Rick Nash is signed through the 2017-18 season, but his salary goes up as the contract goes on. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)
The irony would be delicious, wouldn’t it? If Rick Nash is traded on the draft floor Friday night, he will have been moved 10 years to the day former Columbus Blue Jackets GM Doug MacLean swung a deal at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto to get Nash first overall.
Talk about your wasted decades.
There’s a chance Nash will be dealt in the hours before the first round of the draft in Pittsburgh, which would mean the divorce between the Blue Jackets and their only true franchise player would get done before things get really nasty. If it doesn’t happen in Pittsburgh, it will almost certainly happen in early July after the initial rush of free agency. If it stretches beyond that, look for things to get ugly.
In any event, this corner has already gone on record and said that giving the Blue Jackets a king’s ransom and taking on the money and term of his contract is not worth it. If all you had to do was take on the $7.8 million cap hit until 2017-18 – and Nash has the most unusual of long-term contracts in that the dollars go up, not down, as the years progress – and not give up anything off your roster, it might be a trade worth making. But having to take on that contract and subtract assets from your organization is a price too high to pay.
That said, though, somebody will pay it. Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson knows the pressure to win now in the NHL is so great that there are multiple teams willing to take such a chance. And they might be right. There are some people who look at Nash and see a potential 40-goal man entering his prime. They see a player who has so much more to give and needs only to play with linemates who can match his skill level in order to reach his potential. Others see a player whose results have been inconsistent at best, has not led his team to a single playoff victory in 10 years, has not made the players around him better and is not totally committed to being the best player he can be.
One thing is certain. With the exception of some brief spurts, the Blue Jackets have been god awful in almost every respect with Nash on board. Regardless of what Nash says, he sees a career wasting away and wants to play for a winner. And the Blue Jackets stand to improve their lot in the long term if they can make a deal that works.
There are reportedly up to 10 teams interested in Nash and many others have made inquiries. But it appears the six most serious contenders are the New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Toronto Maple Leafs, San Jose Sharks, Carolina Hurricanes and Boston Bruins. (My money is on the dark horse of the bunch, the Hurricanes.) Here’s the lay of the land for each team:
Say what you will about how ridiculous the deal would have been had the Rangers acquired Nash at the trade deadline in February, the reality is there’s a chance they’re playing in the Stanley Cup final if they have Nash in their lineup. Chris Kreider and Ryan McDonagh are off limits. If the Rangers are to make this deal, look for it to be a package consisting of Derek Stepan, Brandon Dubinsky and this year’s first round pick (28th overall).
At the trade deadline in February, GM Jim Rutherford was direct about what his team needs most: “Someone to play with Eric Staal.” Nash and Staal would be almost impossible to handle down low and Staal is smart enough and unselfish enough to get the puck to Nash. And they have the trifecta of assets it would take to get Nash – a good, young roster player (defenseman Justin Faulk), a good prospect (Zac Dalpe, who played his collegiate hockey at Ohio State) and the eighth overall pick in the draft.
You get the sense the Sharks are also lurking in the weeds on this one. As evidenced by his moves on draft day last year, GM Doug Wilson has never been hesitant to make big trades and needs another one to help get his team over the hump. Having an elite playmaking center in Joe Thornton would make for a good match. But the price will likely be something along the lines of Joe Pavelski and Ryane Clowe.
The Flyers are one of the serious contenders for Nash and because of that, you have to give GM Paul Holmgren credit for having chutzpah. Last year at the draft he tore apart his team and made bold moves in trading Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, though the fact the Los Angeles Kings went on to win the Cup – not convinced they couldn’t have done it without Richards and Carter – took some of the luster off some great moves. You’d have to think rehabbing James van Riemsdyk and the 20th overall pick would be prominent in any deal.
The Bruins are a wildcard in all of this and if they deal for Nash, it might be after July 1 when Tim Thomas’ no movement clause expires. Don’t rule out the possibility that Thomas is moved to a low-salary team that will still need to get up to the salary floor under a new collective bargaining agreement. David Krejci’s no-trade clause does not kick in until 2013, so he’d be targeted, as would likely Jordan Caron and the 24th overall pick.
As much as long-suffering Maple Leafs fans would like to see Nash, there isn’t much of a fit here. There is no way the Leafs are giving up young defenseman Jake Gardiner. They would part with Luke Schenn, but that won’t be enough. The Blue Jackets are not high on Nazem Kadri, but the Leafs do have some other good, young prospects and there’s always that fifth overall pick to consider.
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN's other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.