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After a six-month game of chicken, Scott Howson flinched.
The general manager of the Columbus Blue Jackets finally agreed to trade Rick Nash to the New York Rangers on Monday afternoon, sending his franchise’s all-time leading scorer to Broadway for forwards Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky, defenseman Tim Erixon and a first-round draft pick.
By accepting two established players who will help his team now—rather than holding out for a top offensive prospect to eventually break Nash’s team records, rather than a blue liner who could not be seen cracking New York’s top two pairings in the near future—Howson did not get enough to justify dealing a franchise player whose alienation from the organization was only furthered by Howson’s own public comments after the trade deadline.
It is only too easy now for Blue Jackets fans to paint Howson as the man who ran Nash out of town, and they will be right.
Howson is not the first general manager to be outmaneuvered by Glen Sather, who can celebrate by lighting his ubiquitous cigar after acquiring Nash without surrendering untouchables such as Chris Kreider and Ryan McDonagh, the latter stolen from the Canadiens in the infamous-in-Montreal deal for Scott Gomez.
Not only that, Sather was able to acquire Nash without blowing up his salary cap—Nash comes at a $7.8 million annual cap hit, while Anisimov, Dubinsky and Erixon will cost the Blue Jackets a combined $7.825 million per year, over a much shorter term than Nash.
The teams began talking in February.
"It took a long time, I'll tell you that much," Sather said on Monday conference call, adding that the end result "was a deal we couldn't turn down."
With Marian Gaborik likely to miss time early in the season after shoulder surgery, the Rangers were particularly keen to get Nash in the fold this summer.
Rick Nash brings his immense talent to the bright lights of New York City. (AP Photo)
Even without Gaborik in the lineup, the Rangers have a potent top two lines, led by a seven-time 30-goal scorer in Nash. He joins Brad Richards, who led the Rangers with 41 assists in his first year in New York; captain and 29-goal man Ryan Callahan; Chris Kreider, who has yet to play his first regular-season game but had five goals in the playoffs; speedy winger Carl Hagelin, who had 14 goals and 24 assists as a rookie; and Derek Stepan, a 22-year-old center who might be Richards 2.0.
While it was a no-brainer for Sather not to send Kreider or McDonagh to Columbus, holding firm on his vow to keep Stepan may have been his biggest triumph in the negotiations with Howson.
Anisimov, who had 16 goals and 20 assists last season, and Dubinsky, a two-time 20-goal scorer, would have been in the mix for top-six minutes in New York, but as it is, John Tortorella is going to have to demote a good player once Gaborik returns to the lineup. Jettisoning both players does leave the Rangers somewhat thinner for depth, but at any time, they can bump up a player from a strong bottom-six group of forwards—Arron Asham, Brian Boyle, Micheal Haley, Jeff Halpern, Taylor Pyatt and Mike Rupp—to add a physical dimension to a scoring line up top.
By trading Erixon, and not sacrificing Michael Del Zotto, who is only eight months older but has played 204 NHL games to the Swede’s 18, Sather kept together a blue line that was underrated in its performance in front of Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist and does not feature a player older than All-Star Dan Girardi at 28.
The scary thing for the rest of the Eastern Conference—and particularly the Atlantic Division—is that the Rangers still have more than $11 million in space (before new deals for restricted free agents Del Zotto and Anton Stralman) under the current CBA’s limit for 2012-13 of $70.2 million. That means New York still can afford upgrades or can patiently wait to see what happens under a new CBA.
“They’re one of the top teams in the league, and the players that they have are pretty impressive—from the goaltending to the defense right up—and I’m happy to be part of the organization and part of the whole city," said Nash, 28. "Last season obviously they were one of the best teams, and I thought it was a great fit for my style to play there.”
The team for whom Nash’s arrival in New York should sound the most alarm bells is in Pennsylvania, but it is hard to tell whether it is the Philadelphia Flyers, who have a 14-year, $110 million offer sheet out to Shea Weber, and are now crossing their fingers extra hard that the Nashville Predators don’t match, or the Pittsburgh Penguins, who traded Jordan Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes with the idea of signing Zach Parise to skate alongside Sidney Crosby but struck out on both the former Devils captain and Weber’s former defense partner, Ryan Suter, when both signed with the Minnesota Wild.
The good news in the Keystone State is that there is a younger, cheaper and arguably better alternative to Nash still on the trade market: Anaheim Ducks winger Bobby Ryan.
Wherever Ryan ends up, in the Atlantic or not, the Rangers served notice to the rest of the East on Monday that having the best record in the conference and getting to Game 6 of the conference finals is not enough. It’s Stanley Cup or bust in New York.