Monday, 23 July 2012

Rick Nash is a Ranger, and Scott Howson is a lame duck

So Scott Howson is not the unreasonable, inflexible GM that we thought he was.  In reality, he's just as malleable as any other GM in crisis.  Bullying will do that to a man.  After months of pressure from the media and fans to deal with the Rick Nash situation, he caves to the pressure and deals him away when there was really no deadline or reason for him to act, especially with a lockout all but certain until January 1.  He could have waited for a training camp epiphany by an opposition GM, or an early-season injury to create more favourable conditions.  Instead, he fumbled the ball in the open field, with no one near him.

It's on days like this that I appreciate even more the work of Brian Burke, who dangled Tomas Kaberle for two seasons, kept enticing teams with a player, who he hyped as a frontline offensive defenceman, at training camp and early season and at the trade deadline and the draft, and kept pulling him back, while I howled at how he should dump the mug for a third-rounder and be done with it, but no, he persisted and kept up his carnival barker act until he got the Bruins to bite on the lure, and hauled in a first and second-round pick and a decent prospect for his scrap heap special.  He held on to his 'asset' like Wayne Gretzky would hold on to the puck behind the opposition net.  He'd sit there and wait and fake and fidget and pretend to go one way and wait some more, seconds elapsing until it seemed like minutes, until one of the defencemen would flinch and, against his better judgment and everything he'd be coached to do, give up and chase Mr. Gretzky around the net, which was precisely what he wanted.  No, Scott Howson played this one like Andrei Kostitsyn, taking the puck from the high slot and skating it towards the corner, then down along the boards, shepherded gently by checkers, all the way to the blue line, where he'd pass it into Josh Gorges' skates and cause a three-on-one breakout.

Make no mistake about it, the Blue Jackets lost this trade.  They gave up a crown jewel in Rick Nash, a player that every team craves and hopes to uncover in a draft.  In return for such a topline player, they received some nice assets, but nothing to show to the fans that there are better days ahead.  Brandon Dubinsky is a useful character player I'd love to have on my team, Artem Anisimov is a quality young forward with upside, Tim Erixon a decent defensive prospect.  They also get a low first-round draft pick, which is nice, but all these assets are a lot easier to find, through trade and the draft and free agency and a proper development system, than a player like Rick Nash.

The Rangers get a big strong marquis player with lots of skill, good enough to make the Olympic Team Canada roster twice so far as a no-brainer, and a lock to make it again for Sochi.  He's reaching the peak of his athletic ability, his prime years as a 28 year old.  He's signed to a contract that will keep him happy and on the Rangers' roster for years.  They get a finishing piece to a strong Cup-contending team.  It's as if they obtained a Double Jos Louis in a lunchtime trade for a celery stalk, a half a PBJ, an apple, and an apple to be named later, from a sucker kid who should have held out for a Mae West today and another one tomorrow, on top of the apples.  He could have made a PBJ himself when he got home, or found one still in the wrapper in the garbage, if he thought he really needed one.

Before the announcement, one trade I thought the Rick Nash deal could eventually compare to was the Joe Nieuwendyk trade from Calgary.  The Flames held a known quantity, a big and very skilled scoring winger that any coach would want on his team.  They flipped him to the Dallas Stars for a package that included a budding similar forward in the making in Jarome Iginla.  When that trade was made, critics were evenly divided as to which team had won the trade.  Those who thought Calgary had won admitted that losing Mr. Nieuwendyk was a big blow, but rightly analyzed that Jarome Iginla could turn out to be just as good and would lead the team for a decade, and most people agreed.  I kind of thought that the Blue Jackets would get a nice package of players to fill holes now, but would also land one similar future prospect that would be their leader for years.  They failed to do that.  Sure, their demands at the outset for two quality roster players and two blue-chip prospects and a high pick might have been sky high, but they crashed back to earth when they gave up on receiving at least one blue chipper.

We can't discount the negative role played by Rick Nash in this.  He's the one who asked to be dealt, not wanting to go through another rebuilding process in Columbus, which is fair enough, but at this point the Jackets should have insisted he waive his No Trade Clause and at most provide the team with five or ten teams he didn't want to go to.  This isn't the same kind of situation as the Canucks are embroiled in with Roberto Luongo, where they are nicely asking a player with a near-immovable contract to please allow them to trade him pretty please if it's okay and all.  Rick Nash made this bed for the Blue Jackets, they shouldn't have been the only ones to lie in it, or as Jamie McLennan would intone, the ones to now pay the piper.

All in all, this trade with the Rangers is disappointing for the Columbus Blue Jackets fans.  Also, combined with the Predators losing Ryan Suter and on the ropes with respect to retaining Shea Weber, the equal-opportunity NHL that Gary Bettman dreams about is far from a reality, if the weak sisters keep playing the role of farm teams for the prestige clubs.

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