By Michael McCarthy
After seven years with the Flyers, Scott Hartnell was traded to Columbus on June 23 for forward R. J. Umberger and a fourth-round draft pick. A fan favorite in Philly, Hartnell admitted to fighting back tears when he returned to the Flyers training facility two days later to clean out his locker.
But after the shock subsided, Hartnell approached former Flyers teammates Steve Mason and Jakub Voracek, who each started his career in Columbus. Their feedback is one reason Hartnell has a good feeling about joining an up-and-coming Blue Jackets team. He also sought advice from Jody Shelley, a former Philly teammate who played for Columbus and now serves as a television analyst and team ambassador.
“They said, ‘You’re going to love the city. It’s smaller than Philadelphia, but you’re going to love it. You’re going to love the fans,'” Hartnell told NHL.com in late July. “Just watching the playoffs last year, the fans seemed louder there than they did anywhere. I’m really excited about that.”
The Blue Jackets won the first two Stanley Cup Playoff games in franchise history last season, when they qualified for the postseason for the second time. They gave the Pittsburgh Penguins all they could handle in their Eastern Conference First Round series before losing in six games.
The Blue Jackets did more than merely establish themselves as a team on the rise in 2013-14. They earned a reputation as a team that made opponents earn every inch of ice. As one of the League’s premier agitators, Hartnell seems like a perfect addition.
“[The Blue Jackets] were a hard team to play against. They were fast, always on you. You didn’t have much time with the puck. You look at the age of these guys, it’s fair to say they’re going to have a good team for the next five or six years,” Hartnell said. “That’s one thing I made clear before saying yes to the trade: I want to win. They were on the same page with that. I was really pleased to hear that.”
The task of meeting his new teammates has begun for Hartnell, who said he had dinner in Columbus recently with center Brandon Dubinsky.
It was Dubinsky’s arrival two years ago with center Artem Anisimov and defenseman Tim Erixon in a trade that sent captain Rick Nash to the New York Rangers that effectively launched the turnaround in Columbus. It continued last summer with the seven-year, $37.1 million contract signed by forward Nathan Horton, who was limited by injuries to 36 regular-season games.
With Horton expected to be healthy in training camp this season, Hartnell is looking forward to getting started with the Blue Jackets, who have yet to name a captain two years after trading Nash.
“You add a healthy Horton into the mix and bring myself in, it’s almost two new players to come in and be effective,” Hartnell said. “It’s a great team. On paper we match up against anybody in the East. I don’t think anybody expected the Rangers to go to the Final last year, so the East is pretty wide open. After a couple of days of mulling this whole thing over, I’ve had a smile ever since saying I was going to be a Blue Jacket.”
It hasn’t taken long for Columbus’ big offseason addition to endear himself to the area. He’s spent time with defenseman Ryan Murray, who like Hartnell grew up in Regina, Saskatchewan. After being active for years with charities in Philadelphia and Canada, Hartnell has extended his volunteer work to Columbus, where he has recruited 10-12 area children who he will bring to a hockey camp in Minnesota.
Hartnell won’t have to wait long to make his return to Philadelphia. The Flyers host the Blue Jackets at Wells Fargo Center on Nov. 14, and he has a pretty good idea of what to expect when he returns.
“Mike Richards, when he came back with L.A. for the first time, I think they cheered him right off the bat. Then he had the puck going up the ice and there were some boos. I’m sure that will happen. That’s part of the game and I love that,” Hartnell said. “It means you’re doing the good things if you’re hated. Hopefully I can be just as hated in Philly as I am in Pittsburgh.”