Columbus Blue Jackets: Rick Nash
Stats 2011/12: 19GP, 4G, 10A, 14PTS, -12
Pro-rated stats over a full season: 82GP, 17G, 43A, 60PTS, -51
Career Average: 74GP, 32G, 28A, 60PTS, -6
Here's controversial captain part two. Rick Nash has been nothing but a loyal and enthusiastic soldier for the Blue Jackets but much like Iginla, has only been rewarded by management with patch-work roster upgrades, barely top 6 caliber line mates, abysmal goaltending and sub-par defensive units.
This was all supposed to be fixed this summer, as GM Scott Howson finally got aggressive and brought in Jeff Carter (to be Nash's long awaited number one centre) and James Wisniewski (to help anchor the Defense). So far with an absolutely abysmal record of 4-13-2 for a total of 10 points, good enough for dead last in the league. They have one of the weakest offences in the league and are tied for second worst Goals Against count with Toronto.
Now none of this can really be blamed on Nash. The thing is, however, this is his team; it has been his team since he was drafted in 2002. Going through his ninth season with the franchise, Nash has been able to lead his team to all of a four-game sweep against the Detroit Red Wings in the playoffs. He's been a perennial 60+ point guy and a very clutch scorer for the team...but there is only so far and so much losing a player can take before that losing culture starts to become acceptable.
Now, I'm not saying Nash is content to being a loser, because Nash is one of the most competitive players in the league. But he has become used to losing, and that's a hard thing to shake.
Columbus still has plenty of time to turn this season around, Mason could rebound and find his form, Wisniewski has missed the first eight games with a suspension so is only just starting to afflict his will and imprint of the defence and Jeff Carter has missed 10 games with a broken foot. So really, all the changes made over the summer haven't had time to adjust and make a difference on the roster.
In reality though, all the critics of Howson's moves are being proved right. James Wisniewski isn't a bona-fide No. 1 blue liner and isn't capable of running a defence by himself. Jeff Carter and Rick Nash need a third elite playmaker on their line, as they both play far too similar a game (shoot the puck every chance you get) and haven't been able to find any semblance of chemistry. Mason looks completely lost and nothing like he did in his Calder trophy winning rookie season where he guided the team to it's first and only playoff berth ever.
The critics have so far been completely correct in analysing and criticizing all of Columbus's moves. Some people would ask: why if you have to make a move not just turn around a trade Carter?
Well besides the fact that Columbus is dealing from a position of extreme weakness, Carter has been reportedly upset with the entire situation and wants out; he has been playing poorly, so his value is at an all-time low.
Also, as many other teams have proven, it's far easier to build around an elite centre than it is to build around an elite winger. The losing history, Carter's low value, the lack of any real putting the franchise on his back by Nash and Columbus's poor start during a season in which fan support is waning and they were expected to challenge for the post-season.
All of these things combine to tell us that the Blue Jackets must at least consider trading their Franchise player and Captain.
Another aspect that hasn't helped the Jackets in recent years is their horrible draft record. With stud prospects like Brassard, Filatov and Russell not panning out to anywhere near their supposed potential and a lack of any kind of real blue-chip prospects in the system, the NHL roster hasn't been getting the influx of support from it's pipeline, which is especially troubling based on the amount of high and quality draft pics they've had since the lockout.
Ryan Johansen has been playing very well and is one of only a handful of other Blue Jacket players to have a "plus" rating. Matt Calvert has also looked like he belongs with the big club. John Moore and Grant Clitsome has slowly been improving steadily on the back end so it looks like Wisniewski and Tyutin won't be alone on the blue line forever.
Steve Mason has completely fallen apart this year and his supposed backup Mark Dekanich has been injured for almost all of the year as has AHL starter Curtis Sanford, leaving Mason very much alone and without any kind of veteran protection (Ala J.S.Giguere in Colorado for Semyon Varlamov).
So the Jackets aren't completely devoid of youngsters, and they have some solid contributors in Antoinne Vermette, RJ Umberger and Samuel Pahlsson.
Between Carter, Johansen, Vermette and Pahlsson the Jackets actually have one of the more enviable centre corps in the league. It's the wingers but more importantly the defence that really needs help to not leave Mason hung out to dry on a nightly basis. Or perhaps it's Mason's time and Columbus needs to move on to a new net minder.
If traded, Nash (who is on par for his usual 30+ goals and 60+ points) would definitely be able to fetch Columbus a handsome return, especially with such an incredibly deep 2012 NHL entry draft coming up. Nash and his $7.8 million salary would definitely require some salary to come back, but plenty of teams would still line up around the block to get a shot at him, with Toronto, Philadelphia, Ottawa and LA leading the pack, if recent rumours are to be believed.
If Howson was going to trade Nash, he'd need to be seen by the media and fan base as definitely winning the trade hands down. He'd need to address his D, Goaltending and elite prospect depth. A promising goaltender/top prospect + a roster player (preferably on D) and a first-round pick would have to be the STARTING point for any Nash conversations. But i for one choose to believe that something like (LA) J.Bernier, A.Loktionov, D.Penner + a 1st for R.Nash or (TOR) J.Gustavsson, C.MacArthur, N.Kadri, C.Franson, M.Komisarek + a 2nd for R.Nash, A.Vermette, M.Methot + a 4th or (OTT) D. Rundblad, C.Greening, J.Cowen + a 2nd for R.Nash, A.Johnson would make Columbus a better team now and in the future.
NOTE: None of those are any kind of official offers or deals. Most are based off of partial rumours i've seen floating around and then just running the salary cap and system needs of both teams. I am not an insider and have no reason to believe any of those deals are in the works.
Nash does have a NTC (No-Trade-Clause) in his contract so ultimately, his fate is up to him.
Verdict: Columbus needs to SERIOUSLY look at trading Nash and if they can get an elite goaltending prospect and a good combination of roster players/prospects and picks then they should pull the trigger and get a deal done. Nash is committed to Columbus, but deserves to get out of what is going to quickly turn into another rebuild in Jacket country.