Rick Nash is on pace for a 26-goal, 55-point season. (Getty Images)
It’s certainly not Rick Nash’s fault the Columbus Blue Jackets have drafted so poorly over the years or that their free-agent signings have largely been disasters. It’s not Nash’s fault that Jeff Carter wasn’t a good fit with him because both of them are shooters, not passers. And it’s certainly not his fault that goalie Steve Mason lost his game so quickly.
But as we ponder the magnitude of The Rick Nash Sweepstakes™ that could end up with him being traded within the next week, exactly how much culpability for the mess the Blue Jackets have become should be attributed to Nash? He’s the highest-paid and marquee talent on a team that has, for the most part, been terrible. He has never experienced the feeling of winning a playoff game, has never scored 80 points, been a first- or second-team all-star or put up a 50-goal season.
The question teams have to be asking themselves right now: Is Rick Nash mired in an untenable situation in a place where talent goes to die? Or has he become a little too comfortable with the losing and could be in some ways part of the problem?
Not sure what the answer is, but we do know that when he is surrounded by talented players, he is very, very good. But then again, who isn’t? And responding positively by being in the company of top players is far different than being one of those players and picking inferior players up by the bootstraps. For all the mediocrity Nash has had to deal with, has he made other players in Columbus appreciably better over the years? Discuss amongst yourselves.
(It reminds this corner of the argument surrounding Jay Bouwmeester. Hockey people had always maintained that Bouwmeester had never played in the playoffs because he was always a part of such bad teams in junior hockey and the NHL. Well, this is his fourth season with the Calgary Flames, who are still life-and-death to make the playoffs. If there’s a more overrated player in the league than Bouwmeester, please feel free to point to him.)
The most vexing quandary about all of this is the Blue Jackets have a very good player, but they are demanding superstar-type return in a trade. In many instances, teams might be satisfied to simply free themselves of the $46.8 million remaining on the final six years of his contract and use that cap space as an asset. But the Blue Jackets know that if they trade Nash, they have to hit one out of the park.
All of which should have the teams courting the Blue Jackets seeing an enormous neon sign that reads “Buyer Beware” when it comes to Nash. If you assume that he’s worth the boatload of players and/or picks and/or prospects that it will take to get him, is he worth all that money and term? And since Nash has never been the kind of player to carry people on his back, you also have to wonder actually how much better of a team you’re going to be with him in the lineup.
Let’s take the five teams who are reportedly on his list of teams to which Nash would agree to be traded – the New York Rangers, Vancouver Canucks, Boston Bruins, San Jose Sharks and Toronto Maple Leafs. Now ask yourself the following questions. Would Nash: (a) transform the Rangers from a gritty, defense-first team with serious offensive shortcomings into a legitimate threat for the Stanley Cup; (b) put the Canucks over the top; (c) be the key to a Bruins repeat; (d) help the Sharks shed their (not entirely deserved) reputation as chronic playoff underachievers; or, (e) make the Maple Leafs a true playoff team with potential to have an impact in the post-season?
If you can provide an unequivocal affirmative response to any one of those scenarios, then Nash is obviously a player worth pursuing and paying a steep price to acquire. I’m just not certain if I were running any of the above-mentioned teams that I would be able to do that. I would wonder about whether or not Nash is 100 percent committed to being the absolute best player he can be. I would also wonder whether he’s one of those really good support players, but not someone around whom you can build your Stanley Cup hopes.
If it were the Rangers, the return would be something along the lines of top prospects Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller and Brandon Dubinsky. The Canucks would have to start with Cory Schneider and probably include the blossoming Cody Hodgson. The Bruins would likely have to part with at least Tuukka Rask and top defense prospect Dougie Hamilton. The Sharks are looking at losing the likes of Joe Pavelski and Jamie McGinn, along with defense prospect Justin Braun and other prospects. The Maple Leafs would almost certainly have to part with young defenseman Jake Gardiner and Nazem Kadri.
That’s a huge price for any one of those organizations to absorb, particularly when you factor in the contract. Nash will be hotly pursued in the next week and if nothing happens before Feb. 27, things will probably only get steamier at the draft in June. But someone will take Rick Nash at some point and the team that does will pay an enormous price.
And in some ways, it will have no idea what it is getting in return.
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.