It’s rare that I watch the general managers’ comments after the NHL trade deadline’s come and gone. When the Thrashers were in town, I was usually too irritated to want to watch; with the Blues, they never do anything huge anyway, so there’s no reason to tune in. This trade deadline, however, I was interested to see how Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson would handle not being able to trade Rick Nash. Gosh, am I glad that I tuned in.
To be fair, I was either expecting Howson to deal Nash and either get some unreal return from a team that doesn't understand the meaning of the word “chemistry,” or I was expecting Howson to completely botch the deal a la the 2008 trade of Marian Hossa. To not see Nash moved did make me a little happy. It gave me hope that teams maybe, just maybe, understand chemistry andthe concept of working together with a solid corps of players and believers that reaches all the way up to management.
I had assumed that the Jackets were trading Nash out of necessity — to really ensure that the rebuild was in full swing. It’s hard to trade your captain, but when a team is as lost as Columbus is, sometimes drastic moves are necessary. I had also assumed that the Jackets were the ones who made this decision. As Aaron Portzline reported:
Last week, the Blue Jackets' brass -- owner John P. McConnell, president Mike Priest, Howson, senior advisor Craig Patrick, interim coach Todd Richards and perhaps others -- met to discuss the club's plans as it heads toward the deadline. In that meeting, it was determined that the possibility of trading Nash needed to be explored.
That, to me, insinuates that the upper levels of the team’s management sat down and discussed a rebuild, not that Nash or his agent had requested a trade with the team. Nash is beloved in Columbus, and the fans would have rather not seen this lost season punctuated with him driving off into the sunset, abandoning their little market to go win a Stanley Cup. Nash, to his credit, has gone out of his way to emphasize how much he enjoys playing in Columbus, possibly — my cynical heart cried — to cover make it easier when he left for fans to point their fingers and terrible management of assets and the team. “Look what you did! You drove our captain away!”
When the words “[Nash] approached us and asked us to consider trading him,” came out of Howson’s mouth this afternoon, I was floored. Nothing anywhere even remotely implied that Nash was the one who wanted one. According to Howson, he asked for one back in January. He has a no trade clause, and has a list of teams that he would approve a deal to, which he is well within his rights to do. Howson had a devil of a time getting what he wanted out of the teams that Nash had approved — presumably the Sharks, Rangers, and Maple Leafs. Nash wouldn't expand his list of teams to ones who could give Howson his top prospects, impact player and draft pick, so the Jackets couldn’t trade the forward that wanted to be traded.
Before I get into the professionalism of Howson and Nash (via the proxy of his agent) here, allow me to say that if a player really wants to be traded, this is not the best way to facilitate getting off of a team. Expand your list to teams that’re good and that can give your GM what he wants to get rid of you for. Why you’d limit your options for a trade that you want s beyond me.
Also beyond me is the fact that Howson dropped this bomb during the press conference. He believed that it was the only honest thing to do, and it could well have been. However, there’s a difference between lying and not saying anything. He could have let it slide, let speculation continue through the off-season. Instead, he reported something that will make Nash’s last months with the franchise contentious as best, while making the management look like they tried everything they can. It’s the Atlanta Spirit Group strategy for coping with departing stars: to save face, you make them look bad as professionally as you can. When Kovalchuk left to go to the Devils in 2010, the Thrashers promptly sent an e-mail to season ticket holders explaining the offers that were made, implying Kovalchuk was the bad guy. Face saved.
This is exactly what Howson’s doing here — he’s deflecting his own incompetence onto Nash, just as ASG and Don Waddell deflected their own incompetence onto Ilya Kovalchuk and his probable concern about the future of the franchise’s location. Make the player look like the bad guy; you’ve been taking a beating from fans all season long for subpar performance, so why not let someone else take some blame for a change? That’s exactly what Howson has done, and the sad thing is that it’s very effective.
Columbus fans’ve written this year off as a bust. Now they’re writing their captain off as a turncoat. Only one of these is perceived as Howson’s fault.