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Kris Russell escapes Columbus, meets Ken Hitchcock in St. LouisKen Hitchcock loves him some Kris Russell(notes).

This tracks back to when Hitch was coaching the Columbus Blue Jackets and Russell was a rookie defenseman, as chronicled by the delightful Gare Joyce on Scouts Honour:

"(Russell) is just a good player. I don't care (about his) height and weight, they just don't come around very often like that … The thing that everybody is worried about is how does he handle the traffic and the size. But because he has such excellent positioning, he handles it without a problem … His stick positioning is something that takes you years to teach."

Hitchcock is now coaching the St. Louis Blues and poaching his former players, apparently: The Blues traded 25-year-old defenseman Nikita Nikitin(notes) for Russell on Thursday night, per Nick Kypreos of Sportsnet.

After years of waiting for Russell to break out as a puck-moving defenseman, the Blue Jackets brought in James Wisniewski(notes), saw Grant Clitsome(notes) emerge and have rookie Dave Savard lurking in the AHL. The Blues, meanwhile, add some speed and a left-handed shot to their blueline. He's signed through 2013.

As for Nikitin … well, Aaron Portzline of Puck-Rakers sounds a wee bit cynical:

Nikitin, 25, is a 6-3, 196 pounder. The book on him is that he speaks little English, doesn't socialize much in the dressing room and is adequate on the power play point. In 41 NHL games, he has 1-8-9 and a minus-4 rating. The Blues were willing to trade him because he has a one-way contract worth $600,000 but was not able to hold down a regular spot in the lineup. In seven games this year, he has 0-0-0 and a minus-5.

There was a report that the Blue Jackets were trading for Evgeni Nabokov(notes) of the New York Islanders, but that was unfounded; furthermore, Arthur Staples of Newsday writes that Nabby has a no-trade clause — he wants out of Long Island, but does he want the Blue Jackets?

All of this traces back to Steve Mason(notes), of course. In their 6-3 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday night, the Jackets saw Mason (a) give up the first goal and (b) give up an incredible softy to Jonathan Toews(notes) late in the first period to put the Jackets down 2-1 heading to the locker room.

These faux pas have become commonplace for Mason. The Jackets had given up 25 goals in their last five games, and are now 2-12-1. Something has to give, right?

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