These are strange times to be a fan of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Rebuild (or reshape?) is in full (or partial?) swing, which is painful and weird on its own. But the topic of contention is the post-deadline Rick Nash mayhem. It needs no introduction, but reflection reveals some potent thoughts going through a subset of the fanbase. I consider myself a part of that group, so I wanted to further explore why I've knee-jerk sided with Nash and if that belief is one that has merit.
Initially, it was the trade itself that weighed heavily on my mind. It still does to an extent; Nash is easily my favorite NHL player and a significant part of why I latched onto the Blue Jackets. Rationally, I excepted that moving the captain would return a significant amount and could benefit the team. Then the Howson bombshell and Nash press conference came in fairly quick succession, causing confusion and strain on my opinion of the matter. It's a difficult conundrum: how can I support someone who wants out?
And yet many, like me, are choosing to put their support behind Rick Nash. Why? I would suggest that the perception of Rick Nash has changed for us, but not for the negative. He's no longer just a player; he's now a symbol of resistance for this subset of fans to rally around.
Rick Nash has been loyal to the Columbus Blue Jackets throughout his career. Loyal and existing in the blind hope of being granted a team to play with while in Columbus. He bought into the concepts suggested by Scott Howson and signed a contract extension in the belief that pieces would come in, the team would be built, and that he'd be part of a winner. And that never happened. Nash's best linemate over the years has been an unhappy Jeff Carter, or perhaps Umberger, Vermette, or Vyborny. Certainly not an inspiring cast. And Nash has also been left without a proper defense or a real goalie. I can't help but ask: is Nash expected to deal with draft scouting, free agent signings, and salary cap management?
These problems have simmered and occasionally boiled over with fans, but a real catalyst post-deadline has been the PR blunder of Scott Howson discussing the trade request. The GM has handled himself extraordinarily poorly and has thrown Rick Nash under the bus. Professionally, franchise dysfunctional tendencies should be dealt with internally; wars should not be fought in the media. By leaving some degree of secrecy, everybody could have gone about their post-deadline business (until a trade happened). Nash would have licked his wounds for not being moved. His value would have remained, he's a highly respected hockey player. At the draft, he would have left for a solid return.
Now Howson has tried to make Nash look like the villain and ensured that the player will never be the same toward the franchise again. The GM has likely lowered some of the trade value (can't have a player around who wanted a trade), and he has revealed that even Rick Nash doesn't want to stay in Columbus. Nash is too professional to discuss it this way, but the negative image implications of the press conference are staggering. This whole thing only furthers the idea that management running the Blue Jackets are utterly incompetent. They can't handle sensitive information about a big trade, much like they have been unable to handle building a team. This, like many Blue Jacket problems since 2007, is on Scott Howson.
And this is why Rick Nash has transformed into a symbol. He's no longer just the best player in club history or the face of the franchise. For me, Rick Nash's trade request represents the altogether loudest, quietest, and (thanks to Howson's press conference) most visible resistance to the ineptitude of Scott Howson. Accordingly, I can't help but stand behind Rick Nash in this mess. As contradictory as it seems, that Nash wants out of the club but not out of the franchise or city makes his actions all the more powerful. He wants what his supporters want: the team to get it right.
Nash is certainly an imperfect player and an imperfect symbol for this kind of thinking. If his play had been at a higher level for longer, there is a chance that the past few seasons would have been more successful. But for this trade mess to happen in a season that was supposed to be a step forward is only more fitting. The actions of one superstar winger cannot overcome the league's worst goalie, a porous defense, and painful contracts that tie the team to parts of this setup for years to come. No one player could be expected to overcome the storied problems presented by the work of Scott Howson.
Accordingly, I want Nash out there on the ice every night, from now until his departure, as the leader of this team. He's the one great player to come through Columbus and he has invested his entire NHL career into the efforts of the Blue Jackets. He has put up with everything and now finally he has had enough. And I think plenty of Nash supporters feel that way too; they've had enough. Rick Nash is now a rallying point for those who are tired of the deep, organizational problems of the Blue Jackets and the false belief that the GM is somehow doing the right thing.
And I will admit: I have no problem with the idea of Rick Nash being moved (a proper rebuild probably demands that sort of thing). But the problem lies in Scott Howson moving Rick Nash, after years of trying (and failing) to build around him and then finally outing the captain when the player had enough. As illogical and irrational as it may be, Rick Nash has become (for me) a symbol against Scott Howson, and will remain that way until the GM leaves. Enough is enough.