The trade deadline completed this afternoon without the Blue Jackets finding a quality suitor for current captain and franchise winger Rick Nash. In a post deadline interview, General Manager Scott Howson acknowledged the origin of the Rick Nash trade was brought upon by the captain himself, not the team. Some would argue the decision by Howson would lead to diminished value for Nash on the trade market, but I am under the impression this will force Nash's hand, causing him to increase the number of teams he would be willing to be traded to. The revelation of Nash wanting out however, leaves confusion and dissatisfaction among the fan base, and at least in my case, a serious concern as to how Rick Nash should be managed from this point of the season until the day he is traded.
First, I want to discuss what this bit of information means to me, mostly as a fan, but simply as a viewer of the team trying to exist in a league full of history and tradition. I believe the decision by Rick Nash to demand (or I suppose 'ask') for a trade is an act of quitting on his part, and a very selfish one at that. He signed an eight year 62.4 million dollar contract extension (making him the 5th highest cap hit in the NHL) with most of the current management group in place less than two seasons ago. He committed himself to eight years of Columbus Blue Jackets with the understanding that it would be a process, and I believe fans should be furious with him for not honouring that deal. Some will argue that he 'deserves better' and has 'given the team enough' but I think he had every chance to make his luck during the last couple years with this team.
As much as I can understand the secrecy of the situation at hand, I believe that fans deserved to know that Nash was not willing to play out the contract he signed, and lead this team back to the playoffs. I found his captaincy to be seriously lacking recently, and CTF has posted a number of pieces this year acknowledging the feeling that Nash was playing well below his true potential. These pieces were not designed to spit venom on him as a person, but simply point out that his best games could still be ahead of him, pending a serious amount of effort on his part. It is that early season acknowledgement of mediocrity that solidifies my opinion that he has given up on this team.
Further on today, I believe Howson felt his decision was forced by the comments made by Rick Nash's agent this weekend, suggesting that the list of teams provided by them would not change by the summer. It seemed from the beginning to be a situation where neither the team nor Nash would admit to being the catalyst in the decision to move him, and it was up until the comments made by Resnick that both sides respected the delicacy of the situation. With that, I have absolutely no issue with Scott Howson clarifying who was driving this trade necessity, and I am very glad to know that Nash wants out, not the other way around. This move clearly removes Nash as the victim in this situation, and will make it easier for fans to not resent the team for making the move.
Where to go from here
At this point, all remaining games played by Rick Nash in a Blue Jackets jersey are hollow. With a pending trade on the horizon in likely the early off season, he is no longer the face of the franchise. He is no longer a leader of the team, and I hope the captaincy is removed. They have a very capable leader in Prospal who can take "C" for the remainder of the season, and possibly continue that position through his additional year with the team. What can begin happening at this point, is full accountability of every player in the locker room.
They have brought in pure character players in Johnson, Prospal, and Wisniewski. These are in addition to current character players like MacKenzie and Dorsett who play with full effort in almost every shift of every game. They are building the framework of a team that works for each other and plays as a full unit, rather than relying solely on certain talents to take over games. While I don't have access to Howson/Patrick's intentions on their building process, it would seem that players like Nash are not going to be a part of it. Where Nash couldn't find a linemate to make him better, I suspect the additions to the lineup will be players who make those around them better.
To the presentation of the team, I believe this is an excellent step in the right direction. There has long been commentary about the team not having an identity, and I wonder if Nash has been hindering that. Where people see him as being above many of his teammates, they can now work as a core to create their own image. With that in mind, it is not to suggest that star players will not exist on the team, considering guys like Johansen and likely soon to be drafted Yakupov appear to have top tier upsides. With the production of an identity in the next year or so, the team can open the door to top tier players who will work to fit into their system, rather than them trying to fit the system to a couple of players.
This commentary is not designed to completely remove all blame from Scott Howson and his team in hockey operations. He has taken some risks and very few have truly panned out, but I believe with the addition of a first overall pick, and the plethora of top tier talent returning in a deal for Rick Nash, he will have the quality pieces needed to really design a team worth watching. He will also be out from under an eight million dollar cap hit, among other contracts (Huselius, I'm looking at you) that have made this a cap team only on paper, rarely on the ice. I am prepared to see what type of atmosphere can be created without the Nash captaincy leading the charge, and I think based on Howson's refusal to receive less than fair value for Nash gives him through the summer and into next season before I join the group demanding a GM change.
Carry the Flag.