Rick Nash has 18 goals and 39 points in 57 games and is the only player Columbus has ever taken with the No. 1 overall pick (2002). (Getty Images)
The Rick Nash trade watch is officially on.
After weeks of baseless speculation and frequent denials by Nash, his agent and Columbus Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson over the star’s trade status, a blizzard of recent reports claim he's either available or the club is gauging his trade value.
The storm broke Monday when RDS.ca's Renaud Lavoie cited an unnamed NHL GM who claimed the Blue Jackets captain was indeed on the trade block. Howson and Nash's agent both declined to comment, which broke their usual trend of denying such reports and added fuel to the fire.
Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch reported NHL sources said Nash wasn't being actively shopped, nor did the Blue Jackets wish to part with him. However, it appears management has now reached a point where everyone, including Nash, could be had for the right price.
Portzline noted that, as recently as last month, Howson denied any intention to trade Nash. Now it’s possible Howson would trade Nash to a team on his shortlist if the Columbus GM gets an offer that’s too good to refuse before the Feb. 27 trade deadline.
Nash has previously stated his preference is to remain with the Blue Jackets, but in a January interview he suggested he wouldn't stand in management's way if the team wanted to shop him. As of Tuesday, Nash insisted he has not asked to be dealt.
TSN's Bob McKenzie, meanwhile, believes Nash has permitted Howson to entertain offers from other clubs, though that doesn't necessarily mean Nash has asked to be dealt or would approve such a move.
The Blue Jackets captain has also reportedly submitted a list of teams to Howson he'd consider waiving his no-movement clause to, which is believed to be less than five teams.
No one knows which teams are on that list, but speculation has the New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings, Vancouver Canucks, Toronto Maple Leafs, Philadelphia Flyers and San Jose Sharks as potential destinations.
Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News noted a Rangers scout attended the recent Blue Jackets-Minnesota Wild game and suggested he was there to watch Nash. Leonard also cited an Ottawa Sun report from Sunday that claimed Rangers GM Glen Sather had an interest in the Columbus right winger.
The Sun speculated the Blue Jackets would want left winger Brandon Dubinsky, prospect Chris Kreider and a first round pick.
Nash is obviously an enticing trade target, but landing him at the deadline will prove difficult.
One issue is the return required to acquire a player of his caliber. Another is the potential impact on team chemistry.
The Rangers, for example, are dominating the Eastern Conference standings. While there's been some concern over the offensive production of Dubinsky, left winger Artem Anisimov and center Brad Richards, the Blueshirts are a tight unit performing very well.
Adding Nash would require moving one or two good, young, established players to pay what would be a steep asking price from Columbus and to free up sufficient cap space to comfortably absorb his $7.8-million cap hit, which runs to the end of 2017-18.
Moving out two good roster players for Nash could have the unintended consequence of weakening the team's depth elsewhere in the lineup and unnecessarily shaking up a successful, close-knit roster.
Players carrying hefty, long-term contracts usually aren't moved during the season in today's salary cap world, but instead in the off-season, when interested teams have more cap space and a willingness to invest.
The final sticking point is Nash's no-movement clause, which gives him the final say over where and when he moves.
That doesn't mean Nash absolutely won't be dealt by the trade deadline, but the high cost of acquiring him (salary, return, impact on team chemistry at a crucial point in the season) could keep him in Columbus, at least for the remainder of this season.
BLACKHAWKS NEED BLUE ICE HELP
The plight of the struggling Chicago Blackhawks continues to raise speculation GM Stan Bowman will acquire an upgrade between the pipes.
During a discussion on Toronto's FAN 590 between Hockey Central panelists Nick Kypreos and Doug MacLean, Kypreos pointed out Blackhawks right winger Patrick Kane has only 12 goals so far this season.
Since the Blackhawks are already deep with scoring forwards, Kypreos suggested they should consider making Kane trade bait for a goalie and perhaps target Buffalo’s Ryan Miller.
Bowman, however, insists he's not in the market for a goaltender and maintained his faith in the Blackhawks’ current tandem of Corey Crawford and Ray Emery.
It's been speculated for weeks Bowman is in the market for blueline depth, which appears to remain his priority.
BULIN WALL ON THE MARKET?
If Bowman does consider adding a goalie, perhaps he’ll consider a blast from the past now toiling with the Edmonton Oilers.
The Edmonton Journal's Jim Matheson, responding to a reader's email, believes Oilers netminder Nikolai Khabibulin, who played four seasons with the Blackhawks from 2005-2009, would have been an attractive trade chip if he didn’t have another year left on his contract.
While Khabibulin is long in the tooth and has an injury history, he's also having a good bounce-back season, with a 2.52 goals-against average, .917 save percentage and two shutouts.
With only one year at a cap hit of $3.75 million remaining on Khabibulin's contract, it might be worthwhile for the Oilers to determine if there's any interest in him near the trade deadline.
Rumor Roundup appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and Kukla's Korner.