Scott Howson’s not-so-straight Jackets

Scott Howson is nothing if not consistent.

His teams are consistently finishing outside of the Western Conference Playoffs. His transactions are consistently leading outsiders to wonder how, exactly, he's able to keep his job as general manager.

But he was also consistent on trading Rick Nash, the team captain who requested that Columbus consider dealing him earlier this year. After the Jackets didn't move him at the NHL Trade Deadline, Howson said:

"We agreed to accommodate his request as long as we could get a deal that would provide us with cornerstone pieces to help us to compete for a Stanley Cup championship in the coming years. It did not happen by 3 o'clock today."

After the Jackets did move Nash to the New York Rangers on Tuesday, Howson said:

"When Rick Nash approached us several months ago and asked us to consider trading him, we agreed to try to accommodate his request - but only if we could make a deal that improved our long-term chances of competing for a Stanley Cup. We believe today's acquisition of forwards Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov and defenseman Tim Erixon, along with a first round pick in 2013, from the New York Rangers does just that."

Consistency of message doesn't translate into honesty, though, and that's why Howson's getting accused of being fleeced. He's dressing this thing up as fair value, when anyone with a cursory knowledge of the players involved knows it isn't.

But peel back the inflated expectations, understand the context and know that Howson got the best deal he could have expected for Rick Nash.

From the Columbus Dispatch, some knives were out for Howson:

Former Blue Jackets general manager Doug MacLean, via Twitter, called the deal a "disaster" for the Blue Jackets.

Veteran television analyst Barry Melrose was less harsh but said a trade of Nash should have resulted in more for the Blue Jackets. "I don't think that's enough," Melrose said. "You're giving up the face of the organization, a 40-goal scorer. I know their hands were tied a bit (by Nash's request), but I just think the deal has to blow you away when you're giving up a guy like Nash."

Melrose said a trade was not necessarily required. Nash, after all, was under contract through 2018. "I know maybe he doesn't want to be there, but they own him for six more years," Melrose said. "He's a professional. If he wants a paycheck, he'll stay and play, and he'll play hard."

That's fantasyland.

Nash was done in Columbus. He couldn't return to a locker room he wanted to leave, or a franchise that he felt was at the precipice of rebuilding (again). And while this was never on the record, one assumes he wouldn't come back to play for Scott Howson. (To that end, blame management for keeping Howson in spite of Nash.)

But again: What deal is going to blow Scott Howson away when …

1. Nash has a cap hit of $7.8 million through 2018.

2. Nash is 28 years old.

3. Nash has a no-trade clause and a list of teams he was unwilling to expand, especially to include Canadian teams that may have anted up more for him than his U.S.-based choices (hello, Ottawa Senators).

4. Nash reportedly limited his list of trade destinations to the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, San Jose Sharks, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings. Howson wasn't trading him within the division, so goodbye Detroit. The Flyers just signed Shea Weber to a massive contract; as of Monday, they weren't a viable destination (and one assumes they'd rather allocate their funds to defense anyway). The Bruins didn't want to part with the types of assets the Rangers ended up parting with; ditto the San Jose Sharks. And who knows if the Penguins wanted to add $7.8 million to their salary structure. So, in the end ... yeah, the Rangers.

5. Shane Doan, Alex Semin and Bobby Ryan all presented cheaper alternatives (even if just in contract term) than Nash.

Howson's limited options were limited further. We used the label in headlines, but there was no "Nash Derby." Nash had his GM's how-do-you-do in a vice. Howson made the best trade he could make at this point in the offseason.

There was no home run to hit, no jackpot to score. The names that were leaked during the trade process — Tyler Seguin, Jeff Skinner, Logan Couture, Chris Kreider — were never going to be in the final offer.

(Funny how the NHL gets a pass for its lunatic first CBA proposal as being an expected part of a negotiation, but Howson's equally ludicrous demands are seen as an insulting delusion.)

Everything I listed here should have been in Scott Howson's communications with fans and media. Tell is like it is. Explain the process. Would it be embarrassing? I'd prefer "humbling." And you're likely to earn more respect from the fans with sincere, "we're all in this together" talk than putting a bow on this repackaged ham.

Instead, he sends out a Comic Sans-worthy letter with these platitudes:

"Today we have a clear vision of the future and are working every day to give you the type of team you deserve."

Is this the same kind of vision that gave Columbus 39 games of Jeff Carter, only to have that vision change when the team acquired Jack Johnson?

Really, there's no reason to list the rest of this franchise's foibles. You know the score. The real catastrophe for Blue Jackets fans isn't the trade Scott Howson made — if you disagree, then you're swinging for the fences on a pitch that was never going to arrive.

No, the real catastrophe is that Howson was still in a position to make it.

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