March 5, 2022 will see the first player number raised to the rafters in Nationwide Arena. The first Columbus Blue Jacket to have his number retired is far from a surprise and one that is well warranted. Rick Nash leads the organization in every significant stat category and managed to do so during the weaker earlier years of its history.
Quotes are taken from Blue Jackets Public Relations jersey retirement announcement video, unless stated otherwise.
Nash the Player
Heading into the 2002 NHL Draft, the Blue Jackets were in dire straits. They had just finished their second season and only managed to secure 22 wins – which remains a franchise-worst in a full season. They were awarded the first overall pick and took a swing at it, picking a Brampton kid who had just lit up the Ontario Hockey League.
Nash had just come off of a couple of strong seasons with the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights – who retired his number in 2012. His time in the Forest City included two 30-goal seasons and a dominating closing playoff performance with 10 goals in 12 playoff games. He would be ready for the increased opportunity in a Columbus lineup that was relatively thin up front.
Nash came in and showed the league why he was worthy of the first overall pick. He brought a unique blend of size and skill that only finds its way to the league once in a blue moon. Potting 39 points in his rookie year was good enough to land him on the All-Rookie Team and third-best in Calder Trophy voting.
A dominating power forward, his main talent was scoring goals. A plethora of pretty goals belong to Nash’s highlight reel, including an iconic one against the Phoenix Coyotes which always comes to mind when thinking of the Blue Jackets legend.
Nash is far and away the most prolific scorer from his draft year. His 805 points best next closest Duncan Keith by 177, and his 437 goals best next closest Alexander Steen by 192. It’s safe to say Columbus made the right choice with their first overall pick.
Nash’s Big Moments
Nash and the Blue Jackets were one. He spent his first nine years in the league with the organization, when it too was in its infancy. The two grew together. As new firsts came for the player, so too did they come for the team.
One of those firsts Nash cited as his favourite moment in a Blue Jackets jersey. He said, “My best moment as a Blue Jacket is when I scored the tying goal in Chicago to give us our first playoff berth as an organization.”
He said it was meaningful because it was the first season after founding owner John H. McConnell passed away. He says as captain, he and the rest of the leadership group made a pact to make it to the playoffs for the first time, for McConnell. That goal was a sign that that milestone had been achieved.
Also key in his career was a 41-goal sophomore campaign, in which he had a three-way tie for the league lead in goals with Milan Hejduk and Ilya Kovalchuk. That Maurice Richard Trophy would be the only major award in his career. But not the last time he kissed a 40-goal season, with 40-goals in 2008-09 and 42 with the New York Rangers in 2014-15.
Nash was at an instant the offensive leader in Columbus, leading the team in scoring through six of his nine seasons with the team, being runner-up in two other years. He often seemed like a big fish in a small pond, but it seemed to be how he liked it. Until he didn’t.
In 2012, the Jackets found themselves as a losing team. One of the worst teams in NHL history, only securing 39% of the points available to them. Nash thought that it would be best for both him and the organization to move on, requesting a trade from the only organization he had known. In an availability, Nash told the city that the assets he would bring in would be helpful to the rebuild they were going through and would put him in a better place to succeed as a player. A mutually beneficial solution.
Former Columbus forward Derek Dorsett said at the time, “Rick loves Columbus, he loves it here. He loves this organization. It’s one of those things where it’s a business and he thought maybe he could help this organization.”
Nash was traded to the New York Rangers for a hefty haul, which headlined by Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, and a first-round pick which became Kerby Rychel. Which on paper was quite a jump to a rebuild, whether that ended up being the case is a debate for another day, but the goal of getting a slew of assets for Nash was achieved.
“It was tough when I got traded from here. It wasn’t even fun coming back, but I knew in my heart I was always a Blue Jacket.”Rick Nash spoke of being traded to the New York Rangers in the Blue Jackets jersey retirement announcement video.
Nash spent the last six years of his career with the Rangers and was dealt at the trade deadline in his final year to the Boston Bruins where he called it quits. There was some speculation he might make a triumphant return to the Blue Jackets roster once his contract with Boston expired, but Nash decided instead to hang up his skates, in a decision partially influenced by multiple head injuries.
Nash the Columbusite
A Greater Toronto Area boy, Nash grew up in London with the Knights, but became a man in Central Ohio. Nash met his wife Jessica in Columbus and its where he chose to raise his children.
“Columbus means everything to me,” Nash says. “They were the team that took a chance on a kid from Brampton, first overall, and I’ve never forgotten that. Giving back to the city, and growing this city, and watching my family grow up in this city now just makes it that much more special.”
So special that the moment his playing career was over, he returned to the Blue Jackets as a special assistant to General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen. He spent two seasons in the role and is, as of this season, the Director of Player Development. At 37 years-old, he’s on a track which could lead some to speculate that this young executive could grow into a potential successor to Kekalainen. Such speculation would put him among Hall of Famers in the Avalanche’s Joe Sakic and the Red Wings’ Steve Yzerman as former superstars to return to lead their old team.
Nash has also been a model citizen, winning the NHL Foundation Award in 2008-09. The award was for starting The 61 Club which encouraged students to make healthy choices. He also donated one hundred thousand dollars to Ohio State University to fund a scholarship for student-athletes. Not only a leader on ice, but in the community as well.
Nash is still synonymous with the Blue Jackets. He’s indisputably the most prominent star player that was drafted and developed by the organization. A legend in the hearts and minds of Columbus fans and in the eyes of young hockey players in Ohio.
Blue Jackets forward and Columbus native Sean Kuraly says, “He was hockey in Columbus, really. Youth hockey around here, if you were on the ice you were trying to be [Nash].”
Nash the Legend
One would be inhuman to not be tempted with tears while watching the announcement video put out by Jackets PR for Nash’s jersey retirement. Seeing his love for the organization and that love requited, shows why many are entranced by the sports world. Now that love, and the love of his city, will be on full display when the Blue Jackets take on the Boston Bruins on March 5. That banner, a symbol of that love, will be displayed in the rafters of Nationwide Arena until the end of time.
Writer covering Columbus Blue Jackets.
Also a radio personality and reporter currently based on Vancouver Island.