DAN GELSTON,AP Sports Writer
Rick Nash wears the “C” on his jersey as captain of Columbus. These days, the letter stands more for, coveted.
The NHL trade deadline is Monday and no player has been dangled as bait like Nash, the Blue Jackets’ 27-year-old star forward, and the greatest player in franchise history. He’s done it all in Columbus — except turn the team into a winner. With the Blue Jackets floundering as the worst team in the league, the Nash era could be over in Ohio by this time next week, and the list of potential suitors seems to run as long as the list of playoff contenders.
Columbus’ visit to the Eastern Conference last week saw the trade rumors fly at light speed. Columbus general manager Scott Howson had a chat with Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren. And Nash faced a media crush in New York, with everyone curious to learn if he’d be willing to trade the leisurely life in Columbus for the bright lights and Stanley Cup expectations in the Big Apple.
Could Nash be the franchise-shifter that turns a contender into a champion?
“Right now I’m a Blue Jacket,” Nash said in New York. “And that’s what matters.”
Columbus is ready to rebuild and could restock the roster with prospects and future draft choices for Nash, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2002 draft.
Nash is signed through the 2014-15 season, and carries an annual salary cap hit of $7.8 million.
Howson refused to comment when asked if anyone on his team is untouchable.
With 18 wins and 43 points entering Wednesday night, it seems every veteran on Columbus could be available.
“Everybody’s got a good handle now. There’s only six days left on where they are, what they need,” Howson said. “There’s still some uncertainty about whether some teams are selling or buying or staying pat.”
Nash enjoys Columbus and would like to stay, but he also recognizes that the NHL is a business, and even star players get traded, or at least shopped. Potential landing spots include the improved Los Angeles Kings (needs offense; could offer goalie Jonathan Bernier), Toronto (which covets a native son who could be the face of the organization), the Flyers and Rangers.
Unlike previous seasons, when the Blue Jackets were always near the bottom of the salary cap, they are near the top this season in spending. And for that, they easily have the worst record in the NHL.
Nash is far from the only big name Blue Jacket on the block. Jeff Carter, acquired in a ballyhooed deal from the Flyers last summer, has been a bust in Columbus. He was unhappy the Flyers traded him and has missed chunks of this season with a separated shoulder and a broken foot. He could find his bliss if he’s reunited with former Philadelphia running buddy, Mike Richards, in Los Angeles.
Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter, Maple Leafs defenseman Luke Schenn, and Anaheim forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan could find new homes by the time deadline day is over, as well.
While the trade deadline is fun for fans who mix and match salary cap numbers and wish a superstar will push their team into the Stanley Cup finals, the reality is, trade rumors are just that.
“History tells you there’s going to be moves, but most of them will probably be depth moves,” Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “Everybody focuses on the sexy, higher-profile names, but most of the time, nothing happens with those guys. It ends up being the veteran players who can give an organization depth that everyone is looking for because of the parity in the league.”
The Washington Capitals expected scoring punch on the blue line and needed depth for the stretch run last season when they acquired Dennis Wideman, Jason Arnott and Marco Sturm. They gave the team a lift — the Caps had a nine-game winning streak into mid-March — just not the Cup.
Capitals general manager George McPhee then went out and made other additions last summer — goaltender Tomas Vokoun among them — in the hope that Washington can snare that elusive title. But the Capitals wouldn’t have even made the playoffs, if the season ended Tuesday night.
So, clearly, McPhee’s decisions down the stretch could determine whether he keeps his job.
Owner Ted Leonsis posted on his blog recently: “hope we can add some jump via the trade markets during the next few weeks. Go Caps!”
No pressure, George.
It’s not as easy as just trading a few pieces for a star. Aside from salary cap considerations, a team like the Rangers has to decide if it’s worth surrendering a piece like Brandon Dubinsky, key in their run to the top of the East, for Nash. The Bruins are playing again like a Stanley Cup champion. Does general manager Peter Chiarelli want to mess around with a wildly successful team’s chemistry going into the trade deadline?
“I think that’s probably my priority when I look to add something. I do want to add something, and I’d like to help the team,” he said. “I’d like to add to our depth. But that’s a priority. It’s a fine balance, chemistry, and you have to be careful.”
The risk can be worth it.
The Penguins scored big last season when they acquired forward James Neal, and he’s turned into their most reliable scorer behind Evgeni Malkin. Any deal this season would be limited to providing depth. The Penguins figure no trade could be better than the return of injured captain Sidney Crosby, who hasn’t played since Dec. 5 due to a recurrence of concussion-like symptoms. Crosby is skating, but has not been cleared for contact. He remains optimistic he can play again this season and his return would far outweigh anything Pittsburgh could get in a trade.
But for teams like New York, Philadelphia and others, the chance to land Nash could make all the difference between finishing in April or June.
AP Sports Writers Rusty Miller in Columbus, Ohio, Larry Lage in Detroit, Joseph White in Washington, Jimmy Golen in Boston, and Will Graves in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.
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