Selling the city of Columbus to any NHL star shouldn't be that tough when you look at the overview. There's a fantastic zoo and aquarium in Columbus, Ohio, and it is consistently ranked high in terms of great places to raise kids and do business. It is the largest city in Ohio, and it also boasts The University of Ohio, one of the NCAA's best colleges for academics and athletics. Yet the Blue Jackets, for all they do, can't seem to attract big names or convince them to stay if they trade for a star.
Rumors were bubbling to the surface last season that Jeff Carter, one of Howson's big moves in the summer prior, was unhappy in Columbus. Some reports had him as "damaged goods" following the trade from Philadelphia to Columbus. Others simply saw the problem as the reason for Philadelphia giving up on Carter. Either way, it all finally resulted in a trade to the Los Angeles Kings that would see Carter drink from the Stanley Cup this season.
Adam Foote was once captain of the Blue Jackets, but his trade out of Columbus with the team just a mere five points from a playoff spot had the fans outraged. There were reports that Foote had made some ridiculous contract demands in negotiating his new contract in order to force a trade. Columbus, as history shows, traded their captain to the Colorado Avalanche, and went on to miss the playoffs. When asked about the trade, Foote didn't exactly put the rumors to bed, instead downplaying the business side of the sport that caused the trade. That won't quell the fans' views of the trade, though.
And now we come to Rick Nash and his public trade demand. It wasn't so much that Nash came out and demanded a trade as much as it was GM Scott Howson informing the media that Nash had asked for a trade out of Columbus. Nash had used his face-to-face meeting with management to inform them that he'd be willing to go elsewhere if that's what they determined as the best course of action, and Howson turned that into "Nash asked to be traded".
Aaron Portzline of The Columbus Dispatch writes,
"Howson declined to comment beginning in mid-February when The Dispatch asked, almost daily, if Nash had requested the trade or if the club was considering it on its own accord. His position changed when the trade deadline passed.If you're a Columbus Blue Jackets fan, and you knew that the rebuilding process had already been put in motion starting in mid-February, how do you feel about your team attracting or retaining talent? Do you think that any established stars would want to join the Blue Jackets?
"On Feb. 27, Howson told the media that Nash had asked for the trade. Nash and his agent, Joe Resnick, were told 30 minutes before the news conference that Howson was going public.
"'That's the way they wanted to do it,' Nash said. 'It was the truth.'
"At that moment, though, the dynamics of the deal changed. Knowing that Nash had asked to be dealt, the Jackets were seen as the desperate party in trade talks, and the suggestion that Nash could stay put lost steam."
Like Mr. Portzline wrote, the moment that Howson played his trump card - going public that Nash wanted out - the Blue Jackets became the losers in the Nash deal. There was not one NHL team that was going to offer three legitimate NHL players plus a combination of prospects and draft picks for Nash once it became clear that Nash wanted out.
Sure, the team got a little better with Dubinsky, Anisimov, and Erixon, but the actual return on that investment is probably three-to-four years away when Erixon, Ryan Murray, Jack Johnson, and the other stockpile of young talent finally begins to mature. Maybe Columbus can fast-track their turnaround by finishing dead last and going for Nathan MacKinnon this season in the draft?
The problem with both the Carter deal and the Nash deal wasn't the players involved on the Columbus side of the trade. Instead, it has everything to do with the general manager who is allowing these "public trade demands" to go public. The moment that the demand goes public, the team loses any opportunity it has to get equal return on the player being shipped out. At minimum, you want an equal return for an asset that simply didn't work. Columbus, in these last two blockbuster deals, got return, but nowhere close to the value of the trade going the other way.
It reminds me of an exchange between German investors and Mr. Burns regarding the sale of the nuclear power plant in the episode Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk from Season Three of the The Simpsons.
Sather: [begging] Please sell me Rick Nash. I'll pay anything.
Howson: Isn't this a happy coincidence! You are desperate to buy, and we are desperate to sell.
Sather: [calculatingly] Desperate, eh? Advantage: Sather!
As one commenter on The Columbus Dispatch wrote, "One more sad chapter in Howson's Reign of Error." How true it is.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!