Columbus GM busy leading up to NHL draft

Published June 15, 2011

| National Hockey League

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - His team was never even a part of the Stanley Cup playoffs, yet Columbus Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson has been extremely busy.

Howson is negotiating with unrestricted free agent defenseman Jan Hejda, is contemplating a buyout of veteran blue-liner Mike Commodore and is rumored to be talking with several teams about a major trade. He's also getting ready for the NHL draft in just over a week.

"This is a time where there's a lot of talking to other teams to see what needs are and to see if there might be a fit with your team and letting people know what you're interested in doing," he said Wednesday. "It's quite a busy time in trying to stay on top of all the things."

The hottest rumor circulating in Philadelphia and Columbus was that Flyers center Jeff Carter might be sent to Columbus for a package of players and draft picks.

But Carter's agent said there is no truth whatsoever to all that talk.

"It kind of took on a life of its own. And it was very disappointing for Jeff and others to read it and to have to cope with all the questions that came afterward," Rick Curran said. "I had a conversation with the Flyers and at no time did the Flyers ever bring up Jeff Carter's name in conversations with the Columbus Blue Jackets."

Curran said all the wild speculation deeply affected Carter, the Flyers' leading scorer the last three years, and his family.

"No one considers," he said, "who it hurts in the process."

Howson declined to comment on Carter or Curran's statement. He clearly has enough to handle just dealing with the players currently on his roster.

Hejda has been a steady, workmanlike player for the Blue Jackets for the past four seasons. The Czech made $2 million last year and is in line for a bump in pay - from somebody.

"He thinks the way he's going to be contributing in the future he'll definitely merit a pay increase," Hejda's agent, Ken Robinson, said. "This past year, he was one of six players to register 150 hits and 150 blocked shots. He consistently leads or is one of the top two in ice time. His statistics say a lot about of the guy and that doesn't even go into the quality of his character and his compete level."

Late in the season, Hejda said he'd like to stay in Columbus.

"If you are in one city, on one team, for four years, it's a large part of your career," he said as the club put the finishing touches on a 34-35-13 mark that left them 13th of the 15 teams in the West. "I don't like any changes at home. So, my feeling is I'd like to stay here."

Howson said the two sides have "talked some numbers," but that he wasn't certain if they could reach agreement before the July 1 deadline when Hejda can begin talking to every NHL team.

As for Commodore, that's a thornier issue. He's still under a hefty contract with two years left at a combined $6.8 million. A year ago, he got into an ugly spat with the coaching staff after he was made a healthy scratch. He was sent to the minor leagues and asked to be traded. Both sides ended up unhappy and caught in limbo.

The Blue Jackets could elect to buy out the remainder of Commodore's contract at two-thirds of its value, or it could try to deal him to another team.

Asked if he had any idea what the Blue Jackets might do, Commodore's agent, Wade Arnott, said, "I do not. I haven't received any strong indication."

Howson said there has been discussion about buying out the 31-year-old.

"It's been contemplated," he said, adding that some NHL teams have expressed interest. "I've had some discussions about Mike, yes."

The Columbus roster hasn't been tinkered with as much as the front office and coaching staff this offseason. The organization let go its longtime top amateur and pro hockey scouts. In addition, assistant coach Bob Boughner resigned.

The Blue Jackets have hired Ian Clark as goaltending coach. His No. 1 job will be rejuvenating Steve Mason, who has sagged the past two years after winning the Calder Trophy as the NHL's rookie of the year during the Blue Jackets only playoff year: 2008-2009.

Columbus has the No. 8 selection in the draft, which begins June 24 in St. Paul, Minn.

Howson said he would consider dealing the pick if the right match came along.

"We would for somebody in two scenarios," he said. "For a significant player who could help us now, or in a trade back or trade up."

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Rusty Miller can be reached at http://twitter.com/rustymillerap

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