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Monday, February 20, 2012
Deadline Debate: Who’s getting Nash?

By Pierre LeBrun

For one week only, we will dissect trade rumors, trying to guide you with what we know. Daily Debate will return next week.

How else can we begin but with Rick Nash, the Columbus Blue Jackets captain who is available via trade but certainly not for less than a stellar package. Three NHL sources told ESPN.com this past week that the deal would have to include three to five assets. A look at the options out there:

New York Rangers: The Blue Jackets almost certainly want one of young stud Rangers blueliners Michael Del Zotto or Ryan McDonagh as part of the package, and that’s a tough pill to swallow for the Blueshirts, who have no interest in moving either one. The Rangers, I think, would rather blow away the Jackets mostly with top prospects off their NHL roster, the likes of Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller or Tim Erixon, plus throw in a first-round pick. The Rangers would have to add an NHL player in the mix to help make the math work under the cap, and Brandon Dubinsky is the solution cited most often. There’s no denying the Rangers’ interest in Nash and the obvious fit he brings for the goal-challenged team. But can the Blueshirts get Columbus to take their idea of a suitable package, or will the Jackets win out in what they’d rather bring home?

Philadelphia Flyers: My TSN colleague Darren Dreger reported Saturday night that any Flyers package the Jackets would accept would have to include either of prized rookies Brayden Schenn or Sean Couturier, plus the likes of Sergei Bobrovsky and James van Riemsdyk. I think the Flyers would be extremely reticent to include Couturier or Schenn in any deal. JVR’s name has been in play, though, notably in talks with Toronto last month. Frankly, the Flyers’ most pressing issue right now, especially after shoring up the blue line with the acquisition of Nicklas Grossman and Pavel Kubina, is to sort out their goaltending. Go figure. No question Nash would look terrific on a line with Claude Giroux, but is this really what Philadelphia should be focused on right now? Or is this more about blocking the rival Rangers? One Flyers source told ESPN.com on Saturday night that he didn’t feel his team was a front-runner for Nash but allowed that anything can change at a moment’s notice.

Los Angeles Kings: I’m pretty sure the Kings weren’t even on Nash’s famous short list when all this began, but no matter, L.A. GM Dean Lombardi has had a few conversations with the Jackets nonetheless. After all, list or no list, the Jackets need to determine what the best offer is out there, then see how Nash feels about it. The Kings have some pretty attractive assets, including young goalie Jonathan Bernier and blueliner Jack Johnson. More importantly, there’s incredible pressure on Lombardi to find a fix for his goal-starved team, which remains last in the NHL in offense. If he strikes out on Nash, Jeff Carter could be the consolation prize.

Toronto Maple Leafs: For the Jackets, the conversation has to start with impressive Toronto rookie blueliner Jake Gardiner as part of any package, which I believe is a total nonstarter for the Maple Leafs. Toronto believes Gardiner is on his way to becoming one of the league’s truly special defensemen and does not want to include him. No question Leafs GM Brian Burke covets Nash and would love to bring him back to his hometown (he's from suburban Brampton), but Toronto -- from what other league sources have told me -- is extremely hesitant to empty the organization cupboards in a deal that would cost the team its three or four top young assets after carefully restocking the shelves for four years. Now, if the Jackets would live with Luke Schenn as being the start of a package, Toronto would begin to warm up to that idea.

The Jackets, sources have confirmed, have also reached out to the likes of Vancouver, Boston and San Jose but those three clubs can’t really get involved until the offseason. Detroit also has interest but also would want to wait until June to get involved.

In the end, Nash might not move at all before next Monday’s 3 p.m. ET trade deadline, not unless the Jackets feel they get what they feel is fair value -- and not unless Nash, with his no-movement clause, signs off on it.

A June transaction would easily double the list of suitors in my opinion. But can the Jackets afford to wait that long? Can embattled Jackets GM Scott Howson wait that long?

We’ll find out over the next week whether one of the clubs mentioned above will pay a bigger price than it ever thought it would to get Nash or whether Columbus will drop its demands just a tad to get a deal done.