By Stu Hackel
Amidst all the deals that were made leading up to the NHL deadline (including the 16 trades and two waiver claims on Monday), the ones that didn’t happen prompted the biggest reaction, causing some to declare the day boring — which it was by some standards.
But it wasn’t boring in Columbus, even though Rick Nash remains a Blue Jacket. The fallout from that will probably put more focus on that franchise than it has ever had, and not for a good reason.
Here’s GM Scott Howson and his senior advisor Craig Patrick speaking to reporters on Monday after the deadline had passed.
Howson unapologetically explained that he wasn’t trading Nash for less than the high price he’s seeking. He had reportedly asked San Jose to include Logan Couture in their offer, but the Sharks said no. The Rangers’ final offer, which Columbus Dispatch writer Aaron Portzline said was Brandon Dubinsky, prospects Tim Erixon, J.T. Miller and Christian Thomas, plus a first-round draft pick, was — if accurate – also not enough (with some saying Columbus wanted New York’s top prospect, Chris Kreider, in the deal).
Larry Brooks in The New York Post had the Columbus counter-offer as Dubinsky, plus either Ryan McDonagh or Michael Del Zotto, plus either Derek Stepan or Carl Hagelin, plus Kreider, plus a 2012 first-round selection. Wow.
So Nash won’t be going anywhere. More teams may have more to offer around the NHL Entry Draft in June.
But when Howson said it was Nash who had requested a trade, it was an astonishing statement for a few reasons.
On Tuesday morning after practice, Nash told reporters, “When management said they’d do a rebuild, I felt I could be a huge part of the rebuilding by bringing them assets. I believe in ownership; I believe in Scott Howson. I love the city and I love the fans. That won’t change.”
Still, Howson’s disclosure got people talking that the GM had just skewered his team’s captain.
Nash is well-liked by his teammates, by ownership and by management. He is, after all, the leader on the club, the face of the franchise. From all reports, it seems that he had always taken that status to heart. And it was thought that Nash would not make a request to be moved.
It was something of a surprise, then, when John Shannon of SportsNet reported in early February that “friends of Nash…claim that Rick is very unhappy with the way the franchise is going and realizes it will take five more years to rebuild, again. Nash is now telling people close to him that he would entertain being moved, but still will not be the one who asks for a trade.”
But Nash wasn’t averse to dropping hints and it’s easy to drop hints in the hockey world. His friends provided one, and Nash had done so even before Shannon’s item when he told Aaron Portzline of The Columbus Dispatch a month earlier that while he loved the team and the city, he would not let the no-movement clause in his contract stand in the way of a deal that would improve the team.
The fact was, however, that Nash requested a trade not long after he spoke to Portzline and before his friends told Shannon that he would not ask for one. Howson said on Monday that Nash approached him in mid- to late-January: “It took us a while to digest it. It took us a while to think about it, discuss it internally and move forward with it.”
Even when Renaud Lavoie of RDS broke the story that the Blue Jackets were making Nash available, however, most figured it was, at most, the “hint” route that Shannon described Nash and the team taking to get to that point, that a trade was the club’s idea. And when Portzline followed up on Lavoie’s story, he reported, “A source has told The Dispatch that Nash has not requested a trade.”
Someone was apparently covering up for Nash, protecting him, which is understandable to an extent, because the player’s image would be tarnished. But it also wasn’t true.
The Blue Jackets didn’t come out and admit they were accommodating Nash’s trade request, either. Everyone wanted to keep this aspect of the story quiet. Why this inconvenient truth was never spoken of prior to Monday can only be guessed. We’ve written before about the prevalent culture on hockey teams, the importance of unity, of no one putting themselves or their personal interests above that of the team. No one — not the team, the player, his agent — wanted Rick Nash, the captain, to be seen as breaking ranks when things in Columbus were not going well.
Even late last week, when Nash’s agent, Joe Resnick, broke his silence to talk to TSN, it wasn’t obvious that Nash had asked to be moved. Resnick said he hoped Howson could get a deal done quickly, adding that Nash wouldn’t be expanding the short list of teams he’d agree to go to in the offseason, the clear implication being that Nash didn’t want to drag this process out, that he was impatient to get on with his career now — and play for a team that is going to the playoffs. But it was still all thought to be at the club’s initiation.
Then came Howson’s press conference. Not only had Nash asked for the deal, but Howson informed Nash before that conference that he was going to make that public information. Why? Because, Howson, said, “It was the right thing to do. It’s the truthful thing to do. We wanted to make sure everyone understood where everyone was on this issue, because it’s a very important issue for our franchise.”
Well, it may be important, and it may be the truth, but it also seems to have blown up in everyone’s faces. Nash is now seen as a traitor by a segment of fans. Portzline’s latest blog entry wonders if Nash should remain the Blue Jackets’ captain. And Howson, who delivered the news, is seen by many as trashing his biggest asset. On a TSN panel segment (video), Aaron Ward said Nash had been a good soldier for a long time with a franchise that never went anywhere, never got him complementary players, and now he’s being “run over in the court of public opinion.”
On Ottawa radio Team 1200 Tuesday morning (audio), Pierre McGuire revealed that prior to the Devils-Rangers game televised on NBCSN, “Last night, during the warmup, I gotta tell you, Ranger players were coming over to me and saying ‘Did you see how Scott Howson threw Rick Nash under the bus?’”
It is, unfortunately, a Jack Nicholson moment.
The truth, which lots of people are having trouble handling, is that Nash wanted to jump ship. “When management said they were going to make a rebuild and a reshape, I thought the best thing for the team and for the organization would be to get assets for me, and I thought it would be best for my career,” he said Tuesday.
Regardless of what is true and what is not, perception here is everything. Ward pointed out that he believes free agents are going to take notice of how Nash was treated and be reluctant to sign with the Blue Jackets. Nash may now be tarnished, but the franchise, already teetering on edge of that canyon where many of its actions could be considered clownish, is now in danger of falling in.
Howson may be “committed to a competitive culture and high standard of expectation for everyone in our organization,” as he said yesterday. But the way everyone handled the truth of Nash’s intentions may have turned the interval between now and the June draft into a four-month soap opera, The Trading Of Rick.
“This could’ve, and would’ve and probably should’ve got ugly at some point,” Bob McKenzie said on the TSN segment. “But it probably didn’t need to get ugly now. They were on a collision course this summer…Whether they can get this thing squared away without blood and guts and everything else on the road remains to be seen.”
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