Scott Howson couldn't sell Rick Nash for the premium price he had sought. Now the Columbus general manager will have to sell a disgruntled fan base on the relatively anonymous pieces he finally received in return.
The Blue Jackets finally parted ways with Nash, sending the star forward to the New York Rangers for forwards Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov, defense prospect Tim Erixon and a first round pick. The Blue Jackets will also send a conditional third round pick and minor league defenseman Steve Delisle to New York.
It's a decent package for the Blue Jackets, but pales in comparison to the kind of players Howson had reportedly sought in exchange for Nash, who has put up at least 30 goals in each of the past five seasons. Howson was spurned in his pursuit of young stars like San Jose's Logan Couture and Carolina's Jeff Skinner, and came up empty in his quest for any of the young marquee names he sought from the Rangers with Ryan McDonagh, Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan all remaining in New York.
In many ways, it's a deal that bears a bit of resemblance to the Bruins' controversial trade of Joe Thornton in 2005. Then Boston GM Mike O'Connell was roundly criticized for that deal, which brought back a trio of solid players but no true difference makers in Marco Sturm, Brad Stuart and Wayne Primeau. Thornton went on to win the league scoring title and Hart Trophy that same season, while the Bruins finished last in their division for two straight years.
The main difference between those deals is that O'Connell acted swiftly, and arguably rashly, by quickly consummating the deal with the Sharks rather than shopping Thornton around the league to see if he could get a better return. Howson did the opposite, refusing to part with Nash at the trade deadline and draft when no one would meet his excessive demands. Finally, after more than five months with Nash on the trade block, Howson finally blinked and accepted a far lesser package.
Howson can take some solace in that he technically came away with some of what he was demanding by getting two NHL forwards in Dubinsky and Anisimov, but they are hardly the kind of impact players the Blue Jackets boss had been seeking.
That pair are both serviceable players who are young enough to develop further, and they will almost certainly plug into Columbus' top six. That's more a reflection of the Blue Jackets' lack of top-end talent than anything Dubinsky and Anisimov have done to warrant such prominent roles.
Dubinsky does have a pair of 20-goal campaigns on his resume, but slumped to just 10-24-34 totals in 77 games last year. He also managed just 0-2-2 totals in nine playoff games. Dubinsky is just 26 though, so there's still time for him to bounce back and develop into more of an offensive threat while playing a more prominent role in Columbus.
Dubinsky also brings some size (6-foot-1, 210 pounds) and a willingness to use it, racking up 110 penalty minutes and 207 hits last season. He's a solid defensive player and can play in all situations, seeing time on the power play (1:46 a game) and penalty kill (1:15) as part of the 16:16 of ice time he averaged last year.
Anisimov also has size (6-foot-4, 200 pounds) and at 24 might possess more offensive potential. He put up 16-20-36 totals last season, down slightly from the 18-26-44 he posted in 2010-11, but those numbers could increase with a bigger role in Columbus.
Erixon, meanwhile, was the Rangers' top defense prospect, though New York could afford to part with him as the Rangers have a young nucleus in place on the blue line with McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal and Michael Del Zotto already up with the big club. That depth helped keep Erixon, 21, in the AHL for most of his first season in North America, but he did get in 18 games with the Rangers.
Unlike the Bruins in the Thornton trade, Columbus also got back a first-round pick, though that will likely be a very late selection in the round with the Rangers now adding Nash to a club that finished first in the East last season.
Columbus finished dead last in all of the NHL last year. Now that they've moved the biggest star in franchise history for a collection of solid but far from spectacular parts after months of promises of a blockbuster return, climbing out of the basement could be an even more challenging task for the Blue Jackets.