing for me is to come in and jell with my (new) teammates. I just want to be part of the group. I don't think one guy will make the difference, it's what we achieve as a team."