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The Columbus Blue Jackets and star winger Rick Nash(notes) have agreed on an eight-year, $62.4 million contract extension through 2018 according to the Columbus Dispatch, which aptly titled its blog entry "Exhale, Columbus."

Thus ends one of the most truncated and intensely public negotiations in recent NHL history, as the Jackets literally handed Nash their formal offer on Tuesday only to have him strongly reject it as insufficient on the Dispatch's Puck-rakers blog:

"If this doesn't happen in the next week, and we can't hit a number where we're both satisfied and we both feel it's fair ... if they want me that bad, they'll get it done."

[...]

"There were tons of teams throwing some pretty big money around (yesterday)," Nash said. "If this doesn't get done, I'm sure I won't have a problem getting signed by somebody next summer."

Talks turned sunnier on Thursday night, with talk of a salary cap hit in the $8 million range and a no-movement clause. The contract was finalized on Friday, with an annual cap hit of $7.8 million, a no-movement clause in the first five years and a limited NMC in the final three according to Aaron Portzline of the Dispatch, who's been all over this.

Kudos to Nash for sparing the franchise unrestricted free agency drama for the next year, and for coming in under $8 million per season on the cap ... thus sparing us having to research if there's been another NHL player to break the $8-mil ceiling before actually winning a playoff game.

But the real heroes here are GM Scott Howson and the Jackets' brain-trust.

There was a time when this extension wasn't an automatic sell; when Nash was the 'Lecavalier-to-the-Habs' for Toronto Maple Leafs fans, who thought the star winger would head home to Ontario after toiling in Columbus.

When Howson took over in 2007, the direction of the Blue Jackets changed. Gone were the days when mercenary veterans where given all the power in the locker room; Nash was handed the captaincy in Spring 2008, and from that point on the team's been a core group of younger players getting augmented by older vets rather than the other way around.

At the same time, the young talent that had been harvested through a decade of losing started to develop on the NHL level. Suddenly, Nash could look forward to playing with Derick Brassard(notes) and Nikita Filatov(notes) and, most importantly, Steve Mason(notes) in goal.

Don't think Howson's aggressive moves to bring in more talent up front went unnoticed, either. Nash's first few seasons saw names like Andrew Cassels and Grant Marshall at forward; now, he's on the same roster as Kristian Huselius(notes), R.J. Umberger(notes) and Antoine Vermette(notes).

The team's brief playoff appearance against the Detroit Red Wings validated that this franchise had gone from the lottery to playoff contention, and Nash wanted to be a part of it.

Not sure I buy that Nash's departure as a UFA would have crippled the fan base, as some have suggested; I give Columbus more credit as a hockey town than that. But it would have been a gargantuan step backwards for the franchise, not only in losing a legitimate offensive star but in trying to attract talent to commit to their plan. If Nash wouldn't, why would anyone else?

But that's immaterial now. Nash is a Blue Jacket -- hell, this contract nearly says he is the Blue Jackets -- until four years before Rick DiPietro(notes) is a free agent. (Are we the only ones who keep time this way?) As Howson said tonight:

"He is our captain, the foundation of our team and one of the elite players in the National Hockey League and we are very happy that he will continue to call Columbus home for many years to come ... This is an important and exciting day for our franchise and our fans."

Now it's on Nash to lead the way to more important days.

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