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There are a lot of people in Columbus who currently have a right to feel hard done by.
This abysmal season has spiraled from bad to worse for so many reasons, most of which relate to Scott Howson and his woeful mismanagement of the entire situation from the day the season began.
Now, to be fair, the team also didn't catch one single break in the early going. James Wisniewski, by way of a bad elbow, a "repeat offender" status that came as the result of telling Sean Avery he sucks, and Brendan Shanahan's early desire to make a big show of the new sheriff sidling into town, missed the first one-tenth of the season. If he makes that same elbow in, say, January, he gets three games max.
But it's tough for any team to start a season without its power play quarterback for eight games, and if you want to say that's where this season went wrong, you can probably make a pretty good argument.
Another problem, too, is the slew of injuries -- often to key players, including Wisniewski and Jeff Carter -- hasn't helped. The team, through the end of January, had lost the third-most man-games to injury in the league behind only Montreal and Pittsburgh. Wisniewski, for example, has played just 32 of Columbus' 57 games (though, again, eight of those were to do with that suspension), which is tough to swallow given his contract.
Nevertheless, Wisniewski is also probably the person who has the most to gripe about.
Here's what the Howson sales pitch probably looked like there:
"James, we're really going for it now. We have Rick Nash, we have Jeff Carter. We're going to make the playoffs. But we just need a power play quarterback. That want that to be you. Oh and also here's a ridiculous amount of money. There's that as well."
Sounds real nice, doesn't it? Former Rocket Richard winner, another former 40-goal scorer, both of whom are young and locked up forever, plus tons of cash?
If all went as planned, that's a playoff team not only now, but for at least the length of that six-year contract. That likely gives even a mediocre PP quarterback a pretty good crack at 50 points.
The same is true of fans, particularly those who were duped into buying season or even single-game tickets — and there are a decent amount of them: The Blue Jackets are averaging 14,484 per home date this season, which, while not being a lot, is still well above last year's 13,658.
Imagine you're a guy who looked at the moves the team made this offseason to improve their roster considerably (on paper) and plunked down a few grand on a couple of seats in the 300s. Finally, you could feel good about your local team, and have a reason to be enthusiastic.
Hindsight being what it is, though, we can see exactly how the Blue Jackets put that enthusiasm in a headlock, wrestled it to the ground, and made it cry.
Now, instead of the years of success that surely come with spending money on pricey talent, they're being faced with an exodus. Nash has spent the week dragging a tin cup across the iron bars of a playoff-free future that surround him. Carter has been sulking like a tired toddler since the second he got the trade call. The playoffs, or even the memory of the possibility of them, are buried under six other teams and about two dozen points.
And worse, it's probably going to take years to dig out.
The money those unfortunate few sunk into their first season tickets is lost forever; but unlike Wisniewski, at least those people are locked into one-and-done commitments. The renewal rate next season is going to crater, justifiably so, particularly when Nash and Carter are finally shuffled out of town for what will likely be below-market returns.
(Howson's insistence on getting back a similar package to what he gave up for Carter in the first place seems an especially illusory fantasy, the likes of which Tolkien could not have crafted.)
Poor Wisniewski, though, right? Sure, getting that $5.5 million a year will help a lot, and it's really difficult to feel bad for a guy who's clearing that kind of cash, but boy was he ever sold a bill of goods on this one. Come next October, he'll likely be one of the "marquee" players on that team (I say this due to my having little faith in Howson's ability to pull reasonable near-term help for Nash or Carter), which is destined for a few more low-20s finishes over the next few years.
And he has to live in Columbus, just like the fans, doing without everything they were promised for the next half-decade.
Sans Nash, sans Carter, sans playoffs, sans points. Sans hope, really.
The Rick Nash saga provides yet another cautionary tale
Two people you can't feel bad for in all this, though, are Carter — who, again, Charlie Brown sad-walked his way out of sympathy — and Nash.
Nash signed his current eight-year deal in the summer of 2009, just months after the Blue Jackets went 0-for-4 in the playoffs against the Red Wings. Like just about everyone else including Howson, Nash probably liked the direction the team was moving in, especially since that was the one season ever in which Steve Mason didn't puke all over his own shoes every time the puck whizzed past him.
But before that deal even began, the Jackets thudded back to earth with an abysmal 79-point season, though Nash muddled through it on the last season of a five-year deal that paid him $27 million. He probably regretted signing that extension almost immediately. Another lost season in 2010-11, in which the team saw a two-point improvement, was enough for Howson to get serious about actually building the team around Nash, the now-franchise wing, who was committed to spend the first 16 years of his NHL career in Columbus.
But in signing that massive deal -- which comes with a cap hit of $7.8 million and a no-movement clause through 2015, then a no-trade until it expires in 2018 -- Nash also tied himself to the franchise for better or worse.
Turns out it's worse, and now he wants to go.
Well, the thing is this: That bananas annual cap hit and the no-movement clause he didn't even need since very few teams would ever be able to take on that kind of deal, which by the way pays more per season as it goes on, has severely limited the number of options.
Now he's issuing edicts of, "I'll only go here, here, and here," which further limits his chances of getting moved, and also reduces the price Columbus can fetch for him, making them less inclined to actually sign off on a deal.
It seems a certainty both Carter and Nash get dealt, of course, but any issues with the latter being moved are wholly his doing, since no one made him sign a contract that anyone in their right mind could see would be discouraging to suitors.
This cry of, "The Blue Jackets are terrible and I want out" is pretty dumb, if you think about it. Columbus needed a stellar goaltending performance to make the playoffs once ever, and he's surprised the team is still bad? Who would be surprised by that? It's difficult to begrudge him taking the absurd money Howson gave him, but the blame is also on him for making his bed and then refusing to lie in it.
This is yet another reason, in an apparently ever-growing line of them, in which a long-term deal is bad for both player and team alike (hey, just like Carter's!) and one that should, for the betterment of the league, dissuade either side from entering into them in the future.
It won't, obviously. Teams will still try to skirt the salary cap by giving decade-long deals and no-movement clauses as a means of keeping the annual cap hit down, and players will always take that money because who doesn't want that kind of job security and payday?
And who loses in the end? A healthy portion of the time, it's both of them.
Pearls of Biz-dom
We all know that there isn't a better Twitter account out there than that of Paul Bissonnette. So why not find his best bit of advice on love, life and lappers from the last week?
BizNasty on societal mores: "You should legally be allowed to punch someone in the face if the are wearing a bluetooth ear piece in public."
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- Scott Howson
- Rick Nash
- James Wisniewski
- Jeff Carter