Lots of finger-pointing going on in Columbus these days, after a string of events that portends a very sulky conclusion to Rick Nash’s lengthy tenure with the team that drafted him.
Can’t really blame anyone over it either.
For the Blue Jackets organization, they’ve got to feel jilted. This is your star player, the only one worth talking about in the entire history of the franchise, the one you thought you’d build around forever. And he comes to you and demands a trade? That’s gotta suck. But if you’re Rick Nash, this was clearly a build to something that didn’t work and one which would require you to miss the playoffs for another however many years. Then add in the fact that your GM just told your fans you asked out? That can’t be pleasant either.
So while it’s certainly hard to feel sorry for either party, anyone looking to assign blame — for either the current circumstances or the ones that led everyone there — is on a fool’s errand. There’s no bad guy here.
People were appalled that Scott Howson went out yesterday and candidly told the media that Rick Nash asked for a trade. It was characterized in a lot of places as him trying to throw Nash under the bus so that he wouldn’t look quite so bad for actively entertaining offers for the only reason to go see a Blue Jackets game these days. I’m not so sure it was spite that drove him to that revelation. If it was, why say so now? It’s not like he’s not going to trade Nash in the summer, and it’s not like there won’t be a lot of very, very good offers for him that will make the Columbus Blue Jackets better at some point in the future. And, in all likelihood, he’ll still be GM anyway, even if he shouldn’t be (no, he shouldn’t be). It wasn’t face-saving and it wasn’t meant to make Nash look bad. It just was.
What made Howson look bad was being in this position at all, one of having to trade what should have been the team’s two best forwards for (relatively) nothing and the prospect of starting all over. He grossly misjudged his team’s ability to be even remotely competitive in the NHL, especially by pushing all-in with Steve Mason as his No. 1 netminder. It is certainly his fault that the Blue Jackets are dead last in the NHL this year.
But that doesn’t make him the bad guy in this situation. He was earnest in his attempts to improve his team, misguided though he may have been; no one calls a bad GM a jerk just for being disconcertingly poor at their job. And he was honest in saying what happened: Nash asked for a trade, and the team also resolved to trade him. This was two parties arriving at the same conclusion for roughly the same reasons. Nash didn’t want to be around when the team restocked the shelves in an effort to get better, and what better way to restock the shelves than by getting a ransom for Nash?
I’m not sure why the media reacted like Howson had just unveiled King Kong on Broadway when he said Nash asked for a trade. Any reasonable person would have at least guessed as much.
And on the flip side, Nash simply isn’t a villain, though he’s almost certain to be treated like one by the few thousand fans who make their way to the rink for the last 10 or so home dates of the year. After all, they’re going to feel they’ve been lied to. This was always framed as “the team wants to trade Rick Nash and he’s accommodating them.” But now it turns out that your captain wants to leave? Yeah that sucks. He faced a smattering of boos last night against Detroit, but mostly cheers. Because you have to think even fans get it at this point. He, too, has done nothing wrong.
Some have speculated that Howson sat on the information that Nash asked out as a means of preserving his trade value, but that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. After all, he’s still got to trade the guy in the offseason, right? So by saying “Oh yeah Nash asked for a trade too, funny thing, eh,” now, does that somehow magically not affect his value? You’re always going to get a boatload for a guy like Rick Nash — maybe not as much as you want, if the Rangers’ leaked offer is to be believed, at least — irrespective of whether he’d like you to move him.
Saying that either party is in the wrong is likely just a function of needing to assign blame. As with divorces in a lot of states, someone has to be considered “at fault,” even if it’s just in the court of public opinion. But this is the reason some states have no-fault divorce.
Sometimes, you just grow apart.