I remember the draft day when it was announced that the Blue Jackets were making a trade to move up to the number one pick. With that pick they chose Rick Nash, who would make the jump to the NHL that year. Nash had an impressive start, nominated for the Calder in his rookie year and splitting the Richard in his sophomore. His play in international competition has been widely praised, winning two silvers and a gold at the World Championships and an Olympic Gold. Yet, success for his NHL team has been elusive. The best year for the Blue Jackets to date was the 2008-09 campaign when Nash took the captain’s C and led the team to its first playoff berth. Unfortunately, it was a quick exit from the playoffs and this season will make it three years in a row that the team has failed to return.
With the season a complete failure, calls for blowing up the roster and rebuilding have come from far and wide. Trading away nearly every part of the team has been discussed, and some portion of the fan base wants to see changes in management. In terms of trades, the biggest bargaining chips would be Jeff Carter or Rick Nash. Carter’s presumed attitude problem and length of contract seem to limit the return on what could be got for him. Nash is well thought of, and despite a hefty price tag, would bring supposed instant punch to any team. I don’t want to get into the wisdom of trading Carter, I believe injuries have severely limited his ability this year and he has never fit into a team that was in disarray from game one anyways. But, for the right price Carter should be movable. What I wonder about, what I would be losing sleep over if I worked in the Blue Jackets hockey operations is the wisdom of trading Nash.
Wall to Wall Sports on WBNS TV/ONN last night had a full half hour discussion of Blue Jackets and the availability of Nash. I don’t usually see much of the world after 11:00 on a weeknight (Gah, that makes me feel old) so I rely on @DarkBlueJacket’s twitter play-by-play for all of the good tidbits. One of the most revealing statements was from Lori Schmidt, that the lack of anticipated return for some players is what is forcing the Nash play. Players specifically mentioned were Carter, Vermette, and Methot. No surprises there. What this seems to imply though is that Blue Jackets management feels as though a robust roster restructuring has to take place, and that they have to move major pieces to do so. If it was a matter of moving established players for prospects or picks, this could be done by moving second tier players and picking up UFAs who will be gone at the end of the season and prospects that will fill out the Jackets and Springfield roster in few years. You do not move Nash for prospects only, any deal for him will include at least two players in the NHL right now who can help the Blue Jackets next season.
But, is moving Nash the right thing to do? Rick Nash has done nothing but be supportive of the Blue Jackets and Columbus from day one. To be sure, he is not the most vocal or visible person, and when the season is done he is gone to his lake home in Canada. None of which is bad. Nash gives heavily to charity, plays with class and sportsmanship, and in a world where athletes are often not good role models I have no problem pointing to him and telling my kids that Rick Nash does things the right way. He took a discount to stay in Columbus when he could have left as a free agent, even getting the deal done early as possible to prevent speculation.
On the ice, Nash has given us some of the most thrilling moments Blue Jackets fans have ever seen. People still talk about THE goal against Phoenix, but I prefer his through the legs goal against St. Louis that is often overlooked. Or how about his hat tricks against Detroit, including the unassisted hat trick? Of course there is one goal that will always be remembered, the game tying goal that gave the Blue Jackets the one point needed to secure their first playoff berth. What a moment, there should have been more like it.
In all of that though, I find little that says Nash is integral to the Blue Jackets winning. No matter how I feel about one player, it will always be the name on the front that is important. For how many seasons was it that Nash just needed a number one center to be really successful. Yet, the greatest production for Carter this year has been when he is one a separate line from Nash. Year after year Nash has played with different roster mates and his game does not consistently elevate, even worse he fails to consistently elevate that of those around him. After awhile I think we have to ask if the part that is not changing is the problem? I am not saying Nash is not good, or that his not superbly talented. Far from it, but his reputation seems to exceed that of which we see in Columbus over the course of an eighty-two game season. An excellent breakdown of this phenomenon comes from the Coach over at Carry The Flag, I urge you to read his breakdown of Nash. In a nutshell, he argues that Nash’s style of play excels in a short international competition but cannot be sustained over a season. Thus, the hockey world overvalues Nash. Should a trade happen, The Coach predicts “What is Wrong With Rick Nash” articles this time next year, and I agree.
I hate to say it, and it feels wrong, but I believe trading Rick Nash helps the Columbus Blue Jackets. Not in a couple of years, but starting next October; assuming a good trade that maximizes his value and even gets a team to overpay. That trade may not happen before the deadline this season, it may happen this summer. What better time? When every time wants to make a move, not just those in the playoff hunt. A truly spectacular overpayment could get a deal done before the deadline, but I would not be surprised to see something happen in June. If GM Howson is really going to be fired at the end of the season (I am not buying it) then Craig Patrick and Ownership certainly are going to require approval of any deal before the deadline as well.
There are as many trade possibilities as one wants to make up. I see the biggest holes as being goaltending and defense. A look at the roster in Columbus and Springfield shows a wealth of forwards. Any Nash trade needs to bring back a NHL starting capable goaltender, a top pairing dman, a prospect, and a pick. Can any team realistically put together a package like that?
The upside to all of this is that the Blue Jackets don’t have to trade Nash. He is not an impending free agent, he is not dogging it looking for a trade, if come next fall he is still in Columbus he will still be the same player he has always been. The challenge is how to build a winner around two centerpiece players who are locked into long term contracts and are very talented. Can the goaltender hole be filled without moving a forward? Will defensive youngsters Moore and Savard continue to improve? Will Clitsome recover from his horrible year? Can a new coach make a difference? Will Matt Calvert and Cam Atkinson flourish with another of AHL seasoning under the belt? Am I suddenly hoping that the asking price for Nash is too high and we get to see what a difference the answer to these questions makes with him in Union Blue?
There is no right answer. If Nash goes, we as fans lose a player who would have stayed with the Blue Jackets his whole career and whose number would have gone to the rafters the moment he retired. But next year immediately looks brighter. If he stays, there are more questions than answers. But loyalty is rewarded and Columbus looks like a better place to come to. Interesting times CBJ fans, and now is not the time to abandon ship. One way or the other its going to get weird and rowdy between now and opening night.