The Aftermath of the Rick Nash Trade
(Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)
By Tim Lucarelli (@tlucarelli)
This past week, the long anticipated trade of Rick Nash finally came to fruition. Due to months of anticipation, the final return – Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Tim Erixon, and the New York Rangers’ 2013 first-round pick – left some fans wanting more, and with the recent success of the Blue Jackets (or lack thereof), Columbus’ GM Scott Howson has been under the microscope. This article will take a deeper look at the Nash trade and the events surrounding it to see just how well Howson did his job.
Heading into January 2012, Howson’s gamble of acquiring former Philadelphia Flyers center Jeff Carter was not working out very well to say the least. The hope was that Columbus would now have two superstars. The reality was that they had one disgruntled, unhappy superstar and another who was beginning to embrace the idea of jumping ship as well. The Carter saga ultimately led to the exit of Jakub Voracek and a first round pick (Sean Couturier), the addition of Jack Johnson and a first round pick (2013), and a last-placed finish in the standings.
Shortly before Carter was moved out of town is about the time that Nash’s name began circulating in the rumor mill. Even from the beginning, Nash always had a short list of approved teams to which he would accept a trade, severely handcuffing Howson from receiving the type of return that he could have received if he had an unlimited number of NHL suitors to work with. Howson certainly swung for the fences, and with nobody willing to pay his price, Nash was not moved at the trade deadline in February.
Thus began the offseason rebuild. Goaltending had always been an issue, so Howson did what he could to improve. He acquired the young and promising Sergei Bobrovsky from Philadelphia, then drafted both the top Swedish goalie in Oscar Dansk and the top Finnish goalie in Joonas Korpisalo. With these moves, the organization became much more stable than it had in previous years.
While Nash had not yet been traded, Howson was still a busy man. He knew that the one trade of Rick Nash would not be enough to make the Jackets a contender, so he began assembling pieces with more subtle moves. He brought in Nick Foligno from Ottawa for Marc Methot, trading a relative strength for a weakness. He signed Jonathan Audy-Marchessault, formerly a New York Rangers prospect who became an AHL All Star in his first professional season. He signed Adrian Aucoin to bring in a veteran presence to the blue line, which previously consisted of players all under the age of 27. He re-signed Curtis McElhinney to keep some NHL experience in the pipeline should injury occur.
Then finally, Rick Nash was traded. From a fan’s standpoint, the top concern with the return was the glaring absence of a superstar or superstar-in-the-making, but when taking into account the subtle moves Howson had already made, Columbus appears to be vastly improved for the coming season. Looking at the roster post-Nash, it’s clear that the Columbus offense is more balanced, which will allow players like Derick Brassard, Ryan Johansen, Cam Atkinson, Artem Anisimov, R.J. Umberger, and Brandon Dubinsky to elevate their game to the next level. The defense is young, but much improved from last season with promising players such as Ryan Murray, Tim Erixon, John Moore, and David Savard joining the core of Jack Johnson, James Wisniewski, Fedor Tytutin, and Nikita Nikitin, and the goaltending is stronger than it has been in years.
Looking back at all of the moves as a whole, how did Howson know exactly which areas to improve in non-Nash moves? After all, perhaps he could have filled many of these voids in the actual Nash trade. In this article, dating back to February 27(right around the trade deadline), Steve Zipay had this to say:
“Columbus was said to be insistent on acquiring players that the Rangers deemed untouchable: center Derek Stepan or No. 1 prospect Chris Kreider…as well as defensemen Ryan McDonagh or Michael Del Zotto. The Rangers were believed to be offering Brandon Dubinsky, defenseman Tim Erixon, a prospect such as J.T. Miller or Christian Thomas, and a No. 1 pick.”
After all of the media attention and countless phone calls, Howson’s hands were tied. He had a limited number of teams to negotiate with, and despite his best efforts, he knew the type of return he was going to get for Nash – ultimately the Rangers’ offer from February was almost identical to the final trade in July. Rather than accept the offer – which he felt was too low – Howson took his time, thought about the ramifications, and did everything he could to address the surrounding pieces of the organization that would not be addressed in the Nash trade, something he had failed to do the previous summer when acquiring Carter. Considering the limitations he faced and the massive amount of media spotlight constantly surrounding him, Howson improved his organization the best he could and made the very best of a unique situation.