Rick Nash Not the Elite Difference-Maker Worthy of Price Blue Jackets Are Demanding in Trade Talks

Rick Nash Not the Elite Difference-Maker Worthy of Price Blue Jackets Are Demanding in Trade TalksRick Nash asked for a trade in January.

He was not dealt at the trade deadline in February, nor at the draft in June. Now it's nearly two weeks into the free agency period with Zach Parise and the bulk of the options for scoring help up front off the market, and Nash still remains property of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

How could such an elite player be up for grabs this long without anyone stepping up to make a deal for him? Simply put, Nash is not really that elite a player, but Columbus general manager Scott Howson is certainly demanding an elite return.

Nash scored 30 goals last year, the seventh time the 28-year-old forward has reached that mark in nine seasons in the NHL. And that is a solid milestone that's becoming increasingly difficult to reach in a league being dominated more and more by quality goaltending, a greater emphasis on shot blocking and stingy defensive systems.

Still, he was just tied for 25th in the league in goals, while his 59 points had him tied for 59th. That's nothing new for Nash, who has never finished higher than 18th in the league in scoring, which came when he had a career-high 79 points back in 2008-09. His other finishes in the NHL scoring race? He was 154th as a rookie in 2002-03, followed by 41st, 108th, 90th, 40th, 18th, 36th, 30th and this past year's 59th.

For Bruins fans pining for more offense, Nash would have ranked just fifth on Boston last year, putting up less points than Tyler Seguin (29-38-67), Patrice Bergeron (22-42-64), David Krejci (23-29-62) and Milan Lucic (26-35-61). Heck, he even had fewer points than former Bruins players Blake Wheeler (17-47-64), Michael Ryder (35-27-62), Phil Kessel (37-45-82) and Joe Thornton (18-59-77).

But Nash is more of a finisher than a playmaker, so his goal totals should be more reflective of his standing among the league's elite than his total points. He does fare better there, as he tied for the league lead with 41 in 2003-04 and was tied for fifth with 40 in 2008-09. But he hasn't finished in the top 10 in any other season, ending up 122nd, 33rd, 52nd, 11th, 13th, 14th and 25th in the other years.

The argument commonly made is that his numbers will improve if he's moved to a team with a better cast around him. There could be some truth to that, though there could just as easily be a further decline in his production if he joins a more balanced attack and isn't the primary option on offense.

There's also the fact that Nash isn't the only talented scorer on a struggling team. Others were able to produce just fine under similar circumstances on weak teams. Twenty-four of the players who scored more points than Nash last year did so on teams that failed to qualify for the playoffs, as did 14 of other players who scored 30 or more goals.

This is not to argue that Nash is not a fine player. He is a very good, even great forward who beyond his scoring prowess also adds size (6-foor-4, 219 pounds) and a willingness to play physically (104 hits last year). But he's not a franchise-changing kind of talent that should command the kind of ransom Howson is demanding. He didn't elevate the Blue Jackets out of the NHL cellar, with Columbus making the playoffs just once in franchise history, and getting swept in the opening round on that occasion. He could be the final piece to push a contender over the top, but not if that contending team has to give up even more vital pieces to acquire him.

Still, Howson reportedly asked the Rangers to give up either Ryan McDonagh or Michael Del Zotto, plus either Derek Stepan or Carl Hagelin, plus Chris Kreider and Brandon Dubinsky at the trade deadline, while seeking Jeff Skinner from Carolina this summer. Carolina dropped out of the bidding at that price, though the Hurricanes were not on Nash's list of six teams he would waive his no-trade clause for.

Those lucky clubs are the Rangers, Detroit, San Jose, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Boston. To meet Howson's inflated price, the Bruins would be expected to cough up the likes of a Seguin or a Dougie Hamilton as the centerpiece of a package, while the Flyers would have to part with Sean Couturier or Brayden Schenn.

It's easy to understand why Howson would ask for so much. Nash has been built up as the face of the Blue Jackets franchise since coming to Columbus as the No. 1 overall pick of the 2002 draft, and getting a huge return for him may be Howson's only chance to retain his job after last year's debacle.

But it's unrealistic to expect teams to give up those kinds of assets, especially when they would also have to take on Nash's onerous contract. That features a $7.8 million cap hit for the next six seasons. And while most long-term deals are frontloaded to lower the overall cap hit, Nash's salary actually goes up slightly as the contract goes on, with the final two years at $8.0 million and $8.2 million.

The Nash trade watch is now in its seventh month, and it's not going to end until the Blue Jackets slash the sticker price to a reasonable level. As it stands now, the teams that may be interested in acquiring him are much better served to simply say no.

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