For fans of the Columbus Blue Jackets, there is no player more polarizing than former captain Rick Nash. Some commend him for being the first real star of the young franchise, while others, to this day, remain upset by his exit. Regardless, his impact and legacy will be remembered in Columbus for years to come.
Nash recently announced his retirement at the age of 34, a result of the lingering effects of multiple concussions sustained over his 15-year NHL career. Understandably, he is placing his health and family first in making this decision.
The Blue Jackets selected Nash with the first overall pick in the 2002 NHL Draft. Immediately, he solidified himself as a star left winger and offensive power. At 18 years of age, he scored in his first game on Oct. 10, 2002. That season, he scored 17 goals and 39 points in 74 games and placed third in voting for the Calder Trophy.
In subsequent seasons, he scored over 30 goals seven times. In his sophomore season of 2003-04, he set the franchise record for goals with 41. In the same season, he took home the Rocket Richard Trophy, awarded to the league’s leading goal scorer, along with Jarome Iginla of the Calgary Flames and Ilya Kovalchuk of the Atlanta Thrashers.
He was named the franchise’s fifth captain at the age of 23, a title he would retain until he was traded to the New York Rangers.
While with the Blue Jackets, Nash scored 547 of his 805 career points and 289 of his 437 career goals. Throughout his career in Columbus, Nash relied on his power and speed to set him apart. His skill, along with his work ethic, rocketed Nash up the scoring charts.
To this day, Nash remains the Blue Jackets’ franchise leader in the following categories:
-Games played: 674
-Even-Strength Goals: 192
-Power-Play Goals: 83
-Shorthanded Goals: 14
-Game-Winning Goals: 44
As a member of the Blue Jackets, he appeared in five All-Star Games and led the team to their first Stanley Cup playoff berth. This was during nine seasons with a franchise that otherwise struggled to produce or retain talent to complement their star. In 2009, he received the NHL Foundation award, which recognizes contributions to the enrichment of his community.
Nash was dominant and intimidating on the ice. At times, he was a spectacle to behold. After all, who else could score this amazing goal against the Arizona Coyotes late in the third period?
Having his career cut short before taking one last run at the Cup, possibly with the Jackets, is a shame.
This is where it gets complicated. In the 2011-12 season, news broke that Nash had requested a trade. The goal was to get some new faces in the locker room and help grow the team. However, many felt betrayed and angry by the request.
This trade is perhaps one of the most significant parts of Nash’s legacy. In a trade deadline deal in 2012, Columbus sent Nash, Steven Delisle, and a 2013 third-round pick to the Rangers. In return, the Blue Jackets received Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Tim Erixon, and a 2013 first-round pick which was used to select Kerby Rychel.
Aside from Dubinsky’s contributions, the Blue Jackets have received further benefits from this trade. First, there’s Anisimov. On June 30, 2015, the Jackets traded him (along with three other players and a pick) to the Chicago Blackhawks for Brandon Saad and Michael Paliotta. Then, on June 23, 2017, the Jackets returned Saad to Chicago in a deal that brought Artemi Panarin to Columbus.
The Blue Jackets traded Rychel to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Scott Harrington on June 25, 2016. Harrington has been a staple in the defensive lineup this season, battling his way in after being the odd man out since his arrival in the 2016-17 season.
Seeing that Nash was the franchise at the time of the trade, it ended up working well in favor of the Blue Jackets. How all parties handled it is now a moot point. The assets gained have propelled the team forward, as was the intention.
For many, Nash’s name is still synonymous with the Blue Jackets. Numerous fans still don a jersey featuring his number 61. Walking by the display inside Nationwide Arena highlighting the first decade of the franchise, Nash features prominently. His contributions will always be felt, regardless of the passage of time.
While some debate whether the Blue Jackets should retire his number, no one can deny the impact he had on the early years of the franchise. He was the spark that kept this team going and was the anchor, regardless of his young age and inexperience.
The idea of any other player wearing 61 doesn’t seem right. Nash was the one constant during the early years and led them when everything seemed lost. He will remain the first and one of the most critical players in the Blue Jackets’ history. At the very least, fans will be able to honor him at Nationwide Arena when Nash drops the puck against the Rangers on January 13, 2019, at 6:00 PM.