The Columbus Blue Jackets have signed center Riley Nash to a three-year contract worth an average of $2.75 million per season. For a team in tweak mode, it’s a nice move.
Nash, 29, broke out as a member of the Boston Bruins this past season, putting up 41 points in 76 games but more importantly, playing a sturdy two-way game. Nash was particularly effective in the first round of the playoffs when the B’s ran into injury problems with star center Patrice Bergeron.
For a Columbus team that in all likelihood is facing the reality of trading offensive catalyst Artemi Panarin in the near future, this is at least a short-term win for the Blue Jackets.
Next season will be interesting for the franchise, which still hasn’t won a playoff series in its history. Star defenseman Zach Werenski will start 2018-19 on the shelf due to shoulder surgery and it’s impossible to say how the Panarin situation will evolve. But the Jackets do have an excellent goalie in Sergei Bobrovsky, another top-line defenseman in Seth Jones and some pretty good depth up front. Youngster Pierre-Luc Dubois really rounded out as a potential top-line center in the second half of the season.
Under coach John Tortorella, the Jackets have been a handful thanks to their pace, but Nash’s ability to slow down the opposition will also be a gift and make the team harder to play against. Assuming power forward Boone Jenner recovers from an off year and the Blue Jackets will be a sturdy entry in the Metropolitan Division.
Will it be enough to qualify for the playoffs again? That’s a difficult question in a division that is really levelling out, but Columbus has the tools to be competitive. In Nash, they get a serviceable middle-six player on a good contract, which never hurts.
What could be even more intriguing is the potential signing of the other R. Nash in the NHL, former Jackets star Rick Nash. He is currently sitting out free agency while he decides his playing future, but after years in New York and then a quick run with Boston, the idea of the former Columbus captain finishing his career in Ohio is pretty nice.