It's been a surreal offseason for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Celebrating the 2013 NHL All-Star Game, while losing the draft lottery. Finally acknowledging that Steve Mason's been a liability, yet being reminded that good things happen for others when the Blue Jackets jettison talent — 17 former Jackets were in the playoffs, and 10 are still playing, including four critical players for the Phoenix Coyotes.
It's only going to get more surreal when the time comes to trade Rick Nash, the team's captain and franchise player. Barring an unprecedented change of heart, he's played his last game with the Blue Jackets; the question now becomes where he plays his next game, and it may be an easier question to answer after the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Are the biggest first-round winners Columbus Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson and Rick Nash? Look at all the aggressive spenders who lost early. Will they chase Nash, the kind of power forward needed to counter the Western teams who won, i.e. strong, aggressive and smothering over multiple lines? As another GM said, "Even if Zach Parise hits the market, there's not a lot else out there."
San Jose is one of the teams Nash would like to go to and the Sharks could use him. "They looked old," said one coach. Wilson doesn't believe in long-term deals, so there is flexibility. Only eight players, all from the core, are signed past next year and only two (Brent Burns, Martin Havlat) into 2015.
The difference between Parise and Nash is that everyone is going to be in on Parise. The Carolina Hurricanes were the first ones to informally enter the derby, making the New Jersey Devils forward a top priority. Nash, meanwhile, still has a no-movement clause that will allow him to select the Jackets' dance partner.
Have the playoffs added some clarity to that list?
Back at the trade deadline, Nash's list of acceptable destinations was leaked: The Boston Bruins, Los Angeles Kings, New York Rangers, San Jose Sharks and Toronto Maple Leafs. That list could expand or contract depending on the offers that roll in, or the inherent spitefulness in the process after GM Scott Howson tossed Nash under the bus at the trade deadline, but let's roll with it.
The Kings are up 2-0 on the Blues and looking like a total package. They already made their big move with Columbus in getting Jeff Carter; it's hard to imagine Nash rejoining him in Cali.
The Rangers flirted hard with the Jackets, but refused to meet GM Scott Howson's price. Would they revisit Nash this summer? (Suffice it to say, Glen Sather will now just hang up the phone if Howson says the name "Kreider.")
The Leafs would likely take Nash in a heartbeat, but other considerations (paging Mr. Luongo?) might take priority. Then there's the issue of an asking price, and whether the Leafs have the assets to meet it.
The San Jose Sharks and Boston Bruins, meanwhile, both went out in the first round with varying degrees of frustration.
For the Bruins, Nash would seem to fit the archetype, and it's hard to imagine Cam Neely not ordering the tires kicked on a very Cam Neely-ish player. The Bruins could clear salary by moving Tim Thomas and include David Krejci in a trade.
Spector, however, doesn't see GM Peter Chiarelli making the big move:
Injuries (Horton's concussion, Patrice Bergeron's strained/torn oblique) played a part in the Bruins' early playoff exit, while David Krejci and Milan Lucic didn't play particularly well against the Capitals. That being said, those aren't reasons for Chiarelli to blow up the roster or "shake up" the core. Yes, they do need to work on the power-play, which was also an issue throughout last season, and they could probably use another scoring forward.
Regardless, Chiarelli has been patient with his roster, and was rewarded last season, as well as earlier this season when they lurched to a slow start. I see little reason why he would change his mind now. Sure, he could try to trade Thomas, and I wouldn't be surprised if he listens to offers, but they'll have to be really good offers for Thomas, who only has one year remaining on his contract, and whose "no-movement" clause expires on July 1.
The Sharks are a different story.
They need another big move. The mix isn't right, and the window for this collection to win is slamming shut.
Nash's relationship with Joe Thornton goes beyond the ice and into their representation. The notion of one of the best playmakers in NHL history skating with a sniper that's craved one his entire career is fascinating.
The asking price at the deadline from the Sharks reportedly included Logan Couture, which is a non-starter. But what if San Jose offered another package that addressed the Jackets' goaltending concerns? From CSN Bay Area:
Could Antti Niemi be a potential trade target for Howson?
It's an interesting question to ponder this offseason, as Niemi has three years remaining on a contract that carries a manageable $3.8 million cap hit. Furthermore, the Sharks are likely to revisit the Rick Nash discussion, after they were unable to land the Blue Jackets' scorer in February. It's pure speculation here, but Niemi could potentially be offered up in order for the Sharks to make that trade happen.
We're about six weeks away from the Derby really heating up. There are other game-changing options out there — Parise, Suter, Roberto Luongo or Cory Schneider. Will Nash be the first domino to fall?