TORONTO -- Last June, the Columbus Blue Jackets were very interested in adding a puck-moving defenseman, a clear hole in their roster. GM Scott Howson targeted Montreal's James Wisniewski as the solution but realized Wisniewski might not feel the same way about the Blue Jackets.
Two days before the start of free agency, Howson sent a seventh-round pick to the Canadiens for the rights to negotiate with Wisniewski. That pick would become a fifth-rounder if the defenseman signed.
"I don't think we would have got him without that," Howson said. "At 12 o'clock [on July 1] it would have started and Columbus would have been just another team."
Instead, Howson had a small window to make a fast impression. They were going to visit Wisniewski but instead, he came to Columbus. They worked out a deal before Wisniewski ever hit free agency.
"For us it was such an important need and the market was pretty thin, so we decided it was worth a fifth-round pick to try and talk to him. It was important for a team like ours, a city like ours, to get in front of James early and let him meet us," Howson said Friday morning from the draft combine in Toronto.
In this case it worked. In others it hasn't.
The Islanders sent a fourth-round pick to the Canucks for the right to talk to defenseman Christian Ehrhoff. When they couldn't sign him, they spun his rights to the Sabres, who got a deal done.
Two years ago, the Flyers sent Ryan Parent and a conditional draft pick to the Predators for the right to talk to Dan Hamhuis. When Hamhuis and the Flyers couldn't strike a deal, his rights were dealt to the Penguins for a third-round pick. He eventually signed with Vancouver.
It's an important tool used with increasing frequency for teams hoping to sign a free agent, mostly because the pool of high-end players who actually hit the market on July 1 continues to shrink. It also comes with no guarantees.
Still, this summer, it shouldn't prevent teams from trying to acquire the negotiating rights to potential free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. If the Devils and Predators can't get a deal done with their star free agents as the draft closes in, they'd be smart to get something in return.
In the case of Nashville, a team that was aggressive in trading draft picks at the deadline to add Paul Gaustad, Hal Gill and Andrei Kostitsyn, it becomes a necessity. Strong drafting is the lifeblood of that organization, and those picks become extremely valuable. Suter could end up fetching a return higher than anything we've seen when it comes to dealing negotiating rights.
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