COLUMBUS, Ohio – Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson isn’t saying much about his quest to trade captain Rick Nash.
“We are working very hard” was about the limit of the conversation when Howson was reached Thursday. He also added that he is not facing a deadline to make a deal.
Just about everyone else believes that things should be heating up.
Nash, the Blue Jackets leader in most offensive categories, revealed midway through last season that he had asked to be traded. He has a no-trade clause in his contract, and has given the club a list of possible destinations.
It was thought that once top free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter signed (both with Minnesota earlier this week), interest in Nash would climb. Among the reported suitors are the New York Rangers, Detroit, San Jose, Carolina and Philadelphia.
Nash’s camp is not speaking, either. He has not addressed the situation publicly since the regular season ended and his Toronto-based agent, Joe Resnick, did not return a telephone message seeking comment Thursday.
Since this was an already sparse free-agent crop in terms of offensive firepower, Nash should be a prized commodity. It’s a question whether teams want to meet Howson’s asking price, believed to be a couple of top young NHL-ready players with a high draft pick or two.
There is much to like about Nash. He is one of only four players to score at least 30 goals in each of the past five seasons (Calgary’s Jarome Iginla, New Jersey’s Ilya Kovalchuk and Washington’s Alex Ovechkin are the others), and many of them are highlight-reel quality.
The quiet 28-year-old is also a model citizen, winning the NHL Foundation Player Award in 2009 for his commitment and service to charities in his community.
Nash is coming off a season in which he scored 30 goals and added 29 assists, but had a career worst minus-19 plus/minus. Of course, that number also has a lot to do with his teammates, and the Blue Jackets were far and away the worst team in the NHL last season.
When it was revealed in February he wanted to be traded, Nash curiously said he asked for a deal because he wanted to help the only NHL club for which he has ever played.
“I was informed by management that there was a rebuild, a reshape, in the team and I personally felt I could be a huge part of that toward bringing assets in,” he said. “In my view, that was the best thing for the team, the organization, and personally for my career.”
Nash has spent the off-season working out with teammates, shuttling between his summer home in Canada and playing golf in the Columbus area.
Despite making the playoffs only once with the Blue Jackets, in 2009, he has also been a sterling performer on the international stage. He had two goals and three assists in seven games as his native Canada won the Olympic gold medal in 2010 in Vancouver. He also has been a standout in the world championships and has scored a hat trick in the NHL All-Star game.
Along with Iginla and Kovalchuk, Nash shared the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer in 2004.
Nash has four years remaining on his contract, with a cap hit of $7.8 million. But the benefits could far outstrip the cost for a team that needs a big (6-foot-4, 219 pounds), durable forward with a knack for finding the net.
In February he was asked if he would consider sitting out if he were not traded.
“Ah, that’s something that we’ll cross when it comes,” he said. “But as of right now I’ll wear this jersey with pride, like I always have. I think I’ve always played my heart out for (the team’s owners). And I will continue to do that as long as I’m a Blue Jacket.”
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