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The NHL Draft next week in Pittsburgh will be the first round of the auction; should there be a need for a second, it'll be during the Free Agent Frenzy in the following weekend.
Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch reported on Friday that talks were heating up between Jackets GM Scott Howson and a few of Nash's suitors:
NHL sources have told The Dispatch that as many as seven teams have had "significant" trade conversations with Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson about Nash during the past 10 days and that a handful of other clubs — three or four, maybe more — have "kicked the tires" to see what a deal might cost them.
Most of the teams known to be expressing interest are the ones that expressed interest at the February trade deadline.
The New York Rangers, stocked with young, promising forwards, still appear to be the most likely fit for Nash, and their desire might have been heightened during the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Rangers' 2.15 goals per game in the playoffs was the second-lowest figure of any club to advance past the first round. Also known to have considerable interest are San Jose, Philadelphia, Toronto and Carolina, apparently a late entry, sources said.
Keep in mind that Nash has a no-movement clause, so he can determine his next NHL destination. The Dispatch reported during the season that the Boston Bruins, Los Angeles Kings, New York Rangers, San Jose Sharks, Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks were on his approved list; the Canucks were later determined not to be on the list.
Will he expand his list? No one knows. But if the five teams mentioned today are the five primary suitors, what's the ante for Nash?
New York Rangers
As was mentioned by Portzline, they're perhaps the best fit for a number of reasons, none the least being that Nash would agree to play there. They need scoring, they want to add another premium offensive talent, and they're stacked with tantalizing players they can send back to Columbus.
Brandon Dubinsky has long been seen as an essential part of any Nash package, and especially now that he's signed through 2015. The real question is whether Howson and the Jackets will insist on playoff revelation and potential 2012-13 Calder Trophy candidate Chris Kreider, whom the Rangers refused to give up last trade deadline.
San Jose Sharks
Everyone knows the connections between Nash, his agent and Joe Thornton.
They were in the mix at the trade deadline, but again Howson's demands were elephantine: The Sharks are not giving up Logan Couture in a Rick Nash package. Would they give up Joe Pavelski, signed through 2014? Whatever the centerpiece is, one can imagine the Sharks trying to make a match in a package that features defenseman Jason Demers and goalie Antti Niemi.
Provided he doesn't pretend to be hurt to delay a trade — you know, according to Howard Eskin — it's hard to imagine James van Riemsdyk not being part of a Nash trade considering his 6-year deal and offensive upside. If Howson had any flair for the dramatic, he'd march right into Paul Holmgren's office, sit down, purr "you have something of mine and I want it back" before throwing down Sean Couturier's hockey card on his desk.
Oh, if only trade talks were written by David Mamet ...
One thing to consider: The Flyers might be a team Nash agrees to add to his list. His agent Joe Resnick said in February: "The list of acceptable teams will not change at a later date."
Toronto Maple Leafs
Don Cherry is probably turgid thinking about this Good Ontarian Boy coming home to pace the Leafs, but do they have the bounty to land him in comparison to other suitors?
Back in January, the rumored trade package was: Forwards Mikhail Grabovski and Nazem Kadri, along with defencemen Luke Schenn and Mike Komisarek for Nash, and Kristian Huselius. Would that trump what the Rangers or Sharks could offer?
The sexiest mystery surrounding the Leafs and Jackets: Would Toronto ante up Phil Kessel (signed through 2014), and if so would the Maple Leafs advanced stats community ever let them live it down? (And would that restore the integrity of Fake Pierre McGuire as an insider?)
The Hurricanes are expected to be one of the most aggressive teams in the offseason, targeting Zach Parise and Ryan Suter and, apparently, Rick Nash.
What's the ante? You got us. Would the teams even consider a mega-trade that sends Eric Staal for Rick Nash? Would Tim Gleason be part of a package? (One assumes so.) Would Victor Rask and/or Ryan Murphy get anted up? Color us baffled … but intrigued.
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Trading Nash at the draft makes sense because it's a Middle Eastern market of hockey deal-making. The pressure's there for teams to make something happen.
But the smarter play, one assumes, is for Howson and the Jackets to hold off until after Parise makes his decision, be it to remain with the New Jersey Devils or move to another team. Parise will cost treasure, but not the bodies Nash will. He doesn't have Nash's offensive game, but Nash doesn't have his intangibles. If you polled all 30 GMs, I'd wager the majority would want Parise on their team before Nash.
Once he's off the table, then the Jackets can swoop in and fill someone's need for a star winger. And this entire awkward, sad tale can limp toward its close.