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Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Daily Debate: Rick Nash trade saga begins

By Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun

Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun discuss whether or not the Blue Jackets will trade Rick Nash and which teams would be interested.

LeBrun: Greetings from the home base in Toronto, my friend. Hope all is well with you in Nashville where tonight you’ll be taking in the Blackhawks-Predators game. More on that in a bit.

But first, let’s lead with a tantalizing bit of news coming out of Columbus over the past few hours, the idea that the Blue Jackets might be open to listening on offers regarding franchise player and captain Rick Nash.

My colleague Renaud Lavoie first reported as much last night on RDS in Montreal (French TSN).

Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson is not commenting, but I can tell you that from talking to sources on other teams around the league this morning, the sense is that the door has opened on Nash’s availability. Understand that as late as this past Friday, two NHL GMs I spoke with said they had inquired about Nash and were given a firm no. So this is something that has shifted quickly over the past few days.

Does it mean for sure that the Jackets will move Nash? No, of course not. But I think it means for the first time that Howson is at least listening to offers for the superstar winger, who after this season still has six more years on his contract at a $7.8 million cap hit. He’s well worth it in my opinion, but it’s not every team that’s going to be able to absorb that contract.

The real question is, what changed here so suddenly in Columbus regarding Nash? My sense is that the Nash camp went to Howson and suggested they’d be open to a move. Remember one key thing here, Nash has a no-movement clause, so he has huge control over how this plays out.

Burnside: Like you, my friend, I’ve spoken to a couple of GMs today who are still of the mind that Nash will not be moved. But given the paucity of players who might actually be available before the Feb. 27 trade deadline, if Nash is really in play it changes the complexion of trade deadline talks dramatically around the NHL. Nash represents by a wide margin the most talented player who might be available and you know teams like Los Angeles, where the offense has once again gone dry; the New York Rangers, who would desperately like to add an impact forward; and the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are fighting for their playoff lives, represent just three teams that would be interested in exploring a Rick Nash scenario.

As you pointed out, Nash controls his own destiny vis a vis agreeing to any kind of deal. And then there’s the no small matter of just how much Howson would want in return for a blue-chip asset like Nash. Given Nash’s upside and the lack of viable options, you know Howson will want a king’s ransom: a first-round pick, a couple of NHL-ready prospects, maybe a young player already playing in the league. No question Howson will ask for the moon. And he just might get it.

What might help facilitate a deal is that, as you noted, Nash still has time on his contract so he’s not a straight rental player. That’s attractive to a lot of GMs who don’t mind trading top draft picks or prospects if they know they’re getting a player who won’t just be around for six or seven weeks of a playoff run and then hitting the free-agent market on July 1. Of course, Nash’s salary-cap hit is no small matter either, but there are enough teams with enough cap room to take a serious run at the Columbus captain. That’s of course assuming he is in play after all.

LeBrun: The Rangers, Kings and Philadelphia Flyers would make sense to me, although the math would be really tight in New York given the money already tied up in Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik and Henrik Lundqvist. But no doubt Nash represents just what the Blueshirts need. And there are always ways to get creative cap-wise. The Rangers have some young pieces (led by Chris Kreider) that might entice the Jackets. Howson, after all, took in the Rangers-Flyers game over the weekend.

Which brings me to the Flyers, whom I believe also have interest in Nash and certainly have the young pieces to get involved (Brayden Schenn, James Van Riemsdyk or Sean Couturier, etc). Can you imagine Rick Nash on a line with Claude Giroux?

The Kings are a good fit as well, led by young netminder Jonathan Bernier as the carrot for Columbus. The Kings have other young assets such as forward Andrei Loktionov or defenseman Slava Voynov, or even blueliner Jack Johnson. As you mentioned, given L.A.’s craving for an upgrade at the wing position, it wouldn’t be out of the question that the Kings at least explore this.

Another team that could be in the mix is Vancouver. The Canucks do indeed like Nash, and the Blue Jackets would certainly have eyes on young netminder Cory Schneider in any potential deal with Vancouver.

And what about San Jose? Sharks GM Doug Wilson is never scared to make a bold move. Nash and Sharks captain Joe Thornton played together both internationally as well as in Davos, Switzerland, during the lockout.

Toronto? For sure the Leafs will inquire given GM Brian Burke's quest to get bigger up front.

In the end, though, this won’t be an easy trade to make, if it happens at all before Feb. 27. There’s only two weeks left before the deadline, that doesn’t allow a lot of time to do something this big.

"My sense is that this will still wait until the summer, but it’s not totally impossible to get it done before the deadline," one NHL team executive, who obviously requested anonymity, told me this morning.

At the very least, my sense is that Howson will see what’s out there before deciding how to proceed. There’s no question more teams would get involved if he waits until the summer. But can he afford to wait now that the cat is out of the bag?

The other element in all this is Howson himself. There are people who wonder if he’ll be back as GM next season for the Jackets. Is ownership in Columbus comfortable allowing him to make such a huge transaction if indeed he finds a desirable package out there before Feb. 27?

Burnside: You are being charitable to Mr. Howson, my friend. Would there be a bigger shock in the hockey world if Howson wasn’t relieved of his duties the moment the season ended, given the debacle this campaign has represented after the Blue Jackets blew the bank (foolishly as it turns out) on guys like Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski? The bottom line is that Nash is the only asset of any value the Blue Jackets have to deal as they hope to break the cycle of misery that has marked their history in the league. You can argue Carter might attract some attention at the deadline but only from the truly desperate and only if the asking price was remarkably low -- at least in my humble opinion.

But let’s move on before we close for the day. I am really looking forward to tonight’s tilt between the slumping Chicago Blackhawks and the Predators. But is there really a game at this time of the year that doesn’t have some sort of urgency attached to it vis a vis the playoff races? With the trade deadline now less than two weeks away, the waters have never been muddier regarding who is buying, who is selling and what the prices may be for the players who could be packing up their suitcases in the coming days.

One player I think everyone expects to be on the move sooner than later is Minnesota defenseman Marek Zidlicky, who rocked the already wobbly Wild boat recently when he publicly complained about being a healthy scratch. With Tim Gleason re-upping in Carolina and Andy Sutton signing a one-year deal Monday to remain an Edmonton Oiler for another season, there simply aren’t many defensemen who look to be available before the 27th and there are a plethora of teams looking to bolster their blue line by the trade deadline, so Minnesota GM Chuck Fletcher shouldn’t have too much trouble finding a home for the discontented Zidlicky.

The Wild will face the never-say-die Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday night in a game that neither team can afford to lose. The Ducks still feel they have a shot -- long as it may be -- at a postseason berth. They begin the day 10 points out of eighth in the West but with two games in hand. The Wild are one of the five teams the Ducks would have to climb over to grab a playoff spot. Minnesota, meanwhile, is just five points out of eighth with two games in hand. It just seems like they’re 50 points out given their current level of play, where they are winless in four and have just three wins in their past 12 outings.

LeBrun: Scotty, a source has told me he believes Zidlicky could be on the move within a matter of days. As you pointed out, no real surprise there given how he went public with his frustration in Minnesota. But somehow I sense Zidlicky isn’t the name hockey fans are bantering on about today.

The Rick Nash trade saga is officially on. Hold on to your seats.

Burnside: Agreed on that, my friend. The Nash story won’t be going away at least for the foreseeable future. But lots of other intrigue coming up tonight, including an interesting clash tonight between the slumping Toronto Maple Leafs and the Calgary Flames. This represents the kind of crucial game that we’re going to see on a nightly basis as teams try and figure out if they’re buying or selling. The Flames are banged up but have hung in and are just three points out of eighth with a game in hand on Phoenix.

The Leafs, meanwhile, began the day in eighth in the Eastern Conference but have lost three in a row, including a humbling loss to Montreal on Saturday on Mats Sundin appreciation night at the Air Canada Centre. The Leafs have managed to avert the kinds of long losing streaks that have marked their post-lockout campaigns but now it's crunch time. My guess? The Flames hand the Leafs their fourth straight and keep the pressure on Phoenix et al in the West.

OK, my friend, enjoy the day.