Scott Howson’s Shot Across the Bow

Scott Howson on Rick Nash
Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson/Jeff Little (The Hockey Writers)

Before the 2007-08 season the Columbus Blue Jackets brought in the replica 1857 Napoleon cannon that fires after every Jackets goal and every Jackets victory.  Unfortunately the cannon hasn’t been fired as many times as the organization would have hoped.  86 times the cannon has been fired for a goal scored by team captain and franchise cornerstone Rick Nash.  After this season it’s likely never to fire for him again.  For weeks it has been known that the Blue Jackets were shopping Nash to a list of approved teams supplied to Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson by Nash himself.  It was posited and assumed by many that Howson was the catalyst of the trade discussions, and that Nash was content to stay in Columbus and try to make things work.  With no other big names rumored to be on the move leading up to the February 27 trade deadline, the hockey media focused their attention squarely on Columbus.  After a fairly uneventful, though rumor-filled trading deadline day that saw Nash stay put, Howson took to the podium to discuss the days events.  During the press conference Howson admitted the trade discussions were not his idea, but came at the request of Nash.

“With respect to Rick Nash, he approached us and asked us to consider trading him,” Howson said. “We agreed to accommodate his request as long as we could get a deal that would provide us with cornerstone pieces to help us compete for a Stanley Cup championship in the coming years.”

It’s unclear why Howson went public with this information, but it’s certainly going to change the way Nash is viewed by the fans of the organization he has led on the ice for the last nine seasons.  One of the problems with this situation was the timing of the request.  With Nash requesting the trade in January, when the regular season starting to wind down, the teams Nash would be willing to accept a trade to are all in the midst of the playoff race.  These teams are not looking to trade established players from their core, instead they want to trade prospects and draft picks for players with expiring contracts that could help them in the playoffs.  The Blue Jackets most likely are not looking to stock-up on just draft picks and prospects for Rick Nash.  The organization has not been good at developing players and seems more likely to be targeting a combination of NHL-ready younger players and veterans along with draft picks.  Howson could be hoping to push Nash into expanding his choices of acceptable destination teams or he could simply be attempting to shift the ire of the disgruntled fans from management to Nash.  The end result is a relationship that seemingly cannot be fixed.  Outside of sweeping changes in management it appears Nash will not be happy in Columbus, and if the Blue Jackets retain Howson they will have no choice but to trade their star player.

For fans, it seems to have sharply divided them with some supporting Nash and understanding his desire to leave, and some that see him as abandoning ship after singing a monumental contract.  The remaining home games should prove interesting.  From a team standpoint, Howson’s revelation creates a rift that he himself acknowledged but apparently isn’t worried about.  Nash is the captain of the Blue Jackets.  Their voice, their leader on and off the ice.  Even in a season where they have essentially locked-up last place, how is the team supposed to follow Nash?  How are the players supposed to treat the captain that turned his back on them and asked to be dealt?  It isn’t fair for the players that are on the team to ask them to follow him.  Barring Nash stepping down as captain, the coaching staff should remove the “C” from him and award it to a player who wants to be here.  Even if the team is playing out the string, they deserve to have a captain who has his heart in the right place, not one foot out the door.