Monday, July 23, 2012
Updated: July 24, 7:52 AM ET
That's it? Jackets miss on Nash trade
By Scott Burnside
Maybe Tim Erixon will blossom into a stellar puck-moving defenseman with good size who will help spearhead a generation of breathtaking Columbus Blue Jacket attacks.
Maybe Brandon Dubinsky will become the game-altering power forward he showed flashes of being with the New York Rangers.
Maybe former Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash will fall flat on Broadway and Columbus will be better for having dumped his highly paid, disgruntled butt.
"Maybe," as it turns out, is the perpetual currency of the Blue Jackets, who after months of trying to hit the proverbial home run in moving the unhappy Nash ended up with, what, an infield single? Maybe.
After trying to pry significant pieces out of a number of teams -- including San Jose and, for the longest time, the Rangers -- Columbus GM Scott Howson settled for far, far less in acquiring Dubinsky, Erixon, Artem Anisimov and a first-round pick. The Blue Jackets also sent a conditional third-round pick to New York along with a minor league defenseman.
Not one of the departing Rangers would be remotely considered a core player.
Anisimov tops out at 20-goal potential and can play the wing as well as center. He's a big body and a useful player but hardly a difference-maker.
Dubinsky scored 24 goals two years ago and looked like he would form a formidable duo for many years with current captain Ryan Callahan. But Dubinsky slumped to 10 goals this past season and fell out of favor with Rangers coach John Tortorella. Held without a goal in the first round of the playoffs against Ottawa, Dubinsky was injured in Game 7 versus the Senators and missed almost all of the next two rounds, suiting up for just two games in the Eastern Conference finals against New Jersey.
The first-round draft pick the Blue Jackets will receive, given the Rangers' likelihood of finishing near the top of the Eastern Conference standings again, will give Columbus a player selected somewhere between 20th and 30th overall, hardly a given in terms of finding an everyday NHLer let alone someone who might make a difference.
And then there's Erixon, who was originally drafted by Calgary with the 23rd overall pick in 2009 but didn't want to sign with the Flames and was traded to the Rangers. New York used him for 18 games last season (he had zero goals, two assists), and he collected 33 points (three goals, 30 assists) in 52 games for the Rangers' AHL affiliate in Hartford.
Or, if you're a long-suffering Blue Jackets fan (and is there any other kind?), it's more like: That's it?
Yup, that's it.
A team that has staggered from one personnel blunder to another and finally found itself with a franchise player in Nash, who'd had enough of the mediocrity and the fumbling around in the dark, has merely plugged a couple of holes on a perpetually leaky vessel.
The saga may be over after Monday's trade. But the stain left on Rick Nash -- the Blue Jackets' most important player, their leader and captain and the most identifiable figure since the team's inception -- as a result of forcing his way out of Columbus will linger for a long time to come, especially since Nash limited the number of teams where he would go given his no-trade clause.
Credit to Rangers GM Glen Sather, who held fast at the trade deadline when Howson was asking for the moon for Nash. Sather refused to move core pieces like Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh. Come the postseason, there was second-guessing when the Rangers couldn't generate enough offense to sneak past the Devils into what would have been their first Cup finals appearance since 1994.
Whether Nash would have made a difference in the 2012 playoffs is of course a moot point. But what is not moot is that the Rangers have bolstered their arsenal with a former Rocket Richard Trophy winner as the league's most prolific goal-scorer (tied, actually, with 41 in 2003-04) who has scored at least 30 goals in seven of his past eight NHL seasons playing with a perpetually talent-challenged Blue Jackets team.
True, Nash has played in just four NHL playoff games, which happens to be the sum total of playoff games in Columbus franchise history. All of them were losses, so who knows whether Nash has the stuff of a winner. And Nash still has six years left on a deal that will cost the Rangers an average of $7.8 million annually against the salary cap. So this deal isn't without its risks for the Rangers.
But the 28-year-old was excellent at the Vancouver Olympics, and Nash's playing with a skilled center like Brad Richards should make the Rangers a formidable foe next season whenever the league and its players get around to deciding on a new collective bargaining agreement. And the fact that the Rangers didn't have to give up a top everyday player in the deal minimizes that risk significantly.
The Blue Jackets?
Hard to see this deal making them any better in the short term than they were this past season, when they were dead last in the NHL by a country mile.
Instead, a team that has proven to be the worst-run team on the circuit since entering the league (we no longer count Atlanta since the Thrashers were banished to Winnipeg after a similar run of futility) continues to try to exist on that most unreliable of currencies: the big fat maybe.