Rick Nash was drafted first overall by Columbus in 2002. (Getty Images)
Before you go vilifying Columbus Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson for not getting enough from the New York Rangers in return for Rick Nash, you should probably realize this guy has been spending almost all of his time since the trade deadline doing nothing else but trying to deal his disgruntled captain. If he were ever going to get a better deal for Nash, it would have emerged long before now.
As your trusty THN.com correspondent has been saying since Nash demanded a trade last season, Nash is not worth the mother lode of prospects and draft picks the Blue Jackets have been seeking for the past couple of months. When it comes to their salaries and their trade value, NHL players are worth exactly what someone is willing to pay for them at the time. In the case of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, it’s $98 million each over the next 13 seasons. For Nash, it’s two middling NHL players, a good prospect and a first round pick.
Sounds about right to me. Because what so many people have failed to realize is that the Blue Jackets got one more enormous piece in this deal – they got out from under a contract that had six years remaining with $47.4 million owed in real cash and a $7.8 million per year cap hit. If there’s anyone who thought the Blue Jackets were getting anything near their money’s worth on this deal, please let us know.
When looked at through that light, you could say Howson put together a fine deal under the circumstances. Nash had already demanded a trade and there was no way he was ever going to wear a Blue Jackets uniform again. Not only that, but he reduced the number of teams to which he would accept a trade to six. That made it almost impossible for Howson to be dealing from a position of strength. For anyone interested in Nash, taking on the term and salary for him was certainly doable, but it would’ve never made sense for any team to pay that price and tear their roster apart because Nash hasn’t demonstrated that he can carry a team by himself over the past couple of years.
So what does Columbus get in return? In Brandon Dubinsky, they get a 26-year-old center who is coming off his worst NHL season, but is capable of scoring 20 goals a year. In Artem Anisimov, they get a 24-year-old who has a similar offensive ceiling. Defenseman Tim Erixon is just 21 and was the Rangers’ best prospect, ahead of players such as Chris Kreider and J.T. Miller. And in the first round pick, they get a guy who may or may not turn out to be an NHL player in the next five years.
If all three players end up suiting up for the Blue Jackets next season, they’ll take up a combined $7.825 million in cap space, which essentially replaces the cap void left by Nash. Anisimov and Dubinsky combined for 26 goals and 70 points last season, while Nash had 30 goals and 59 points. When you factor in what Erixon might bring to the Columbus blueline, I’m not so sure the Blue Jackets didn’t get the better in the short-term as well. Should Dubinsky and Anisimov not work out, the Jackets will have plenty of cap space moving forward since the burden of Nash’s contract is no longer theirs.
The Rangers, on the other hand, get themselves a player who, if he were on their roster last season, might have been enough to put them into the Stanley Cup final. There is little doubt Nash will be a better player in New York than in Columbus, but regardless of what he accomplishes with the Rangers, his legacy will be tarnished a little by the fact he didn’t make the Blue Jackets appreciably better in his time there. Nash never led the franchise to a single playoff win and bailed on the Blue Jackets after signing a long-term deal.
It’s much easier to flourish, the way Nash has in international competition for Canada, when you have elite players around you. It’s quite another to take the supporting cast you’re given and make the players around you better. There’s little evidence Nash ever did that, even during his most productive offensive seasons. Let’s not forget that Nash has never scored 80 points or 50 goals or been part of a first or second all-star team.
It will be interesting to see how he meshes with Brad Richards, who will be the first elite playmaker with whom Nash has ever played.
And while it’s true the Blue Jackets were dismal for much of Nash’s tenure with the organization, it’s also true that he never really picked this outfit up by its bootstraps and made it a serious contender. It just doesn’t seem to be in Nash’s nature to be the only go-to guy, something he won’t have to worry about in New York.
Relieved of the burden of leadership and the pressure to be the No. 1 guy, Nash could very well return to his 40-goal form with the Rangers. It seemed he was never going to do that again with the Blue Jackets, who will be starting over once again, this time without an identifiable franchise player, though the hope is that 19-year-old Ryan Johansen becomes one. But the reality is the Blue Jackets were one of the worst teams in the NHL with Nash in their lineup. They’re not going to get much worse without him.
And now that the Nash trade is completed, we can look forward to Roberto Luongo being moved. As soon as Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis comes to the same conclusion as Howson did, that move will happen. Just don’t expect the Canucks to get much for him.