Tuesday, February 28, 2012

DBJ's only pertinent thought on Game 63: Detroit

Detroit 5- Columbus 2
18-38-7, 5th in Central Division, 13 points out of 29th in the NHL
In their first game since the NHL trade deadline, the host Columbus Blue Jackets fell, 5-2, to the visiting Detroit Red Wings at Nationwide Arena.

I'm going to dispense with the normal five thoughts on the game to discuss in depth what I feel is perhaps the only pertinent thought as it relates to this game - and the 19 remaining.  First, I'd suggest that you watch this video of today's press conference if you have not yet done so.

If you want to read a transcript, go here.

Let's put aside the obvious question of why the assembled hockey media allowed Rick Nash to have such a softball media availability - including not asking the obvious question, "What personal/career goals do you think that you cannot achieve in Columbus?" Instead, we should focus on that which was said.

Rick Nash has given up on the Columbus Blue Jackets.

This assessment in no way excuses Scott Howson and his hockey operations group from their obvious role in the post-2009 playoff decline of the Columbus Blue Jackets.  I've been on record for a while now in saying Howson needs to be gone.  But John P. McConnell, for some inexplicable reason, has cast his lot with Howson.

So let's go to the other side of the coin: The mutinous captain.

Considering Nash has publicly (in the CBJ press conference room, of all places) given up on the team, why are the CBJ putting him on the ice?  

Thanks for everything, Rick, but it's time for the team to move on.
This seems like an emotional response to a volatile issue, but I assure you that it is anything but.  Step back and look at the issue rationally:

  • The 2011-12 season is over.  Realistically, it was all but over by Halloween, but the All-Star weekend message from McConnell put the nail in the coffin on the season.  
  • If the season is over, the balance of the games remaining need to be spent preparing to make the 2012-13 season more successful.  That involves evaluating the current talent and auditioning some of the AHL prospects at the NHL level. 
  • Rick Nash has said he wants to be gone, and Scott Howson has said that every effort will be made to move Nash during the offseason.  Thus, probabilities suggest that Nash will not be part of the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2012-13 season.  
  • Nash's presence on the ice does nothing to help the reshape the team, only serving to inhibit the development of new team leadership and the evolution of team chemistry.
  • Functionally, Nash's only value to the Blue Jackets is serving as trade bait.  
  • Nash risks injuring himself and diminishing his trade value with every minute that he is on the ice.  
Considering all of this, there is absolutely nothing gained by involving Rick Nash in the affairs of the team any longer.  It's time to turn the page that Nash himself started turning. 

The Blue Jackets should, as quickly as possible, hold a "Thank you, Rick Nash" night.  They should do it right.  Tribute video, fireworks, perhaps even retire the number 61.  Do it right.  Nash has been great to Columbus, and he deserves the best thank you the team can muster.  But this ceremony should have happened tonight.

Immediately following, the team should clean out his locker, scratch him every game from that point until the end of the season, reassign the team captaincy and tell him to go home...and avoid getting injured.

The only reason I can see to keep him on the ice is to try to convince him to change his mind...but it sounds to me like the bridges are burned.  So move on.  Quickly.

That's my thought.  I'm just glad that Nash didn't hurt himself tonight.


  1. I cannot agree with this analysis, nor do I view this as Nash being disloyal or not playing out his contract. He has spent his whole career in the loyal, blind hope of being given a team to play with. He can't be the entire offense, play defense, and play in goal. His best linemate in club history was an unhappy Jeff Carter or perhaps Umberger/Vermette/Vyborny? Seriously? Is he also supposed to deal with draft scouting, free agent signings, and salary cap management? C'mon?!

    This blunder, and frankly all the Blue Jackets blunders, lie at the feet of the Columbus GMs, and right now that's Scott Howson. Scott Howson has handled himself extraordinarily poorly and has thrown Rick Nash under the bus. You deal with your franchise dysfunctional tendencies internally, you don't fight your wars in the media. You leave some degree of secrecy as to who asked for what and you let everybody go about their business (at least until after a trade). Nash would have licked his wounds for not being traded and carried on. His value would have remained, he's a highly respected hockey player. He would have been moved for a reasonable amount at the draft.

    Now Howson has made Nash look like the villain and ensured that he'll never be the same toward the franchise ever again. He's shot himself in the foot for any actual trade value as teams know Howson just wants to get rid of him (can't have a player left who wanted a trade). Now he's freed up Nash to talk about what a miserable job Howson has done running the team into the ground. Of course, he won't while in Columbus (he's a better person than that) but he could drop hints in his next home.

    This whole thing is a pathetic joke that shows the kind of idiotic management running things in Columbus, who can't handle this king of big-deal trade or simple franchise-operations. If this isn't throwing Rick Nash under the bus, the complete botching of the post-deadline press conference, then we're talking in completely different directions here. This, much like many things since 2007, is on Scott Howson, plain and simple.

    To suggest that Rick Nash should be jettisoned (a different thing than traded), I would respond and claim that Scott Howson should be canned first. And if Howson was removed, perhaps we wouldn't have listened to Rick Nash tell us (without saying) that he doesn't believe in where the team is going right now. And to be honest, I don't believe in it either. I believe in the Columbus Blue Jackets, not in Scott Howson, not in the "plan" he has (or had, or might have) for the team's direction.

    Rick Nash now (in my estimation) represents the altogether loudest, quietest and most visible resistance to the continued ineptitude of Scott Howson. Accordingly, Rick Nash is who I'll stand behind in this. I will be mad as hell at the owners, the front office, everything, if Nash goes before the GM. Nash is an imperfect player, an imperfect symbol for those who cannot stand to see the team fail. But I want him out there every night, leading the team, inspiring the fans, and continuing to be a rallying point.

    But let me be clear: moving Nash does not bother me. A proper rebuild probably means that he leaves anyway. Scott Howson moving Nash bothers me. Nash only becomes a symbol so long as Howson remains. Enough is enough.

    1. I don't disagree that Howson needs to go as well. I thought that I've been clear on that. I mean, I gave a paragraph to the point and offered a link to my January call for his immediate removal.

      I'm not taking Nash's side or Howson's side. I've said that I want both gone.

      That being said, the team is rebuilding and Nash has said he doesn't want to be a part of it. So be it. Keep him healthy to preserve his trade value, don't let his presence detract from the rebuild (and I'd much rather get 20 good games of rebuilding in while it honestly doesn't matter), and move him as soon as practical.

      Thank you for your thoughtful response. Comments like yours are one the highlights of this blog for me.

  2. DBJ -

    Not sure I agree with your assessment that Nash shouldn't play. Yeah, you don't want him to get injured, but I don't see the Jackets actually "rebuilding" during the remainder of the season. The big rebuild is going to happen when Nash is finally moved, and you have some different players in his place. Until then, you're treading water. You aren't going to get the new chemistry and see the new leaders emerge until those pieces are in place. I understand your point about pushing Nash aside to see that process start happening, but I think it's unrealistic with the elephant in the room being your disgruntled captain sitting on the bench. Unfortunately, with Howson's inability to get the right deal for Nash, that process just isn't going to happen until this summer. In the meantime, other than the risk of injury, you might as well play Nash and see if he actually increases his value. He's mailed it in for most of the year, so I don't think he can do much more to diminish his value. What happens if he starts playing with some fire? Maybe he increases his value. Maybe . . . just maybe, he gets some success and starts to rethink the decision, especially if ownership cleans house in management and coaching.

    By the way, I'm fine with Howson not moving him at the trade deadline if the right deal wasn't there, but you really aren't going to know what your team looks like until Nash is gone and you have new players in his place.

  3. So the last quarter of the season is a waste? Makes me feel great as a ticket package holder.

    Either you're rebuilding, or you're not. And Nash's only role in a rebuild is to garner as much value as the team can get for him. I suggest that the injury risk in playing him (combined with the other detrimental effects of having him around, as outlined above) outweighs any potential improvement in trade value.

    But that's me. Thanks for your comment. I appreciate that guys like you take the time to offer a reasoned counter-perspective.

  4. I get your point, and I like that you emphasized rational reasons to make it, but it is my belief that benching Rick Nash does more harm than good.

    The biggest reason is that Rick Nash is still under contract, and still under contract for next season. Sure, he has indicated that he wants out, but that doesn't mean Howson is obligated to trade him. This week, he didn't trade him, despite knowing he wanted out, because he didn't get the correct pieces back for him. We would all like to think that Howson (or whoever is the current GM. I'll call him Howson for consistency) will get better offers in the off-season, but what if he doesn't?

    If Howson still doesn't like any offers he gets by NHL entry draft day, he can elect to wait. If the season starts, and he still hasn't received an offer he deems acceptable, then Rick Nash is expected to honor his contract and play for the Columbus Blue Jackets on opening night. We have to pay him either way, and judging by Nash's play in the last 2 months, even a checked-out Rick Nash is still the team's best scorer. Might as well try to get as much out of him as we can while the GM tries to accommodate his wishes in a way that is best for everybody involved.

    It is my opinion that sitting him out is caving to his trade demands. It's like saying, "you asked for a trade, fine, have a trade. Also, have some fresh popcorn while relaxing in your comfy press box chair." I would much prefer to see the coach and management suggest something along the lines of, "we will trade you only if we decide it's in our best interests, not whenever you decide you've had enough."

    Another point I'd like to make is that, if we assume that Nash WILL be traded as soon as possible, I think that benching him until then significantly lowers his trade value. Other teams across the NHL will view it as an even messier situation, and they will low-ball Howson knowing that he is being forced to make a trade as hastily as possible. Others may even view it as a character flaw against Nash. Mike Commodore's value when repeatedly benched crashed so hard that we had to buy him out. I know the situations are very different, but I'm simply saying that Commodore's benching did neither him nor the organization much good in the long run, and it turned a bad situation worse.

    The final point I want to make is that ownership has committed to the Columbus fans that it will do its best to -win the Stanley cup- -make the playoffs- -win a game- entertain the fans. Fans who paid for 2011-2012 tickets would rather see Rick Nash on the ice. They want to forget about their troubles at work, forget about their troubles at home, and forget about the troubles inside the CBJ organization. They want to watch an entertaining hockey game. Victory sure makes it more entertaining, but the only thing paying fans can reasonably expect is entertainment, and watching Rick Nash sure is generally more entertaining that watching a group of AHL players who trip over the blue line.

    At this point, I believe Nash when he says that until he is traded, he will wear the uniform with pride. Until he shows on and off the ice that he is 100% completely done with playing for the Jackets and won't tolerate associating with it anymore, I am OK with utilizing his abilities until a trade comes along that is truly "the best thing for the team, the organization, and [his] career."

    1. You make a host of fine points, Chadly, but I still fall back on:

      1) A rebuilding team needs to use precious meaningless late-season games to figure out what it has and is going to be...chemistry-wise, leadership-wise, etc. Not to mention figure out how the squad could pick up the slack left by Nash's absence.

      2) The injury risk far outweighs any perceived benefit to the team.

      I don't see shutting Nash down for the season as negatively affecting his trade value. First, the team can say, "We're doing it because we want to do it, not because Nash asked." There goes the character issue. Second, I was regaled with "Teams don't need to scout Rick Nash. They know what they're getting." Sounds to me like his trade value won't be affected.

      Lastly, I completely appreciate that fans want to see Nash. I have a feeling, however, that they'd like to see winning hockey even more. And I note that the CBJ didn't win against the Red Wings with Nash in the lineup.

    2. 1) I agree with you mostly here, but I think it's hard to try to form a team for next year when so many pieces will be moving around before then. The slack left by Nash's absence will in theory be filled with whatever return we get for Nash. Howson also has no idea what pieces we'll get until the trade actually takes place (#1 Goalie? Shutdown vs offensive D? Sniper vs playmaker vs power forward? Chief vs Indian?). That said, I do hope that all players take this opportunity to get ready and get better for 2012-2013.

      2) I don't think there's a lot of injuries that could occur to Nash in the next 19 games that wouldn't be completely healed by game 1 next season. Exceptions are a terrible concussion or a serious knee/Achilles injury, both issues Nash has no history of. I think the chances of him playing for the CBJ in 2012-2013 (perhaps until NEXT trade deadline?) are greater than the chances of a significant trade-altering injury. Both are slim, but since the Nash currently remains a healthy Blue Jacket, I think you should continue to play him as a Blue Jacket.

      I like your point about teams not needing to scout Nash. I suppose even a poor statistical finish to the season could cause negative trade return effects.

      Winning hockey is nice, and I firmly believe that playing Nash gives you a better chance of winning games for the remainder of this horrific season. I think that paying another player $7.8 million to sit in the press box will not help the winning percentage in the next few weeks. Will it help win games for next season? I suppose that depends on if Howson finds the right deal or not.

      This is definitely a "no-win scenario" like you said previously, so it's likely that neither of us can get a "win" out of this solution. (only William Shatner can, apparently.)

  5. I usually am in fairly good agreement with your posts DBJ, but I think you've swung and missed on your solution above. I don't see any benefits to telling Nash to sit up in the press box for the rest of the year while he collects his fat check. I was going to write out a long post, but I'll just throw my support behind SirChadley's posts above. While a serious injury is always a risk, even that would likely have less effect on his trade value than sitting him out. I'd rather have the youngsters (including Moore/Savard/Atkinson) build some chemistry together on Springfield and have that team make a playoff push.

    I want Howson gone as much as the next guy, and he's bungled this. But, we can't go back in time and at this point, I agree with this strategy: Rick is a Blue Jacket until someone meets the high price and the price isn't budging.

    1. We'll always have the Mayan quest for knowledge. ;-)

      I would like to have the young prospects making an AHL playoff push as well but won't throw stones at the team for promoting them out of necessity. Moore & Savard are here because of blue line injuries, and Atkinson is here because the team traded away two of their top 9 forwards.

      And I'll stick with my assessment that a healthy, scratched Nash (And who says he has to be in the press box? I'd send him home. To Canada if possible. As in, get him away from the franchise.) than one that is dinged up in any way when we enter the trading season in June.

      But hey, that's me. We're entitled to our opinions.


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