COLUMBUS, Ohio — The wait to land in a new city and with a new team is over for Rick Nash. Finally, after months of speculation, the high-scoring forward was dealt on Monday. And the destination was not a surprise.
He’s gone from Blue Jacket to Blueshirt.
“There was a lot of limbo for sure,” Nash said. “It was a tough period. The good thing now is it’s over and I can look forward to next year.”
Nash was traded from the Columbus Blue Jackets to the New York Rangers for three players and a first-round draft pick. The All-Star, who first went to Columbus management in January and asked to be dealt, heads to Manhattan in exchange for forwards Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov along with defenceman Tim Erixon and a first-round draft pick in 2013.
Nash, at 28, is the oldest of the players in the deal, and was shipped along with a third-round pick and a minor-league defenceman to the Rangers, who can use offence. Nash is a former NHL goal-scoring champion, who has never played for a contender, but could blossom under the bright lights of the big city.
“We’re happy to have a five-time All-Star on our team and a 40-goal scorer,” said New York general manager Glen Sather, who was also happy he didn’t have to break up the young core of his team any more than he did. “He will help us immensely.”
Talks heated up over the weekend between Sather and Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson. And by Monday afternoon, a day before labour talks resume between the NHL and the players’ association in Toronto, the long-rumoured deal was done.
Howson began his comments at a news conference by thanking Nash for his contributions over a nine-year career in Columbus as he became the face of the franchise. Howson conceded that the fans might need some time to take it all in.
“This is difficult for people to accept when you trade what is arguably your best player,” he said. “We understand the fans (might find it) difficult to understand this or (be) upset with this. But this is something that we did because we think it’s going to better our hockey club. We got the right value for Rick.
“And it’s all about moving forward.”
For both sides, of course. The deal, after all, gives the Rangers a big, sturdy right wing to add to their core of solid young players and also helps them counter moves made by other Eastern Conference powers this off-season. Nash will join a New York offence that includes captain Ryan Callahan, Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik.
“They are already one of the top teams in the league. The players they have are pretty impressive,” Nash said. “In finding a team, I thought the Rangers were perfect. They are a great fit for my style.”
The Rangers were the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference last season and just missed out on the Presidents’ Trophy for most regular-season points. New York defeated Ottawa and Washington in the playoffs before losing to New Jersey in the conference finals in six games. Nash immediately improves its credentials and gets it — on paper, at least — closer to its first Stanley Cup since 1994.
“This changes the complexion of our team,” Sather said. “He is a world-class player. This kind of quality hockey player doesn’t come along very often.”
The move to New York and a perennial playoff team should be a boon to his career, although it will require a major alteration in his lifestyle. Quiet and almost shy, Nash enjoyed playing golf at nice courses and walking around Columbus virtually unnoticed. That will end when he takes his act to the Big Apple.
Nash is in the third year of an eight-year contract he signed in 2010 which has an average annual value of $7.8 million. The total salary cap hit of Dubinsky, Anisimov and Erixon is almost exactly the same.
One of the most decorated players in the league, Nash helped his native Canada win the gold medal in the 2010 Olympics. He also has played in four World Championships, leading Canada to gold in 2007 and silver in 2005 and 2008. Plus, he shared the Rocket Richard Trophy in 2004, scoring 41 goals to lead the league along with Ilya Kovalchuk, then of Atlanta, and Calgary’s Jarome Iginla.
Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said he was pleased by one aspect in particular of the trade.
“I’m glad that he’s in the East,” he said with a laugh. “Obviously, he’s a great player, and if you only have to play him one time, that’s a good thing.”
On April 5, 2013, Columbus will play host to Nash and the Rangers for the first time.
Nash is coming off a season in which he had 30 goals and 29 assists while playing in all 82 games. He has 289 goals and 258 assists in 674 career NHL games, all with the Blue Jackets. His offensive skill set will be welcomed by a New York team that struggled for offence during the post-season. With one of the NHL’s top goaltenders, Henrik Lundqvist, playing in front of a deep, young defence, many people believed the Rangers were just one scorer away from a title last season. Offense was clearly a problem in the six-game loss to the rival Devils, as the Rangers did not score more than three goals in any of those contests.
Meanwhile, the acquisition of the three skilled, young players greatly improves the Blue Jackets, who had the worst record in the NHL last season. They believe they made a key step at the trade deadline when they sent forward Jeff Carter to the Los Angeles Kings — who would go on to win the Stanley Cup with Carter playing a key role — for young defenceman Jack Johnson and a first-round pick.
Johnson, who captained the United States squad in the 2010 Olympics, will likely take over that role in Columbus.
They also traded for another young forward, Nick Foligno, in a one-for-one deal with the Senators earlier this summer.
The loss of Nash will hurt a Columbus offence which already was starved for goals. But Dubinsky and Anisimov will likely get a shot at playing on the top two lines as will Foligno, Vinny Prospal, Derick Brassard, R.J. Umberger and youngsters Ryan Johansen and Cam Atkinson.
The Blue Jackets, who have only been to the post-season once in their 11 seasons, now own three first-round picks in the 2013 draft.
Dubinsky, 26, had 10 goals and 24 assists in 77 games a year ago with the Rangers, while the 24-year-old Anisimov had 16 goals and 20 assists in 79 games. Erixon, just 21, a former first-round pick of the Calgary Flames in 2009, only played in 18 games for the Rangers last year in his first year as a professional. Dubinsky missed part of the Rangers’ playoff run this year with a foot injury.
Howson said both Dubinsky and Erixon were looking forward to a fresh start with a young team in Columbus.
Anisimov, as far as anyone knows, still doesn’t know he was traded.
“Artem is on his honeymoon in Fiji,” Howson said. “A number of people left messages for him but we haven’t heard from him yet.”
AP sports writer Ira Podell contributed to this story.
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