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NHL Trade Speculation: Should the Columbus Blue Jackets Trade Rick Nash?

Franklin SteeleAnalyst IISeptember 27, 2016

NHL Trade Speculation: Should the Columbus Blue Jackets Trade Rick Nash?

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    It may be time for the Columbus Blue Jackets to move their most precious asset. It may be time for the team to do the unthinkable. It may be time for the Jackets to trade Rick Nash.

    Columbus has tried everything to ice a competitive hockey team in the NHL. And nothing has worked. They failed to build an outstanding hockey team through the draft, and their attempt to Frankenstein a team together during the offseason isn't working.

    Calling this idea a knee-jerk reaction to a season that isn't even 10 games old yet is short-sighted. Columbus hasn't had a poor hockey team for one season. They've had a poor hockey team for all but one season.

    And Rick Nash has been the only constant—right there at the center of it all.

Rick Nash May Not Be Fit for the "C"

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    Rick Nash has been the captain of the Columbus Blue Jackets since 2008 and I still don't know what kind of leader he is. After three years, I don't feel there should be a shroud of mystery around a player in his position.

    Is he just the strong and silent type? Perhaps, but I doubt it. Those types of captains tend to be reliable. They don't take shifts off. Rick Nash is invisible just as often as he is noticeable.

    Don't get me wrong: when he's good, he's outstanding. But what is he known for around the league outside of being a consistent 60- or 70-point guy? Outside of being the loan representative of the Blue Jackets at the All-Star game, the answer is nothing, really.

    Nasher isn't known as a ferocious backchecker, or an all-three-zones kind of guy. He's known as a point producer, but he isn't even that outstanding when it comes to that.

    When you look around the league at the top-tier squads, you'll recognize their captain, and what it is exactly that he brings to the ice. In Nash's three-year tenure, I've never read about him closing his team up in the locker room and letting them have it.

    I've never heard him say anything remotely interesting about how disappointed he is for his team to be on the end of losing streak after losing streak. Never has a "source close to the Jackets" revealed that Nasher had pinned a teammate against a wall and got in his face.

    I've never so much as seen Nash grimace or show physical emotion when his team loses. Over and over again.

    Perhaps none of this is his style, and that's fine. But if he's not willing to do these things, then maybe he isn't cut from the captain's cloth. Vinny Prospal has sounded more captain-like this season. That just shouldn't be the case.

A Fresh Start Could Be a Good Thing for Nash

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    Losing takes a toll mentally, regardless of who you are. Rick Nash is no different. After eight years of futility and not a single playoff win on his resume, you couldn't totally blame the guy for slowly checking out.

    I'm not implying that it would be a conscious choice. Just that not all athletes have the mental fortitude of Rocky, and that Nash may have a bit of trouble getting motivated after never seeing a direct result from his work.

    He's a professional. I get that, but he's still human. Can you imagine going to your job every day for eight years and never once getting a promotion or a pat on the back? That's how Nash probably feels. Speculation on my part, obviously—I have never talked to the guy.

    However, I'd say a fresh start could be a boon for Nash.

A Fresh Start Could Also Benefit the Blue Jackets

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    The Columbus Blue Jackets selected Rick Nash with the first No. 1 pick in the history of the team. He was to be the squad's cornerstone around which to build. As the only lights-out draft selection that the Jackets have made, he's been just that.

    However, being the foundation of a crumbling building and being the foundation of a towering skyscraper are two totally different things.

    At every trade deadline, the team popped up in speculation surrounding centers such as Jason Spezza—"we need a No. 1 center for Nash" was the common refrain. The team finally got just that in Jeff Carter.

    The Blue Jackets have been built around Nash. While it isn't odd to see a team build around a drafted player, it is particularly rare to see a successful squad constructed around a winger. Look around the league for the proof.

    Teams that use a center, defenseman or goaltender seem to do better than teams that are constructed around a winger. I would argue that every Stanley Cup winner since 2000 has been built this way. I'm not saying that wingers aren't important pieces of a team.

    What I am saying is that it's uncommon for a top-end (playoff) team to center around a flank.

    The Boston Bruins were constructed around Tim Thomas and Zdeno Chara. That squad won't be remembered for their fireworks on offense but for their stingy defense and clutch goaltending. 

    In Chicago, the Blackhawks have Patrick Kane on the wing, but he isn't alone as the guy. He's got Jonathan Toews right there with him at center.

    Pittsburgh is a center-first team that was built around a trio of dominating pivots. Ditto for the Detroit Red Wings.

    Again, I'm not saying that wingers aren't important players. I am saying they are rarely the sole focus and center of a team's DNA.

    In trading Rick Nash away the Blue Jackets would be able to get away from this type of blueprint—a blueprint that hasn't worked for them and doesn't appear to work anywhere else. They'd be free to reevaluate and reconstruct without worrying about "the golden child."

Nash Still Carries Tremendous Trade Value as an Asset

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    When I think about Rick Nash staying in Columbus with the Blue Jackets for his entire career, I can't help but compare that arc to Jarome Iginla.

    Both Nash and Iggy are remarkable talents around which their teams have been built. And both are among the classiest guys in the league. And odds are, given their current circumstances, that neither will win a Stanley Cup during their careers.

    It may seem like a stretch to say that the Jackets won't win a Cup within the next 10 to 12 years, but think about how Cup champions are generally brought about. They tend to learn through failure at more than one level in the playoffs.

    There is usually at least one close call to motivate the team to get to the top of the mountain. But the Jackets haven't even won a single playoff game yet or come close to winning a division. At least Iginla and his Calgary Flames had a shot at the Cup.

    Now trade rumors surround Iginla as everyone except the Flames' brass recognizes that they are in for a long, hard rebuild. The logic is simple: move the aging player while he still has respectable value.

    Nash is in a much different boat. He isn't in the twilight of a brilliant career. He's just entering his prime at 27 years old and would fetch a much more impressive return than if the Jackets waited until he was 34 to finally move him.

    He carries tremendous trade value right now—if the Philadelphia Flyers can move Mike Richards for that kind of ransom, it seems reasonable to think that Nash would fetch similar value. Trade partners willing to give up what the LA Kings did are rare, but I believe they are out there.

    Nash wouldn't be a rental, and the Jackets could get a huge boost in an on-the-fly reconstruction by moving him sooner rather than later.

The Columbus Blue Jackets Have Tried Everything Else

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    The Columbus Blue Jackets have literally tried everything else outside of trading away their captain to put a winning team out on the ice.

    They were extremely patient after getting a team in the first place. No one in the front office or GM's sky booth seemed to be in a hurry to put a winner on the ice—and that's an attitude that still permeates to this day, but I digress.

    Instead of going out and trading away high draft picks and making big free-agent signings, the Jackets attempted to build through the draft. However, few teams in recent NHL memory have drafted worse than Columbus.

    Rostislav Klesla was selected fourth overall in 2000. Pascal Leclaire was selected eighth overall in 2001. Rick Nash was selected first overall in 2002. Nikolai Zherdev, Alexandre Picard, Gilbert Brule, Derick Brassard, Jakub Voracek and Nikita Filatov round out the first-round busts for the Jackets.

    There are several solid NHL players in that list, but given their draft positions—all of those selections were top 10 picks—the Jackets' success rate of drafting top-end players is nonexistent. The string of failures that have gone through Columbus is somewhat mind-boggling.

    After season after season based on the premise of potential, the Jackets decided to throw money at their problems during the offseason. That has worked out for them about as well as expected. Without a solid foundation to build on top of, free agents are just big names with bigger contracts.

    It's too early to call the Jeff Carter/James Wisniewski/Mark Dekanich era in Columbus a failure. So far it hasn't looked very good. They kicked off the 2011-2012 NHL season with the worst season-starting losing streak in team history.

    Ouch.

    That leaves trading away key players as the only option left on the table for the Blue Jackets as far as unexplored paths to success go.

Tying It All Together

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    I like Rick Nash. I honestly do. Wondering aloud if dealing him isn't some kind of grudge I have against him. To me, though, it's just becoming more and more clear that the Columbus Blue Jackets aren't winning a lot of hockey games with Rick Nash.

    There's nothing wrong with admitting that and making a move towards moving the team in a new direction. The first thing that is preventing the Jackets from winning is a quality netminder. Trading Nash to a team that has one of those to spare (and there are a few) would be a huge jump in the right direction for the squad.

    Columbus hasn't been successful with Nash's usual 30-goal contribution. I just think maybe it'd be best for the team to admit this internally and do something to dramatically change the DNA and ideology of the team.

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