In professional sports parlance, trade requests made by athletes are the equivalent of Marie Antoinette’s “let them eat cake” dismissal of her royal subjects. Pulling the chute usually is seen as the ultimate act of heresy, a selfish personal bailout from a situation bankrupted of positives.
Certainly, we’ve already seen the butt-kicking laid on the character of Coyotes center Kyle Turris this season when he demanded that Phoenix GM Don Maloney deal him to another team. It was richly deserved, given Turris’ modest achievements over the course of his 131 career NHL games.
But sometimes, asking to be moved is the right thing to do, for both the player and his employer. And I think we’ve arrived at that stage when it comes to the increasingly sad story of Rick Nash and the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Now, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Nash hasn’t made any noise whatsoever about wanting out of Ohio and the Jackets are far from being mathematically eliminated from the 2012 playoffs - his team isn’t altogether bereft of talent. Indeed, I was one of the few people who thought Columbus could make the playoffs this season.
However, the hockey gods have all but extinguished those post-season dreams. Losing prized free agent signing James Wisniewski to an eight-game suspension at the start of the year was bad enough; losing prized trade acquisition Jeff Carter after five games to a fractured foot was worse; and the consistent struggles of starting goalie Steve Mason (whom as I joked on Twitter was in line to star in the next edition of the Saw horror movie franchise: Saw VIII, Let In VII) looks like the worst development of all.
Forget whether it is simply bad luck or bad design on the part of Columbus GM Scott Howson that got the team where it is today. All that matters is the Jackets are 15th in the Western Conference, 11 points out of a playoff spot and eight points behind the 14th-place Anaheim Ducks. You might be able to pay for a playoff sightseeing tour from that standings vantage point, but you aren’t going to be participating in the post-season.
And that means the 27-year-old Nash, now in his ninth NHL season, almost assuredly will continue to have just four career playoff games on his resume. That’s like banning supermodel Kate Upton from all bikini shoots and demanding she don a paper bag and potato sack and flaunt her fingernails instead.
Like Raymond Bourque in Boston, Nash has been a loyal employee from the first day he pulled on his team’s jersey. After seeing that loyalty squandered year after year by mismanagement of the team, Bruins fans were gracious in allowing Bourque to move on to Colorado without assassinating his character and celebrated when he won a Stanley Cup with the Avalanche.
You have to remember the cream of the athletic crop always has exercised a great deal of control and influence over the most important parts of their lives. Each team they played on as a child or developing teenager benefitted hugely from their presence and effort. Once they reach the pinnacle of their sport and find themselves unable to exert the same game-changing influence, mounting frustration is only natural.
Whether or not he admits to it, Nash has to be nearing that point if he hasn’t reached it already. He has demonstrated his belief in the organization and city by signing two contract extensions (the latest one an eight-year, $62.4 million deal that began last season). He has bit his lip as the team chewed up and spit out six head coaches. He has been exemplary in his service, yet has been “rewarded” with nothing but multiple appearances at IIHF World Championships and a first-round flushing at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings in 2009.
It’s unfair to ask Nash to be part of another rebuild that could take upwards of four or five years – and that may be as ineffectual as the ones he’s already endured. If that’s what Blue Jackets fans want, I’d say they’re the ones looking at the issue in the short term and acting selfishly with their “non-trade demand.” A deal for Nash would help the franchise stock up on prospects and/or draft picks; and what looks to be a very high lottery pick this season would signal the start of a new era in Columbus.
Nash has never said “let them eat cake” to Jackets fans, primarily because the team has offered him only microscopic crumbs of that dessert. For the sake of him and the Blue Jackets, it’s high time he got his sugar fix in another market.
Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. Power Rankings appear Mondays, his blog appears Thursdays and his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays.
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