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Reality, not fantasy: The Rick Nash trade

By Tom

The biggest news of the week came out on Monday with Rick Nash’s trade with defensive prospect Steven Delisle and a conditional 2013 third-round pick to the New York Rangers for Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Tim Erixon and the Rangers’ 2013 1st round pick.

In fact, it could be argued that this was the only real news of the week (Sorry, Ryan Murray…but congratulations on the entry-level deal).  Not surprisingly, the trade has consumed most of my hockey-related reflection this week and warrants further commentary.  But what to write about?

I’m not familiar with the ex-Rangers beyond their reputation, a couple playoff games where raw rookie Chris Kreider looked like the best player on the ice and Anisimov’s silly rifle-shot post-goal celebration.

In addition, Steph Greegor covered the team perspective on the trade quite well with her post-trade article.

I’m also not one to do depth chart engineering at this point of the offseason.  Actually, I did think about it while Mrs. DBJ and I watched a DVR’d episode of our off-season television fixation, “MasterChef”.  Then I saw one of the home cooks serve a half-baked profiterole to the judges and watched Gordon Ramsey and Joe Bastianich crush her dreams of cookbook-writing glory…and I saw the light.  I wouldn’t dare present a depth chart on a half-baked roster.  The team is still looking to upgrade the roster, right?  Right?  (Please?  The Blue Jackets still need so much more scoring and a top-level goaltender…)

That leaves the other half of the equation, and I’m not going to spend time talking about an ECHL defenseman without a compelling reason.  So we’re down to Rick Nash. 

I gather that Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson held out on accepting just any trade because, as he put it back at the 2012 trade deadline in February, he needed “a deal that would provide us with cornerstone pieces to help us to compete for a Stanley Cup championship in the coming years.”  It makes sense.  Having traded away the likes of Jeff Carter, Jakub Voracek and Antoine Vermette over the past couple of seasons, Howson essentially was down to his last bullet and had to hit a bullseye if the Blue Jackets were to make a fast rebound out of the NHL basement.

So he sat back and waited for something to develop.  And waited.  And let the trade deadline pass.  And let the NHL entry draft pass.  And let the opening of free agency pass.  All in the hopes of landing an optimal deal.  Nothing developed.

All along, the media and fan frenzy over Nash’s availability on the open market centered on what Howson could expect.  Two schools of thought developed.

One camp recalled Nash’s Rocket Richard Trophy performance (for leading the NHL in goal scoring, won by Nash eight years ago) and his five All-Star Game appearances.  His middling performance over the past couple of years was less his fault than that of the team assembled around him.  He was a good situation away from a breakout and a return to NHL superstardom.

The other camp looked at Nash’s recent productivity - 67, 66 and 59 points in the last three seasons – and tried to reconcile his good but not great numbers against his $7.8 million annual salary cap hit.  Was this level of performance worthy of the sixth-highest cap hit in the entire league?

It has been a classic case of wishful thinking vs. hard-headed skepticism.  Howson kept waiting, hoping that the former would surface from a (Nash-approved) team that either had stars in their eyes or was, well, desperate to inject a unique talent into the lineup on a wing and a prayer.  All the scuttlebutt coming out of potential trade partners suggested the latter.

To be fair, I would have been floored to hear a trade partner talking in a manner that boosted Nash’s trade value.  That’s self-defeating on the part of the other team.

So what happened?  In the end, I’ll suggest that my DBJ blog partner Gallos was onto something with his “Best of DBJ” post.  While he missed on the prediction that Nash would play next season in Columbus, he pegged the trade partners’ philosophies on Nash when he said:

…no one will give us what you are worth to this franchise.  They want market value, and you are over priced versus your performance.

What was Nash worth to the CBJ?  Something more resembling the starry-eyed view of the All-World Game Changer.

What was market value?  About $7.8 million with about 60 points of productivity…which is what the combination of Dubinsky, Anisimov and Erixon delivered last season, both on the ice and at the bank.

Rick Nash was traded based upon the reality of what he has been, not what he could be.  It was fun to dream, to think that Nash would yield the type of deal that would give the CBJ a “Nash replacement” – a cornerstone player and instant All-Star – but the hard truth was…well, let’s leave it with Gallos:

You didn’t earn your salary last year.  You weren’t in the all-star game because you didn’t deserve to be.  You’re not the only one that had a rotten year in 2011-12, but it can be truly said that you were the leader of those who had a rotten year.  So you were overpaid by a couple of million last year.  You did score your 30th goal in the last game of the season, so you did preserve that statistic.  But no GM wants to pay north of $7 million for a guy who scores his 30th goal on the last day of the season.

That Howson was able to find a taker considering this cold shower of reality is impressive.  That no team was willing to engage in a fantasy trade is not surprising.

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