"Derby" might not be the right word to describe the courtship of Rick Nash by several NHL teams.
It's a word that connotes hoofs pounding the dirt, beasts jostling and snarling towards the finish line. But the Nash Derby is setting up like a bunch of thoroughbreds gauging how fast their opponents want to run, and deciding whether their own rally to the lead is worth the effort; the NHL Trade Deadline is looking more like the three-quarters pole than the final paces of the race.
According to Eric Francis of the Calgary Sun, Columbus Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson has steadfastly held to his asking price: an effective player off an NHL roster; two top prospects and a first-round draft pick. How many teams currently in a playoff position would be willing to make the sacrifice?
Two teams that are de facto front-runners for Nash: The New York Rangers, who have been in talks with Columbus since the gates opened on the derby; and the San Jose Sharks, because Joe Thornton is giddier than a child on a moon-bounce at the idea of his buddy Nash suiting up on his wing.
But will they, or anyone, meet the asking price before Monday's deadline?
From Larry Brooks of the New York Post, the latest on what the Rangers might ante up:
Sources familiar with the parameters of the discussions between Sather and Columbus counterpart Scott Howson have told The Post the Rangers have designated Ryan McDonagh, Michael Del Zotto, 2009 first-rounder Chris Kreider and 2011 first-rounder J.T. Miller as untouchables when the Blue Jackets requested their inclusion in the package for Nash, the 27-year-old power winger who is being dangled to deep-pocket contenders.
It is believed that Sather, who is not fazed by the ramifications of adding Nash's contract that runs through 2017-18 at a cap hit of $7.8 million per year, is prepared to send Brandon Dubinsky, Christian Thomas, and perhaps 2010 first-rounder Dylan McIlrath plus a first round pick to Columbus in order to bring the 6-foot-4, 220-pound, nine-year veteran to Broadway.
Dubinsky has been mentioned prominently in these talks, both as having been coveted by Howson and, frankly, because he's never exactly been on Sather's untouchables list. McIlrath is a snarly, physical defensive prospect that is in no way the foundational player McDonagh can be. Rangers fans are probably exhaling now knowing that Kreider, a can't-miss prospect, is off the table.
Brooks believes that Howson might be better off auctioning off Nash at the draft.
That might be the best advice for a team like San Jose as well. The Sharks were a Western Conference Finalist last season, and added a few intriguing pieces (Burns, Havlat, Handzus, now Dominic Moore) to improve the team in the playoffs. It feels like this group should be further augmented, rather than exploded, which could happen with a Nash trade — not only with the pieces going to Columbus, but with the financial impact of that additional contract.
Mr. Plank from Fear The Fin has a nice breakdown of the Sharks and Nash, including this assessment:
Current untouchables on San Jose's roster before this year's deadline (read: guys who I think are pretty much as safe as possible from being included in a deal)? Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, Antti Niemi, Martin Havlat, Dan Boyle, and Brent Burns. I'd put Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Joe Pavelski in there as an opinion, but I don't know whether or not that fits with what the organization believes so I'll leave them out.
Darren Dreger of TSN noted that the Sharks shot down the Blue Jackets on Couture. Plank sees this as a potential package:
If you move a player like Ryane Clowe, Jamie McGinn, and Jason Demers/Justin Braun for Rick Nash, you are a better team this season. If I'm Howson I don't take this deal as it doesn't fulfill the impact player I need to build a team around, but if I'm Doug Wilson I jump at it and make the move if I'm looking to sell out on this year's Cup run.
The problem for Howson is that the derby field is narrowing, and the teams in it don't seem to be in a hasty bidding war for Nash. A team like the Los Angeles Kings, for example, might have more interest in a Jeff Carter/Mike Richards reunion or a James van Riemsdyk deal with the Philadelphia Flyers than in Nash.
The Toronto Maple Leafs, meanwhile, "do not have a firm offer on the table for Rick Nash" according to GM Brian Burke. Probably because he doesn't tend goal.
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