The trade deadline has come and gone, and while I could summarize the comings and goings here, it would be rather redundant, since NHL.com has already assembled a fantastic chart to show how the teams have fared. If I had to pick which teams did the best, I’d probably say Vancouver in the West (they added some much needed grit) and Tampa in the East (if only because of how many trades they made, even if their draft pick fire sale could come to haunt them). But today we’re going to talk about the biggest trade that never was this season: Columbus’ Rick Nash.
Nash has been an anchor for the Columbus Blue Jackets, despite being tied to a team that has seen the playoffs just once in the past decade, and he recently signed a $62.9 million contract extension which would keep him there through the 2017-2018 season. So it came as a surprise to many that, shortly after the trade deadline, Jackets GM Scott Howson broke to the media that Nash himself has asked to be put on the trade block, not management. Rumors began to swirl, of course, and Howson’s decision to make the news public seemed to spin things in the light that Nash was unhappy with the team and wanted out. Add in his new contract extension, and you could easily see this as a star player fed up with an organization that he feels won’t get him any closer to Lord Stanley.
But in classic he said/she said fashion, Nash himself addressed the media a day later, asserting that his request for a trade came only with the team’s best interests in mind. He felt his current trade value (which is pretty high presently) could net the team key assets and draft picks towards turning the team’s fortunes around. And when your team is the worst in the NHL by a full 13 points and coming off the worst start to a season in almost two decades (2-12-1), it seems pretty clear that something needs to be done besides better drafting.
A better journalist would simply present both sides and let that be that, but I know that’s not what you guys want to read. However if you want to stop at just the facts, it’s been great having you by. And now for the editorial:
Nash has toiled for a decade with Columbus, putting up almost 500 career points, serving as captain for the team, and generally throwing his full support behind the organization. Sure Columbus has never been a dominant team, but they’ve never been a laughing stock either. But despite having a solid player like Nash, Columbus has been absolutely unable or unwilling to build a team around him (or any other of the talented players they’ve had), and by many accounts, have in fact had one of the worst drafting plans of any team in the past decade and a history of paying players far more than they’re worth. When Nash signed his contract, he most likely did so in expectations that the team would be building towards championships. Instead he’s become part of one of the worst single season point total drop-offs in the past few seasons. Even if the Jackets win their last 19 games, they’ll only tie last season’s point total. And if you’ve watched them play, it’s pretty clear if they can hit 60 points on the season it will be a miracle.
Based on his history alone, as well as how much of a class act he generally seems to be, I don’t doubt for a minute that Nash felt his trade was for the good of the franchise, as a way to fix a history of weak drafting and terrible management decisions. One good player can’t win a championship, unless you’re willing to build a team around him. And Columbus has continually assumed that Nash would be enough. He hasn’t, and still isn’t, and it’s clear they’re not going to be capitalizing on him in the future either. So when Howson tells everyone that Nash wants to leave, complete with enough spin to make it seem like Nash did so for selfish reasons, it comes across as rather petulant, trying to justify himself in a situation he’s clearly created, in a “Look who the real traitor is” sense. It’s a shame, and even though he wasn’t traded (and a few conspiracy theorists think Howson intentionally asked for too much to make sure he wasn’t), the writing is on the wall for Nash’s tenure with the Jackets.
The team is backed by deep pockets and has a lengthy arena contract ahead, so the future of the team isn’t in jeopardy. But unless Columbus wants to become the Pittsburgh Pirates of the NHL, a profitable laughing stock (and that’s coming from a Pirates fan), they need to figure out how to salvage the team’s core – and how not to throw their best assets under the bus. If you’re a Columbus fan, though, let me remind you too that another Pittsburgh team — the Penguins — went from a 58 point season to the Stanley Cup in three years and now sit among the league’s elite. It’s not unprecedented, but the guys upstairs need to start figuring out a way to build a winning team.