And after bungling several offseason acquisitions a year ago -- signing free agent defenseman James Wisniewski, trading for former Flyers forward Jeff Carter, then later dishing Carter to Los Angeles in an equally lopsided deal -- he's been tasked with remaking the Blue Jackets once more.
This time things are certainly more difficult for Howson. Not only is he teetering on the brink of Life No. 9-and-a-half, he must prove he's able to create a winning tradition in Columbus while also getting rid of that organization's franchise star. The sole player in the NHL who's truly identified as a Blue Jacket. The guy who's been there since the beginning, loyal to the end. Howson must trade Rick Nash.
Surely, that it's come to this is not all Howson's fault. Nash and the organization clearly had a falling out over the course of the 2011-12 season, as the star winger clearly became fed up with life in hockey purgatory. The team has made the playoffs once in their history, and when the promises of winning days ahead turned into another NHL-worst year in Columbus, Nash finally asked for a trade.
So here's the general manager, suddenly forced to trade away the greatest player to ever pull on his team's uniform. A fan favorite. A local icon, really. And if he ships Nash out of town for anything less than a king's ransom, the calls for his head will only get louder. He'll almost certainly lose his job at the slightest hiccup.
It's no wonder why Howson has turned the Rick Nash Trade Game into a charade. It's no wonder why he failed to dish Nash to one of the many suitors that desired his services at the trade deadline, and it's no wonder why, as the 2012 NHL offseason carries on, he's still asking for a Larger Than Life return in any trade for Nash.
What's a Larger Than Life trade demand look like?
- One of either stud defenseman Ryan McDonagh or rising stud defenseman Michael Del Zotto, PLUS;
- One of either potential future No. 1 centerman Derek Stepan or speedy, promising youngster Carl Hagelin, PLUS;
- One of either Brandon Dubinsky or Chris Kreider, the top prospect in the Rangers organization.
Howson hasn't stopped there. We know that he's asked for a similar package from the Philadelphia Flyers, another club that's both on Nash's list of acceptable destinations and highly interested in adding the 28-year-old.
Howson has balked at any deal that doesn't include young, impressive two-way forward Sean Couturier, the 2011 draftee selected with the No. 8 overall pick, acquired by the Flyers from Columbus in the Carter trade last June. In addition to Couturier, Howson apparently wants another top forward -- since-departed power winger James van Riemsdyk was reportedly discussed in talks, as was Philly's other young stud center, Brayden Schenn.
Boston media has speculated that any potential Nash trade to the Bruins would require a return including Tyler Seguin, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 draft who led all Bruins in scoring a year ago, or future linchpin defenseman Dougie Hamilton, the No. 9 overall pick in the 2011 draft. Howson also reportedly wants picks and another everyday roster player in the deal as well.
Howson has reportedly asked the Carolina Hurricanes for budding superstar Jeff Skinner. Calder Trophy candidate Logan Couture was demanded from the San Jose Sharks. That Rick Nash is still a member of the Blue Jackets in mid-July tells you all you need to know about these Larger Than Life trade demands. They're crazy.
At age 28, Nash has likely peaked in his career, reaching a high of 79 points in 2008-09.
The argument is that with better line mates -- all six teams on Nash's reported trade list feature elite centers he could play alongside -- Nash's numbers would reach career highs. But with six more years on his contract at $7.8 million against the salary cap per season, can playing with Brad Richards (or Claude Giroux or Sidney Crosby) guarantee elite-level production out of Nash until 2018?
You understand why Scott Howson is making such Larger Than Life demands in any Rick Nash trade. He'll probably lose his job otherwise. But the reality is that Nash is more valuable in Columbus, to the organization that crafted its identity and local image around him, than he is to any other team in the league.
As long as the price tag stays this high, it seems apparent that Nash will remain a member of the Blue Jackets.