For better or worse, the Blue Jackets have become intertwined with Rick Nash. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)
With the Blue Jackets season rolling towards an inevitable stop on the final day of the regular season - again - there is a strange sense of being on a precipice. With rumors buzzing about the potential trade of Rick Nash, the team and its fans find themselves trying to figure out what a split between the organization and their franchise player might mean for the future.
Some are optimistic, others afraid that this might mark the beginning of the end, but perhaps it's best to look at this as an opportunity to truly wipe the slate clean on a lot of decisions made around the team over the last several years.
For several years, both professional pundits and fan observers have been quick to point out that the Jackets, as an organization, have lacked identity. Constantly trying to adjust the way they play, the image they present, even the attitude between teammates in the locker room, to call it mercurial is an understatement.
But there has always been one underlying sentiment: It's Rick's team.
Nash has been constantly groomed to be the leader of this franchise, and acquisitions going back to the decision to sign Adam Foote or Sergei Federov were made not only to improve the team, but to give Nash examples to learn by.
Even this summer's blockbuster moves were framed in the Nash context, with GM Scott Howson saying that the team saw Nash in his prime, and that they wanted to put other all stars around him. It's a strategy that seems to owe more to basketball than it does to hockey, and with one shining exception, has generally backfired in Columbus. For that matter, it's also struggling in Edmonton, where the general consensus has been to assemble their draft picks with no real underlying goal, and simply allow them to play until their talent wins out.
Everyone saw the success of the Blackhawks several years ago and put it down to their assembly of top draft picks, but perhaps we need to consider an incident that happened before the team turned themselves around. In the grip of a losing streak, former Hawks coach Denis Savard told the media that his team needed to "Commit to the Indian", and that anyone who wasn't on board needed to go. A year later, even though Savard would see himself replaced as head coach, he'd still be in the Hawks front office watching as the players he called out lifted the Stanley Cup.
Perhaps it's time the organization stopped basing their identity on one man, no matter how talented he is, and started finding players to fit what they want the team to be, instead of the other way around. If, somehow, Nash stays in Union Blue after this offseason, he needs to buy into that identity. If he is traded, then both the players coming in return and the existing leadership group need to have their own moment of soul searching. I can't say that I have a nifty catch phrase for it ("Enlist in the Army?") but it seems painfully obvious that success must be built around more than one man.
They cannot be "Rick's Team", "Vinny's Team", or "R.J.'s Team."
It's time to say We're Blue Jackets, and it's time for that phrase to that mean more than who you line up with on the ice.