It’s expected that the Columbus Blue Jackets will trade their only true All-Star player and face of the franchise Rick Nash on or before the upcoming NHL Entry Draft on June 22nd. Rumored trade discussions and speculated trading partners have been flying almost as quickly as trying to keep the hottest of DVDs on a Blockbuster store shelf.
And while some pundits and local observers believe this long-speculated trade of Nash is a forgone conclusion and will go down before the draft, I believe that doing so is a lot more complicated than that and I’ll explain why.
During a February 27th press conference, Blue Jackets General Manager (GM) Scott Howson disclosed, shortly after the National Hockey League’s (NHL’s) trade deadline had passed, that it was the Blue Jackets team captain, not the Blue Jackets organizational brass, who requested to be traded. This appeared to be a case of ‘he said, he said.’
Nash claimed that he was approached by Howson to consider a ‘reshaping’ whereas Howson claimed that Nash requested the trade, providing a limited list of teams that he’d consider waiving his ‘No Movement Clause’ (NMC) for. However, in many league circles, this also appeared to be a classic case of Nash being ‘thrown under the bus’ as Nash has never been known as being anything but a quiet, unassuming player, one who has and continues to love living in Ohio’s capital city.
No matter who is to be believed, two things are for certain: 1) this is a parting of the ways, similar to when an impending divorce will occur, no matter how civil both sides may appear and 2) everyone throughout the NHL is aware of the intent to part ways, like the expression ‘the horse is out of the barn’.
In short, there’s no turning back – or is there?
Here are some of the factors that may complicate such a forgone conclusion:
- The leverage that Scott Howson has or doesn’t have – as ‘the horse is out of the barn’, Scott Howson has made it known that he intends to trade Rick Nash and attempt to garner the equivalent of a King’s Ransom in return. As the February trade was never consummated, Howson’s intentions have never wavered and the rest of the league knows it. What the rest of the NHL also knows is that the Blue Jackets are an absolute mess as evidenced by their easily securing the NHL’s worst record with weeks remaining in the season. When anyone, be it a GM or in any business transaction, dealing from a position of strength is critical and the other GMs know that Howson has to deliver on a move that will try to reclaim an eroded fan base and possibly to save his job as GM.
- Scott Howson’s outrageous demands – it has been reported that Howson’s demands in return for Nash – four to five major pieces, a combination of NHL-ready players, the organization’s top prospects and their 1st round draft pick – are considered to be outrageous in some league circles. This is the equivalent of ‘playing chicken’, waiting for a team to be desperate, let down their guard, thus allowing Howson to reap a seismic return to the highest bidder. But, will a corresponding team show their cards and bite? While I’m not suggesting collusion, it is however possible that those interested parties will counter this form of auction by downplaying Nash’s value to another team – a form of ‘playing possum’. In that scenario, Howson has priced himself out of receiving anything that resembles such a King’s ransom.
- Nash’s ‘shelf life’ as a goal-scorer – as previously pointed out by Neil Greenberg of The Washington Post, history suggests elite goal scorers are often average goal scorers by the time they turn 27 years old. Most goal-scoring wingers peak between ages 23 and 25, and then the decline begins to accelerate after age 26. Rick Nash turned 28 this past Saturday, June 16th. An argument can be made that if Nash is traded to a contender, particularly one with an offensive arsenal far greater than the woebegone, historically offensively-impaired Blue Jackets that Nash will flourish into a 40+ goal-scoring stalwart. However, you can be sure that the smarter, interested GMs will exploit that theory in an effort to diminish Nash’s value.
- Howson’s penchant for risk aversion – while Scott Howson demonstrated a form of bravado in trading for Jeff Carter and acquiring James Wisniewski as an Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA), last summer, his track record will never confuse him for Toronto Maple Leafs’ GM Brian Burke anytime soon. Howson’s extreme patience has come back to bite him on many previous occasions – i.e. staying with goaltender Steve Mason for a third season after two previous horrid season’s following his Calder Trophy award in the 2008-2009 season. And it’s this patience that may lead Howson to ‘sit it out’ and wait until he believes he receives the offer he feels he should garner for Nash. And this leads to…
- The Zach Parise factor – Parise, the captain of the Eastern Conference champion New Jersey Devils, is believed to test the waters of this summer’s UFA frenzy. If Parise opts not to return to the Devils, he, along with the Nashville Predators Ryan Suter, represent a 2-horse race of desirable UFAs as after those two UFAs, the available talent pool plummets. If Howson isn’t able to broker a trade by the start of the UFA signing period – July 1st – it’s widely believed that it’s Parise, not Rick Nash, that becomes the ‘prettiest girl at the dance’ as Parise provides stout scoring and leadership capability at the forward position. It’s also possible that signing Parise first could trigger signing Suter with the same team, be it the Minnesota Wild or the Detroit Red Wings, they of the more than $26 million available salary cap space, not to mention being one of the premier destinations for any prominent NHL star.
- The Craig Patrick factor – it’s believed that NHL Hall of Fame executive Craig Patrick, hired by the Blue Jackets as a Senior Advisor, was ‘driving the bus’ during February’s trade deadline, particularly the Jeff Carter trade to the LA Kings where the Blue Jackets received defenseman Jack Johnson and the Kings’ conditional 1stround pick in either the 2012 or 2013 NHL Entry draft. The Patrick factor particularly may have factored into the rumored trade discussions with the New York Rangers falling through.
In 2001, when Patrick traded Jaromir Jagr to the Washington Capitals for a forgettable return, solely due to relieving his former team, the Pittsburgh Penguins of their mounting financial woes, he was highly criticized for this trade. But another reason for this criticism was because the New York Rangers were willing to make a deal which would have given Pittsburgh two established players and higher quality prospects. But many believed Patrick resented the Rangers for firing him earlier in his GM career, which made him ask for a greater and to an extent unfair return. One published report had Patrick demanding Petr Nedved, Radek Dvorak and Mike York, as well as two prospects for Jagr, which Rangers GM Glen Sather quickly shot down as Patrick’s demands were unreasonable.
And while that failed trade had many competing variables attached to it, having Craig Patrick’s involvement during the discussions could have, and may still, impact brokering a trade that the Blue Jackets and Rangers could otherwise agree to.
Those are some of the potential obstacles and factors that may preclude the otherwise foregone conclusion from occurring. In my next article, assuming a trade does occur within the week, I will offer my insight as to who the specific trading partners are and what return the Blue Jackets could receive in trading their elite power forward.