It's no secret around these parts that Rick Nash has been a perennial All Star, and has often been asked to carry a huge amount of the load for the Blue Jackets. And, now that his requests for some legitimate help have been answered--on paper, at least--one might expect a Nash with an air of relaxation and happiness. Joy, even.
Now, I'm not here to say that Nash isn't "happy" about the moves this off-season, but when I talked to him Wednesday after practice, I got the sense that Nash is a player singularly focused, and that this is the season he's been waiting his entire career for. There are legitimate playoff aspirations, and Nash knows it.
He summed it up pretty succinctly when I fell into the temptation to ask him about the expectations for his new line, and his overhauled offense in general: "No numbers. Just one goal: make the playoffs. That's it."
Nash has always been a quiet guy; however, as he shed his gear from a solid practice, he carried a demeanor of business-like focus that made me feel like he was tired of talking about the summer, and ready to drop the puck pronto.
At Media Day, GM Scott Howson talked about a sense of urgency in that Nash was now entering his prime, and the organization didn't want to waste that prime. When I asked Rick if he felt that same sense of urgency, he agreed: "Yeah, for sure," Nash said. "I feel urgent every year, though. It's not just now. Every single year we're urgent to win."
Nash alluded to the moves made this summer as part of the organization's sales pitch to him in the summer of 2009 when he signed his extension. One gets the sense that Nash had been patiently waiting for that day to come, and that now he's ready to roll. "It's a good feeling," he said. "When I signed my long-term deal, they told me that's what the plan is: sign some free agents and get some big-name players in here, and they've definitely done that."
Two of those additions are center Jeff Carter and winger Vinny Prospal. Nash is slated to start the year on the right wing with Prospal on the left and Carter in the center. I asked Nash about moving back to the right, and he was his usual self: "It doesn't matter to me. I like the right. Left's fine. I've played both my whole career, so it doesn't matter."
While one would assume that, on the inside, Nash is jumping for joy to have legitimate NHL talent spanning his line, he not only down-played it a bit, but cautioned fans that this line won't be immortally good immediately. "[Playing with Cater and Prospal is] fun. Obviously, they're great players," Nash said. "It takes time for lines to gel together. And I'm sure it will take us a bit of playing time. We've only played one game all together, so it's going to be awhile before we catch on. Hopefully it's sooner rather than later."
The perceived knock on acquiring Carter is that he and Nash are both "shooters". When I asked Rick if he felt there was a need to tailor his game at all, he didn't feel a big change was necessary. "I don't think either of our games are tailored for one specific role," Nash said of he and his new center. "I think we can play at both ends of the rink, we can both pass, we can both shoot. We're still going to be looking to pass it; we're still going to be looking to shoot it every time down, so it doesn't affect anything."
I really got the sense that Nash was kind of "over" talking about the addition of Carter. He's ready to get down to business and win hockey games. As I noted above, when I then asked about predictions or expectations for the line, he simply said, "No numbers. Just one goal: make the playoffs. That's it."
But, how to get there? One of the things Scott Arniel said on media day about his change in coaching philosophy this year was about trying to keep the team focused on each game, as opposed to allowing the team to drift and look at the whole schedule. In a tough division and tough conference, that can be tough to do. But, the Captain is buying in. "As a team, we worry about game days, and what's going on," said Nash. "We let the coaches figure that stuff out: when we need time off, or when we need to switch the system, or extra rest. We're just worried about the day when we come to the rink."
Something that should also help the team move toward the playoffs is an improved offense. The strengthening of the offensive roster is not lost on Nash. When asked about rolling three scoring lines, he said, "It's good. Every line's a threat. It's not your typical third- and fourth-line checking. Everyone's fitting in very nicely, and that's important to have."
But, to get to that point, there are several rookies and young players being counted on to make that work. There have been times where it's been intimated that additional veteran leadership was needed in the locker room. One need look no further than the moves to acquire Chris Clark and Ethan Moreau, and it's often been said that one of the problems in 2009-2010 was the loss of Michael Peca. In terms of additional leadership with the moves made, and the guidance needed for the young players, the Jackets Captain felt things were solid: "Leadership's not lacking at all," he said. "A lot of these guys have been around a lot of good teams. There's young guys, and we're going to need young guys to step up. Every good team around the league has a couple of young guys that have career seasons. We're going to need that here, and the leaders are going to make sure that they do it."
At the end of the day, I got the sense that Nash has been itching to crank the season up almost from the moment James Wisniewski signed his contract. He's ready. He's focused. He's all-business. And, if there's any doubt, just remember the one succinct pearl that came from the mouth of The Captain:
"No numbers. Just one goal: make the playoffs. That's it."