COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Columbus Blue Jackets have kept their captain—for now.
Rick Nash, the biggest name available leading up to the NHL trading deadline, will finish the season in Columbus despite asking general manager Scott Howson to be traded.
No one met the Blue Jackets’ price.
“The price was high and I don’t apologize for that,” Howson told reporters at Nationwide Arena.
Howson revealed that Nash requested a trade some time in late January, a move he said took a while to digest.
“I was surprised,” Howson said of the initial request. “When you hear those words, it has a lasting impact on you. You have a lot of emotions.
“He obviously wants a change,” he added. “He’s been here a long time and given a lot to this franchise.”
But the GM, whose team has the league’s worst record, added that the Blue Jackets “don’t have to trade Rick Nash.”
Howson stayed in touch with Nash via phone and text Monday and said that their conversations have always remained amicable. They spoke for about five minutes after the deadline.
Now the focus turns to potentially dealing Nash in the summer, when the market might be bigger.
“I had many teams express that would be a lot more interested in the off-season,” Howson said.
Nash practised but did not speak to the media Monday.
The San Jose Sharks and New York Rangers were considered the front-runners to land Nash but ultimately, the asking price, which Howson suggested might have risen as the deadline approached, was too steep.
The general manager—flanked by Craig Patrick, now a senior adviser for the Blue Jackets—said he essentially spoke to every team in the league to get an idea of what Nash could bring in.
“I don’t think it ever got too frantic for us,” Howson said of his day. “It wasn’t as hectic as it can be or as I’ve seen it.”
Nash, the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, has 21 goals and 22 assists with a minus-23 rating in 62 games for the Blue Jackets this season.
Nash, 27, is signed through the 2014-15 season and carries an annual salary cap hit of $7.8 million. His contract includes a no-movement clause.
Howson spoke glowingly of Nash’s character and how classy he’s been throughout the discussions. He said he hoped fans won’t react negatively to the fact that Nash requested a deal.
“I hope not,” Howson said. “He’s our captain.”
News that Nash was staying drew a generally positive response in the Arena District, home to numerous bars and restaurants around Nationwide Arena.
“I like Nash,” Dan Chen, 28, said on the patio of R-Bar. “I think he’s awesome. Given how the season has gone, you have to still sell tickets. I’m glad he’s staying.”
Kiron Ramgasway, 32, agreed.
“Rick Nash IS the Blue Jackets,”he said.“He’s the face of the franchise and (trading him) it’s not a good idea.”
Howson did make one deal Monday, sending centre Sammy Pahlsson to the Vancouver Canucks for two fourth-round draft picks this year and prospect defenceman Taylor Ellington.
“It’s a tough time for us in Columbus,”Pahlsson told TSN.“It’s not a lot of fun when you’re No. 30 in the league.”
The Blue Jackets got the ball rolling last Wednesday when they shipped centre Antoine Vermette to the Phoenix Coyotes for a second-round pick in this year’s NHL draft and a fifth-rounder in 2013.
Columbus then traded Jeff Carter and his hefty contract to the Los Angeles Kings for defenceman Jack Johnson and a first-round pick either this summer or in 2013.
“We’ll have a lot of darts to throw at the board,” Howson said of the accumulation of draft picks.
Said interim head coach Todd Richards: “Our whole objective is to make our business better and I think Scott has done a good job in acquiring those assets.”
Richards said his players have maintained a professional approach despite all the recent trade talk.
“Our room may be a little bit different come tomorrow morning but I’m expecting the same thing out of the players. I think the players will show up—again, having spent enough time around them, they’re professionals.”