The hockey world received a jolt when news of the Rick Nash trade broke Monday afternoon. Another of the league’s small-market franchises took a beating, days after Nashville cornerstone Shea Weber signed an offer sheet with Philadelphia (though it was matched Tuesday by the Predators).
The Rangers, who walk away from this trade with the best player, definitely won the Nash deal, but was it the best Columbus could have hoped for?
Offense and defense takes a look at the deal from both sides of the equation, while goaltending asks “What of Steve Mason?”
The moment Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson revealed Nash had asked to be traded during the GM’s post-trade deadline press conference, his bargaining power went out with the bath water. It was an unprompted, unexpected admission and put time on the side of those dealing with Howson. Why would he admit Nash’s request at that point in time? If he was trying to send a notice to all the top contenders that the Nash market would be wide open come summer, and perhaps ignite a bidding war, he severely misread the market.
All along the Rangers were considered the favorites to land Nash, but the reported asking price was too high. There were constant mentions of Chris Kreider, Michael Del Zotto and Ryan McDonagh, but you knew the Blue Jackets weren’t getting all three and probably not even two of them. But to not even get one of them in a trade for your franchise cornerstone is what the kids today call an “epic fail.”
The knock on Nash is he isn’t capable of carrying the load, but he doesn’t need to in New York. Jeff Carter didn’t have the best overall playoffs for the Kings, but he scored a few timely goals and having that threat on the ice takes attention away from other, more consistently dangerous players. Nash can have this same impact on the Rangers lineup and brings more to the table than Carter.
From the Rangers perspective, they didn’t lose anything that sets the current roster back and that’s the key. The team adds a goal-scoring force and doesn’t even lose depth, as Kreider will be on the team from the beginning of the regular season this year. New York even shaves a hair off its cap hit. Say what you will about Nash declining, but his best attribute, goal-scoring, is the most important one for a forward to possess. Rangers win.
Though not getting one of the big three is disappointing, did the Blue Jackets really get fleeced? It would have been difficult for Columbus to get any return that would have made the suffocating franchise look good – not just because Nash requested a departure, but because star players rarely get moved for an incredible return.
Jeff Carter scored 115 goals in his final three seasons with Philadelphia vs. Nash’s 95 in his final three seasons with Columbus. Carter was dealt for Jakub Voracek and first- and third-rounders, then again for Jack Johnson. The return on Nash was certainly better and, considering the weak bargaining position Howson was in, Columbus didn’t get manhandled.
Look, the team finished last in the NHL and had to trade away its only star player, so a full-on rebuild was coming. From the outset, a trade was about making this team marginally better right now, but it was more about setting it up for a couple of years down the road. So it really doesn’t matter if Columbus is worse off today because that’s how it was going to be in any alternate universe.
If there’s one thing all Torontonians have learned recently about the NHL, it’s how valuable big-bodied centers with two-way potential are. Even if the Leafs’ acquisition of Roberto Luongo is the next blockbuster domino to fall, there will still be this void down the middle of the lineup. It’s something Columbus has lacked and certainly improved with this transaction. The ceilings for both Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov are up for debate, though neither will ever exceed complementary status. Still, their arrivals give the Jackets a little depth and a desirable positional skill set to work with.
But perhaps the most important player in this trade from Columbus’ standpoint is Tim Erixon, who was New York’s top-ranked prospect in THN’s 2012 Future Watch and who’s coming off a season of 33 points in 52 games with the American League’s Connecticut Whale. He adds a ton of potential to a blueline that already has top prospect Ryan Murray and other intriguing pieces such as John Moore and David Savard, plus Johnson, who will likely be the new captain. The defense corps is Columbus’ strength and follows a build-from-the-blueline philosophy shared by some of the league’s top teams, with the Rangers standing as the best example.
Goaltending remains a huge problem for the Jackets, but the Nash trade was never going to solve all their issues. The acquisition of two big centers and another young, intriguing defensive talent is about more than what the names Dubinsky, Anisimov and Erixon mean right now – it’s about building all over again and starting at two desirable positions, without having any bargaining power. Did the Jackets lose? Yes. Did they get raked over the coals? Not so much.
The Jackets are rumored to be interested in Kings goalie Jonathan Bernier, but you’d think any move involving the 23-year-old would mean Steve Mason was heading out.
Mason has been awful since his Calder Trophy campaign in 2009, but with such a small NHL sample size to analyze from Bernier, there’s no guarantee he’d help. There’s also no guarantee Sergei Bobrovsky will be a stable answer. There’s also no guarantee Mason’s career as a starter is over.
This week’s question: Should the Blue Jackets completely bail on Mason?
Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com’s web editor. His column appears regularly only on THN.com.
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