The face of the Blue Jackets, Rick Nash could turn a strong team into a surefire Stanley Cup contender. (John Grieshop/Getty Images)
By Stu Hackel
If Rick Nash is traded during the next two weeks, it would likely be the single biggest deal of the deadline period. It's tough to imagine a player with more potential impact changing places.
One of the top goal scoring wingers of the last decade, Nash would potentially bring instant offense to whatever team could land him. A strong skater with a big shot and a nose for the net, he's topped the 30-plus mark six times and 40 twice for the Columbus Blue Jackets, a team that has never been able to provide him with a complementary center.
While he pledged allegiance to the Blue Jackets in January -- telling Aaron Portzline of The Columbus Dispatch, “I love Columbus. I love being here. I love being a Blue Jacket. The city of Columbus deserves a winner and deserves a good product on the ice." -- Nash also said, “This has definitely been the toughest season of my career.” He added he would not let the no movement clause in his contract stand in the way of a deal that would improve the team.
With only one playoff series to show for his eight previous NHL seasons, sky-high expectations from last fall dashed due to team-wide injuries, suspensions and poor play, and with fans so alienated by the club's current direction that a couple hundred staged a protest in front of the team's arena, it appears that the 27-year-old Nash indeed would consider a fresh start elsewhere.
Sources told Portzline on Tuesday, however that "Nash has not requested a trade...But last week, the Blue Jackets' brass -- owner John P. McConnell, president Mike Priest, (GM Scott) Howson, senior advisor Craig Patrick, interim coach Todd Richards and perhaps others -- met to discuss the club's plans as it heads toward the deadline. In that meeting, it was determined that the possibility of trading Nash needed to be explored.
"In the days that followed, the Blue Jackets met with Nash and/or his agent, Joe Resnick, where the plan was presented. Nash, who has a no-movement clause for this season and the three following seasons, would have to approve any trade."
As Bob McKenzie pointed out today on TSN.ca, "None of this would or could be happening if Rick Nash didn't want it to happen....With a player of Nash's stature -- a first overall draft pick, the face and identity of the Blue Jackets' franchise, a world-class talent and Canadian Olympian with an outstanding international hockey resume -- there is no chance that Columbus general manager Scott Howson would get involved in any trade talk for Nash without the player's blessing."
There were other hints that Nash was willing to waive his NMC. (In our trade deadline overview of Western Conference teams on Monday, we linked to a relevant item from last week by John Shannon on Sportsnet.ca). But on Monday, for the first time, someone reported that Nash was actually going to be made available.
The story broke Monday night when Renaud Lavoie of RDS blogged that a GM and a second source had told him that Nash was now on the market and had been offered to a few teams. Lavoie added that Howson had taken in the Rangers-Flyers game on Saturday.
Subsequently, Pat Leonard of The New York Daily News wrote that a Rangers scout had been watching the Blue Jackets-Wild game. Of course, at this time of year, scouts from every team are watching everyone, but those two sightings lent some credence to the rumor reported on Saturday by Bruce Garrioch in The Ottawa Sun, who wrote, "If the Rangers are going to deal for Columbus RW Rick Nash — and sources say GM New York Glen Sather is interested — it’s going to come with a big asking price. The word is the Blue Jackets may demand C Brandon Dubinsky, prospect C Chris Kreider from Boston College and a No. 1 pick. Kreider was New York’s No. 1 pick in the 2009 NHL draft."
As you'd expect, if Nash is available, the Rangers won't be the only team trying to land him. NHL.com reported that Howson was also seen talking to Flyers GM Paul Holmgren on Saturday.
But you can be sure that Nash will only waive his NMC for a situation he likes. While the Rangers deal is the only one with names attached to it in the public domain, that doesn't mean it is true or entirely accurate or that there aren't others of which we are not aware.
Nash is in the second year of an eight-year, $62.4 million contract. That's an annual cap hit of $7.8 million. Not every team can afford the deal and not every team has or could realistically create space under the cap to fit Nash in. Regardless of who might be interested, Nash controls the situation.
"With the news breaking that Nash may be available for trade," McKenzie writes, "Howson's phone will light up like a Christmas tree. About half the teams in the league would have interest in trying to secure this player, but there are probably only a handful, or less, that interest Nash. Make no mistake, though, by virtue of his NMC, Nash is totally driving the bus on this. He effectively can dictate how many teams are legitimately in the hunt for his services and ultimately which one is his final destination. Or, at any time he sees fit, he can end the process if he's uncomfortable with it in any regard."
UPDATE: McKenzie speculates the teams Nash might agree to join could include the Bruins, Rangers, Flyers, Sharks, Maple Leafs and perhaps Canucks and Kings and has other thoughts in this TSN.ca video. More from Gino Reda's That's Hockey panel of McKenzie, Pierre LeBrun and Darren Dreger on TSN (video) and Gino speaks with Aaron Portzline (video).
Looking at the alleged Rangers-Blue Jackets deal that Garrioch discussed, NBC and SI's Pierre McGuire said on Ottawa's Team 1200 "Three Guys on the Radio" program Tuesday morning he believed it made sense for both clubs (audio). "The Rangers become a very real player if you put Rick Nash on a wing with Ryan Callahan and Brad Richards. They become an amazing force because now you've got (Marian) Gaborik, Derek Stepan and Artem Anisimov and then you come right back with Brad Richards, Rick Nash and Ryan Callahan, good luck trying to create matchup situations against that group. They become a very real difficult team to play against."
McGuire added that surrendering Kreider, a 2009 first-round pick and top collegiate prospect who had a goal and an assist while helping Boston College win the Beanpot Tournament on Monday night, could be overcome by the Rangers' existing organizational depth. "They can overcome the trading of Kreider. Dubinsky is an important player on the team because he's popular with his teammates. But I think Rick Nash could be just as popular if he went there. And they can afford to trade a first round pick because of the way Ryan McDonagh has developed. Let's remember Ryan McDonagh was a first round pick of the Montreal Canadiens; he got traded in the (Scott) Gomez deal. So basically that's like found money. You're talking about a player who is playing over 24 minutes a game on average and in playing in their top two (defense pairing)."
Yes, it would work for the Rangers. As for the Blue Jackets, getting Dubinsky would not replace Nash's offense. Dubinsky is sometimes subject to long goal-less stretches, but he's a valuable and versatile player. Kreider is projected to have the sort of impact Nash has had, even though he's yet to play an NHL game. The first round pick that Columbus gets in the deal likely won't be especially high if the Rangers continue their strong play.
If this deal is actually on the table, it represents the benchmark for other clubs to surpass. The Blue Jackets would, essentially, be transforming their club. If they make a trade, they have to get it right. They also would have to convince their fans that their new direction will work.
But before any of this happens, Rick Nash has to make a big decision. Does he wants to remain in Columbus or continue his career elsewhere?
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