"I'm a Blue Jacket right now .... As of right now, I'm a Blue Jacket," was how Rick Nash assessed his status Tuesday, as the NHL went berserk over the possibility that the former Canadian Olympian might be on the block with the NHL trade deadline less than two weeks.
And berserk may be an understatement, given how rarely players of Nash's age, 27, and pedigree become available, and how speculation got completely out of control when no one in a position of authority in the Columbus organization raced to get in front of a microphone and tell anyone differently.
So the key questions: Where might Nash be going; what would it take to get him; and most important of all, how much is he really worth?
One NHL general manager suggested a close examination of Nash's record in Columbus would be a worthwhile exercise. In eight full NHL seasons, Nash has produced 39, 57, 54, 57, 69, 79, 67 and 66 points, respectively. For the mathematically challenged, that's one year out of eight in which he has scored 70 or more points. Nash has never managed 80 points in a single NHL season, and after scoring 41 goals in 2004 to tie Jarome Iginla and Ilya Kovalchuk for the NHL scoring lead, he has got to 40 goals just once since then.
Strictly from the statistical side of the equation, Nash has been a very good, but not an exceptional NHL player.
What makes him so intriguing is his amazing one-on-one skill set. Every year, one or two of his goals makes the season-ending highlight reels, because Nash can dangle with the best of them, and when he gets it going, with his long reach, and incredible balance, he can make a defence look utterly foolish.
As with Iginla in Calgary, there is a long-standing view that if Nash ever hooked up with the right playmaking centre, then look out. The sky would be the limit.
It's why Columbus general manager Scott Howson worked so hard last June to pry Jeff Carter away from the Philadelphia Flyers. The thinking was that Carter and Nash would develop instant chemistry and form two thirds of a dynamic top line, something Columbus didn't have when Derick Brassard or Antoine Vermette or Gil Brule or Nik Zherdev or any number of other centres who passed through never did find the right fit with Nash. But it didn't work with Carter either, who is more of a finisher than a puck distributor anyway.
Carter's difficulties adjusting to Columbus have been well-documented, and the feeling is he will be on the move between now and the 27th if the Blue Jackets can interest a team in a $58-million contract that has 10 years to run after this.
Nash is on a pretty big ticket too – a $7.8-million annual cap hit, a total commitment of $62.4-million over eight years. When he signed the deal originally, it was thought that he would be a Blue Jacket for life.
Instead, it looks as though that marriage is on the rocks too, and the conclusion internally in Columbus (which has been by far the worst team in the NHL this season) is that it needs a significant remake because what the Jackets have isn't working and maybe it's time for a facelift.
Logically, given how Steve Mason has struggled, the primary suitor for Nash needs to include a hot goaltending prospect as part of the package. Vancouver has that in Cory Schneider, but the Canucks do not want to move Schneider just yet, liking the dynamic between him and Roberto Luongo. The Los Angeles Kings have the next best goaltending option, Jonathan Bernier, who is languishing on the bench behind Jonathan Quick, but is highly prized for his potential.
The only problem with Bernier is teams haven't seen enough of him this year, or ever in the NHL, to determine if he's the real deal. So if Bernier is part of a package, then that would require a leap of faith on the part of Columbus. But until they sent Slava Voynov to the minors, the Kings had been carrying eight defencemen, so they are in a position to include a quality piece, say a Jack Johnson, in the deal. If they added a forward, Dustin Brown, captain for captain, would that be enough to get it done? The Kings are desperately challenged on offence and need a game-breaker, a player who can make something out of nothing, a player that can turn all those 1-1 games in their favour. The New York Rangers and the Toronto Maple Leafs have the organizational assets to do the deal too, but not the high-end goalie prospect.
In any event, deals of this magnitude generally take time and if Nash is on the market, Howson knows that the trick is going to be to engage multiple teams in a bidding war to see just how high they might go.
For someone of Nash's stature, it might be stratospheric by the time all is said and done.