There's been an arena-sized wall of criticism directed at Columbus Blue Jackets' Scott Howson over the deal that sent Rick Nash to the New York Rangers but it's a little soon to throw the GM under the Zamboni. He might have won the day.
The thinking is that when you don't get the best player in the deal you've lost, and that's a prevalent and long-standing notion throughout professional sport. However it may be outdated given the status of professional contracts. Sure Howson didn't get a big name player back but with a salary cap the kind of money Rick Nash is commanding, and the results he's giving, that has to come into play.
Rick Nash: Giant cap hit, 59 points
So that's the first point: Nash is under contract for a $7.8 million hit through the 2017-18 season, at which time he'll be 35, long in the tooth for that kind of hit (his actual salary averages out to more). His output is already not what it was and it seems logical he wasn't about to improve with the Jackets. Last season Nash managed 30 goals and 29 assists for 59 points and finished -19. That's 20 points and 10 goals under his best season, 2008-09, when he was a plus 11. Players who outpointed Nash include David Desharnais (60) and the 33-year-old Olli Jokinen (61) and Nash was outscored by the likes of Max Pacioretty (33).
Yes, the Blue Jackets are in yet another decline and not made for racking up points but consider this: Columbus scored but 202 goals, second worst in the league, but the Edmonton Oilers had but 212 goals and yet Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, a rookie, had 52 points in 62 games. And the New York Islanders only scored one more, 203, than Columbus and yet their star, John Tavares, managed 81 points while teammate Matt Moulson scored 36 times.
As with the Vancouver Canucks' efforts to peddle goalie Roberto Luongo, that contract factors in, but Luongo's $5.3 million hit pales next to Nash's. Because of that 7.8 figure there was a limited amount of suitors willing and naturally Glen Sather and the Rangers were aware of that. But it goes beyond Nash, the players Columbus got back may turn out to win the day.
Dubinsky, Erixon: NHL possibilities
The biggest return will turn out to be Brandon Dubinsky, 26. Strong defensively, Dubinsky was a plus 16 last season, he plays with an edge and in three of his 5 NHL seasons he's topped 100 penalty minutes. And the 6'1" center has shown flashes of being a point-producer. With a limited offensive role last season he managed just 10 goals and 34 points but he scored 24 and added 30 assists for 54 points in 2010-11.
Combined with Artem Anisimov, 24, in 2010-11 they combined for 42 goals and 98 points, next to Nash's totals that season of 32 goals and 66 points. There's every reason to believe these two will increase their numbers with increased roles in Columbus. Adding Tim Erixon, 21, New York’s top-ranked prospect in THN’s 2012 Future Watch (and yes, ahead of Chris Krieder) and that first-round draft pick gives more weight to the notion that Howson held his own, or won.
If Dubinsky, Anisimov and Erixon fulfill the promise each has they will help the Blue Jackets round out their line-up and move toward respectability. Meanwhile, Nash is going to have to produce at a greater clip than he has been, and continue to produce into the future, to justify his massive salary and for the Rangers to be considered the winner of this deal down the road.