Separation inevitable for Nash and the Blue Jackets

Michael Rushton, NHL Contributing Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Fans of the Columbus Blue Jackets, general manager Scott Howson and captain Rick Nash want you to know it's not your fault.

(OK, the Blue Jackets don't exactly rank near the top of the attendance figures, so it might be your fault a little bit, but we digress.)

Even though it appears Howson and Nash will be parting ways in the near future, they both want you to know that they still love you. So much so that they are both willing to give it one more try, though you and I both know it is still going to end at some point.

Though there was plenty of interest, Howson opted against moving Nash prior to Monday's NHL trade deadline. He then dropped an interesting fact during his news conference later that day, saying it was actually Nash who had requested a trade back in January.

"He approached us and asked us to consider trading him. We agreed to accommodate his request as long as we could get a deal that provided us with cornerstone pieces to help us compete for a Stanley Cup championship in the coming years," said Howson, who was unable to get that type of package prior to the deadline and held firm.

"This is too important to our franchise and our fans to do a deal that is not in our best interest. We pursued a number of options, but none provided the value back that we could justify trading a player of Rick's caliber."

Howson said he had informed Nash that he would be telling the media of the forward's trade request, saying it was the right and truthful things to do. Nash had a chance to say his piece on Tuesday.

"I was informed by management that there was a rebuild, reshape in the team and I personally felt that I could be a huge part of that towards bringing assets in. I think, in my view, that was the best thing for the team, the organization and personally for my career," Nash said.

While Nash wouldn't commit to finishing out his eight-year deal signed in July 2009 now that he is still a Blue Jacket -- saying it's a bridge he would cross later -- he made sure to mention that he still has a great relationship with Howson and how much he appreciates his teammates and, most importantly, the fans of Columbus.

When asked if he should still be the club's captain even though he has requested a trade, Nash answered that would be management's decision but that he would love to continue wearing the "C" on his sweater. He also remains fully committed to the club that drafted him first overall in the 2002 draft.

Rick Nash will be seen as a star who turned his back on the only organization he has known.
"Right now it's over and done with and I'm going to worry about the next 20 games, playing those and giving everything I can to the city and the fans number one," Nash said. "They've stood behind me my whole career and, hopefully, I've offered them a bunch of things to talk about. I think the biggest thing is I'm a Blue Jacket, I'm the captain and I'm going to be giving 110 percent to the whole city and this organization."

Howson walked the same line in his Monday meeting with the media. He said he was grateful for the patience and support of the fans and that he wouldn't just move Nash for the sake of doing so and damaging the team's plans for the future.

"The price was high and I don't apologize for that. It had to be high."

In essence, both Howson and Nash are attempting to covertly put the blame on the other while staying in the good graces of the fan base. Howson knows he has to keep the patrons in Columbus happy for the foreseeable future, while Nash doesn't want to tarnish his legacy as the face of the franchise.

Both want to be blameless. Each is at fault.

No matter what Nash says, once his ticket out of town is punched -- and it likely will be by the start of next season -- he will be seen as a star who turned his back on the only organization he has known. There are many other skaters around the league who wouldn't blame Nash given the Blue Jackets have made the postseason just once since their inception prior to the 2000-01 season, but that will matter little to the frustrated residents of Ohio.

Nash said he wasn't sure what to expect from the fans heading into Tuesday night's home game with Detroit, though he ended up getting a mostly positive response from the crowd at his introduction.

"I've been with these fans my whole career here and I love them no matter what," Nash said. "They're a great fan base, they're loyal, they've been patient with this organization and with this team. No matter the reception I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for our fans."

Howson, meanwhile, will be viewed as a general manager who couldn't keep his star player happy. Even if he gets a better haul this offseason than what he was offered on Monday -- including one from the New York Rangers that according to New York Post writer Larry Brooks was believed to include Brandon Dubinsky, three prospects and a 2012 first-round pick -- the eventual loss of Nash will still cause the club to take more steps back than it can forward.

At least Howson has a plan. He said on Monday that he would like to upgrade on defense going into next season and also improve the goaltending position currently occupied by Steve Mason and Curtis Sanford. Howson has already taken steps toward these goals, getting talented defender Jack Johnson from the Kings last week for unhappy center Jeff Carter along with a conditional first- round pick as well as additional draft picks in separate deals for Antoine Vermette and Samuel Pahlsson. And with an NHL-low 43 points, Columbus' own pick in the 2012 draft figures to be a top selection as well depending on the outcome of the lottery.

"The moves we've made have cleared salary cap space and given us great flexibility as we try and reshape our club. We believe we're in a stronger position today to move the club forward," Howson said.

Still, to make Columbus an attractive option for free agents, Howson said the club must having a winning culture. That is something that will be tough to do without Nash.

But don't worry, Blue Jackets fans, Nash will still come back to visit during the season and may even drop by during holidays. Just don't try to reach him and his new friends during the playoffs.

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