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Columbus signs star winger Rick Nash to eight-year contract extension

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Rick Nash and the Blue Jackets have reached agreement on an eight-year contract extension that will keep the star winger with the team through the 2017-18 season.

The team confirmed the signing in a release Friday. A source told The Canadian Press the deal is worth US$62.4 million and will kick in after next season. Nash will make $7 million in 2009-10.

"Rick made a significant statement to Columbus and for Columbus in terms of how he feels about playing here," Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson said. "He loves Columbus; he never wanted to leave. That's what made me so optimistic all along that we could sign him to an extension."

Nash, who would have been an unrestricted free agent after next season, set career and team highs last season with his 79 points (40 goals, 39 assists) in 78 games in leading Columbus to its first trip to the playoffs in the franchise's eighth season. It was not just a coincidence that it was also Nash's first full season as captain.

The 25-year-old Brampton, Ont., native tied for the NHL lead in goals with 41 in the 2003-04 season. He was not immediately available to comment on the new contract.

There had been speculation that the Toronto Maple Leafs, among several others, would have been prime buyers for his services if he had entered the free-agent market next summer.

Howson said it was important to note that the deal still allows the Blue Jackets enough wiggle room in their budget to get or keep other quality players to play with Nash and improve the team.

"He allowed us some flexibility," Howson said. "He's aware that by signing this contract that other players will be able to get paid as well."

The Blue Jackets made two free-agent signings on Wednesday: centre Samuel Pahlsson and goalie Mathieu Garon. Pahlsson adds another experienced puck-handler to the lineup and Garon will serve as a backup and mentor to Calder Trophy-winner Steve Mason.

The club, which already has touted young players such as Antoine Vermette, Derick Brassard, Jake Voracek and Nikita Filatov, is still in the market for help on the blue line and perhaps another centre. Nash's signing might make it easier to get players to commit to the team.

Nash, Columbus' first overall pick in the 2002 draft, is the Blue Jackets' all-time leader in goals (194) and points (355) in 441 career games. The four-time NHL all-star has led the club in goals for the past five seasons.

At last month's NHL Awards in Las Vegas, he was named the winner of the NHL Foundation Player Award in recognition of his charitable work and commitment to the community.

On Thursday, Nash was one of 46 players invited to the Canadian Olympic hockey team's summer orientation camp in Calgary at the end of August.

-With files from The Canadian Press


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