Welcome to the premiere of Jackets 20, a series which celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Columbus Blue Jackets by profiling 20 of the most important players from the first two decades. This is not a ranking, nor is it strictly based on talent. Rather, these posts will reflect what these players have meant to each of us as fans, and the impact they had on the course of the franchise and on the community at large. Today we start with a former face of the franchise: Rick Nash.
My first memory of Rick Nash was the day he was drafted. I watched live on TV as Doug Maclean made a trade to move up from #3 to #1 to get his guy. The Blue Jackets still have never won the top overall pick, but they made it count the one time they traded for it. Nash made an immediate impact, earning a roster spot the same year he was drafted.
In his sophomore season, he became the youngest winner of the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy, tying Jarome Iginla and Ilya Kovalchuk with 41 goals on the season.
After the lockout, his third season was the only one in Columbus with fewer than 74 games played, but in those 54 games he scored a point per game (31 goals, 23 assists). By this point he was a bona fide star. If fans around the league knew nothing else about Columbus and the Blue Jackets, they at least knew Rick Nash.
By 2008, Nash was entering the prime of his career. First, he scored the signature goal of his career, demonstrating a rare combination of size, speed, agility, and puck-handling that made him such a special player:
In spring of 2008, captain Adam Foote demanded a trade, leaving a leadership vacuum in the locker room. Nash was the obvious choice to replace him. One of his first acts as captain was to deliver a speech at the memorial service for team owner John H. McConnell.
That summer, Nash was chosen as the cover athlete for NHL 2k9. I owned this game, of course. I didn’t like it as much as EA’s series, but I was just so happy to see an Ohio athlete on the cover (see also: the Madden game featuring the Browns’ Peyton Hillis after his one and only good season).
In the 2008-09 season, Nash had his highest scoring season (79 points) as he led the Blue Jackets to their first playoff appearance. I can remember the thrill of his late game-tying goal which secured the point that clinched the playoff berth (starting at the 12:21 mark of the video):
After the season, he signed an eight year, $62.4 million contract extension, that would have kept him a Blue Jacket through the 2017-18 season. That is still the largest contract given out by the Blue JacketsBy fall of 2010, I decided it was time to finally get a Jackets sweater. It had to be a Nash jersey, right? He was the franchise player and he was going to be here long term. What could go wrong?
Nash kept playing well, but the team could not match their playoff success. It was a constant struggle to find a center for Nash who could play at his level. It seemed as though the Jackets finally acquired one in Jeff Carter, but his unhappiness about the trade meant that things never had a chance to click here. Carter was traded away, then Nash demanded a trade himself.
He tried to frame it as though the team could get better thanks to the return they would get in a trade. He ended up being correct, with Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov contributing to successful seasons in 2013 and 2014. Still, after the Adam Foote incident it stung to see another captain force his way out of town.
Nash was the chosen one. He was supposed to play his whole career here. We had visions of him leading the team back to the playoffs, and someday getting a statue in front of Nationwide Arena. Just like that he was gone and we had to watch him play for a division opponent for five seasons.
I honestly never thought that I would forgive Nash for leaving. I cheered against him whenever he came back, especially after the fight in his first homecoming game:
Then, in summer 2018, Nash was finally a free agent again. He had served out that eight year contract, but with the Rangers and Bruins rather than the Blue Jackets. There were rumors that he could sign with Columbus on a short term deal, if he were able to continue his career. In January 2019, he announced his retirement. Lingering symptoms from a concussion were cited as the reason. He was honored shortly thereafter in a pregame ceremony at Nationwide.
I thought back to when Nash was drafted, when I learned that he was just two weeks younger than I was. We grew up together in Columbus, both professionally and personally. To see him retire was a harsh reminder of my own age. Am I past my prime as well?
Thankfully he has found a second career in Columbus, and with the Blue Jackets. I’ve always appreciated players who have chosen to live here in retirement, and I was not going to make an exception for Nash. He has been working as a special assistant to general manager Jarmo Kekalainen. Perhaps he will be GM himself one day?
Nash still dominates the franchise record book, often by large margins. Here are some of the career records he still holds (second place player in parentheses):
Games Played: 674 (Cam Atkinson 571)
Goals: 289 (Atkinson 198)
Assists: 258 (David Vyborny 204)
Points: 547 (Atkinson 368)
Power Play Goals: 83 (Atkinson 41)
Short-Handed Goals: 14 (Atkinson 12)
Game-Winning Goals: 44 (Atkinson 40)
He is also responsible for six of the top ten highest goal-scoring seasons, including the top three (sharing first place with Atkinson, with each having a 41 goal season).
What are your favorite memories of Rick Nash’s career?