COLUMBUS, OH - FEBRUARY 28: Rick Nash #61 of the Columbus Blue Jackets takes the ice before the game against the Detroit Red Wings at Nationwide Arena on February 28, 2012 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)
People blame Columbus Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson for dragging out the Rick Nash trade, but Nash shouldn't get a free pass for pulling a Heatley.
Imagine an NHL franchise taking a player with question marks, committing millions of dollars and multiple years to him, giving him a featured role on the team, only to see him demand a trade in which he dictates the terms.
Now imagine that player isn't Dany Heatley.
The NHL's longest-running drama of 2012 is all about Rick Nash essentially pulling a Heatley, except somehow most of the flak for this saga has been directed at Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson, and very little has been directed at Nash.
Heatley, you'll recall, was one year into a six-year, $45 million contract with the Senators -- even including a no-trade clause -- when he decided, for some never-disclosed reason, that he wanted a trade and he wanted it now.
Making the tale all the richer, Heatley wielded his no-trade powers to restrict where the Senators could trade him. (The Senators, of course, had rescued him from Atlanta after he wanted out after he was behind the wheel in a car accident that killed his teammate and friend, Dan Snyder.) Instead of approving a deal the Senators had reached with the Edmonton Oilers, Heatley ended up dragging the saga through the summer and into training camp, when Ottawa finally accepted what was considered a much weaker offer from the San Jose Sharks, a Stanley Cup contender.
Making it richer still? The protracted drama meant the Senators had to pay him a $4 million roster bonus in mid-summer ... after he had demanded a trade.
Karma could not be reached for comment on this story, but some cite karma to explain why Heatley never saw a Cup with the Sharks and eventually was dealt to a bottom-dwelling team in Minnesota.
One wonders what karma will eventually make of Rick Nash.
It seems popular sympathy for Nash stems from three sources:
- He's always been on a bad Blue Jackets team, so there's reason to think his prime has been wasted;
- His general manager(s) have saddled the franchise with plenty of baffling moves (let's tie up nearly $10 million in Jack Johnson and James Wisniewski for the next six years!), so there's little hope for a quick turnaround;
- He's Rick Nash! He scores goals! Let's see him play for a team the national media cares about!
All of which is well and good, but ... why exactly is Nash getting a pass in this mess? His last contract paid him $27 million. His current contract -- which is just two seasons old -- promises him $62.4 million more and no-trade protection through 2018. The franchise has made him its signature star and allowed him to play away from the intense media spotlight of Canadian markets (something he evidently prefers to avoid).
Nash requested a trade in early 2012; the team kept quiet about his request, tried to work out a deal that would give them good pieces in return, and, failing that while under intense pressure, finally disclosed at the NHL trade deadline that it was Nash who requested the trade in the first place.
Yet somehow it was the Blue Jackets who threw Nash under the bus? (Apparently, this vicious development even caused Nash to lose sleep. The poor thing.)
Then, as now, Nash's agent informed media that there were only a handful of teams he would accept a trade to. How very Heatley.
Then, as now, Nash asserted that the idea for this whole thing was really about helping the team out:
"I personally felt [in a grade] I could be a huge part of that towards bringing assets in," he said. "In my view, that was the best thing for the team, the organization, and personally for my career."
It goes without saying that if Nash really wanted "the best thing for the team," he'd expand his list of acceptable destinations to beyond one-sixth of the league.
But because his GM is much-maligned (and deservedly so, but that's a separate topic), when Scott Howson goes fishing for decent return on his franchise player, he gets laughed at by media and fans. Jeff Skinner? How dare Howson request a good player in return for the best player in franchise history!
To recap: Nash's team made him a star and captain and committed nearly $100 million and a no-trade clause to him, but because they haven't been good, he wants a trade. To help the franchise, he assures you. But only to a few teams that are really good. With really good centers. That all know Howson is stuck, so they won't offer him equal return.
Howson deserves the flak (with an assist to his predecessor Doug MacLean) for creating the setting from which Nash wants out, but there are two people to blame for dragging this out so long.
And this time, neither of them is Dany Heatley.