COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Blue Jackets have rarely been in a playoff race since they entered the league in 2000.
So, in this season of surprise for Columbus, they surely wanted to take advantage of their position in the Western Conference.
And so they did just that.
Three-time NHL All-Star Marian Gaborik was the marquee player among four deals Wednesday as the improved Blue Jackets treated the trade deadline day as an opportunity to gear up for the postseason.
Gaborik and minor league defensemen Steven Delisle and Blake Partlett were acquired from the New York Rangers for center Derick Brassard, right wing Derek Dorsett, defenseman John Moore and a sixth-round pick in the 2014 draft.
Entering play Wednesday night, Columbus was 11th overall in the West, but just one point out of the eighth and final playoff berth. The Blue Jackets have made the postseason just once in their history.
“You can see,” Gaborik said, “this team is going in the right direction.”
Gaborik’s salary is $7.5 million this season and next. In the summer of 2014, he’ll become an unrestricted free agent but the Blue Jackets think he’s worth the flight risk. They hope a playoff run, and a fever pitch in town, can help convince him to sign a long-term deal.
Unlike most deadline days, when the Jackets traded some of their top talent away, they were in a position to be an aggressive bidder under president John Davidson and general manager Jarmo Kekalainen.
“For us to say we’re buyers now shows we’re all in throughout the whole organization,” Blue Jackets forward Matt Calvert said. “It’s a major positive, especially where we were a month or two ago.”
The Blue Jackets (15-14-7) entered March with the fewest points in the NHL but went 10-2-4 for their best month in history and know the final 12 games will have playoff implications.
“It’s good to be playing these type of games this time of the year,” Columbus forward R.J. Umberger said. “It’s been a few years since these games meant something.”
Columbus also dealt goalie Steve Mason to Philadelphia for Michael Leighton and a third round pick in 2015 in an exchange of backup goaltenders, and traded for Calgary forward Blake Comeau, as well. The Flames received a fifth-round selection in 2013.
In a minor-league deal, the Jackets acquired goaltender Patrick Killeen from the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for future considerations.
At the end of the day, though, the key is Gaborik, 31, who has 666 points (333 goals) in 757 games and could be the replacement for Rick Nash, the Blue Jackets’ career points leader, who was dealt to the Rangers last summer.
“The one area we needed to address — and wanted to address — was getting more offense for our team, somebody that can play the power play, run the power play, score some goals for us,” Kekalainen said. “(Gaborik’s) a threat offensively, an explosive player.
“When a player of Marian’s caliber became available, we were extremely excited about the opportunity. And we worked on it quite a while to get it done.”
Gaborik waived a non-movement clause after talking to Davidson and Columbus forward Vinny Prospal, a former teammate in New York. He also texted former Rangers Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky, who landed here in the Nash trade. Gaborik also said Nash had complimentary things to say about his time in Columbus.
“I enjoyed my time in New York, of course,” Gaborik said. “But when somebody wants you, and somebody tries to trade you, it’s good that somebody actually wants you on the team.”
Gaborik, a two-time Olympian for Slovakia, has topped 40 goals three times, including last year, when he had 41 and 76 points in 82 games for the Rangers.
He has nine goals and 19 points (9-10) in 35 games this season.
“The biggest stars, they’re in slumps sometimes,” Kekalainen said. “That’s just natural. That’s human. Maybe he’s been in one of those lately but we believe he can be the same player or better than he has been in the past.”
New York received two former first-round picks from Columbus: Brassard (58 goals in 307 games) and Moore (two in 86). They also snared one the league’s most frequent fighters in Dorsett.
Mason won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year in 2008-09 when he went 33-20-7 with a 2.29 goals-against average and 10 shutouts, leading the Jackets to the playoffs. For his career, he is 96-99-27 with a 2.90 and 19 shutouts.
The 24-year-old Mason was 3-6-1 with a 2.95 this season, and lost a battle for the starting job to Sergei Bobrovsky, who was acquired from the Flyers in the offseason.
“Obviously with the play of Bobrovsky Steve Mason has not played as much,” Kekalainen said. “His contract is coming to an end. I thought this was a deal we had to take to protect our interest into the future rather than let a player walk at the end of his contract.”
Comeau, 27, has seven points in 33 games this season and 181 points in 352 career NHL games.
Gaborik and Leighton will be available for Thursday’s game at Nashville, the team said.