COLUMBUS, Ohio — Rick Nash had difficulty sleeping on Monday night, after it became known that he had asked the Columbus Blue Jackets to trade him.
After spending nine seasons as the face of a losing franchise, Nash is now uncertain of the reaction from fans who have idolized him but now might see him as just another opportunist.
“I’m not too sure what to expect,” he said Tuesday in his first public comments after it was revealed he had asked to be dealt. “I’ve been with these fans my whole career here. I love them no matter what. They’re a great fan base, loyal. They’ve been patient with this organization and with this team. No matter what the reception is I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for our fans.”
General manager Scott Howson first mentioned Nash’s trade request on Monday, shortly after he failed to trade the four-time All-Star.
“He obviously wants a change,” said Howson, who was first approached by Nash in January about being moved.
Most people had thought the team, with the worst record by far in the NHL at 18-37-7, had first floated the possibility of dealing its best player. So it was a shocker that it was Nash, who has long said how much he loves Columbus and the Blue Jackets, who wanted out.
His best friend on the Blue Jackets, defenceman Aaron Johnson, said the differences aren’t irreconcilable.
“The answer of the day is, if we win hockey games, everyone’s going to be happy,” Johnson said after the morning skate. “If we have a winning team, he’s not going to want to leave.”
But most observers believe it’ll be difficult to forget that Nash wanted out instead of going through more losing and another reconstruction of the roster.
Nash was adamant — repeating the same phrase several times — that he not only wanted to help his own career but also help the organization that drafted him No. 1 and helped him become one of the top stars in the NHL.
“I was informed by management that there was a rebuild, a reshape, in the team and I personally felt I could be a huge part of that towards bringing assets in,” he said. “In my view, that was the best thing for the team, the organization, and personally for my career.”
One major problem will be building a team around a captain who has already said he’d prefer to be elsewhere.
He said he wanted to remain as captain, at least for the final 20 games of this season. Team officials gave no indication that he would lose the “C” on his jersey.
Interim coach Todd Richards said he had no questions about Nash’s commitment to the Blue Jackets and Columbus.
“When I think of Columbus, previous to me getting here, it was Rick Nash,” Richards said. “I listen to other people talk, I listen to my neighbours talk, my kids go to school and I hear them talk. And what Rick has done for this community and this organization, he’s done it for 10 years. He’s been very committed and very loyal. Now everyone’s questioning it.
“That’s one thing I have a tough time understanding.”
Nash has 21 goals and 22 assists in 62 games this year, and is a minus-23. For his nine-year career, he has 280 goals and 251 assists in 654 games. He was a major contributor in helping Canada win Olympic gold in 2010.
He is signed through the 2014-15 season and will make between $7.5 million and $7.9 million each year. He has a no-trade clause in his contract and has given Howson a list of teams to which he would agree to be traded. Nash declined to say who was on the list or how many teams there were on it.
His hometown of Toronto, along with the New York Rangers, San Jose, Los Angeles and others might be interested in the big (6-foot-4, 219 pounds) right wing. No one has outlined what Columbus is asking in return, but it is believed Howson wants a frontline player, a top prospect and a No. 1 draft pick.
Howson had tried to deal Nash up through Monday’s trade deadline but admitted that he was asking a lot.
“Hey, the price was high,” Howson said. “And I don’t apologize for that. It had to be high.”
Nash met with his teammates earlier on Tuesday and explained why he asked to be traded.
“I don’t think necessarily it was, ’I want out.’ It had to be the right fit for him,” forward Derek Dorsett said of Nash’s trade demand. “Rick loves Columbus, he loves it here. He loves this organization. It’s one of those things where it’s a business and he thought maybe he could help this organization.
“But the right fit wasn’t there.”
Howson said he would continue to try to trade Nash after the season. He said it might be even easier to make a deal then.
“Teams are reluctant for two reasons at this stage. One is the salary-cap space and the other is disrupting your team,” he said. “This was going to be a significant trade if someone was able to pull it off and there was going to be some disruption to your team. The market will be quite a bit looser in the off-season.”
Nash skirted the question when asked if he would be happy remaining with the Blue Jackets.
“As of right now I’ll wear this jersey with pride, like I always have,” he said. “I’ve always played my heart out for (the owners). And I will continue to do that as long as I’m a Blue Jacket and I’ll play my hardest for the fans as well.”