About twenty minutes after 4 p.m. yesterday, what had been a somewhat strained but cordial relationship between the Columbus Blue Jackets and their franchise player, Rick Nash, devolved into ugliness.
During the post-trade deadline press conference held at Nationwide Arena, General Manager Scott Howson dropped all pretense of being nice and said that "Rick Nash requested to be traded". No matter what else was said after that, the damage had been done. Incredulous doesn't even begin describe the reaction to that. This was said in a statement, and not in response to a question. It was a preemptive strike, if you will.
It was a course in damage control by the Blue Jackets that was ill advised, at best. With the tacit approval of Special Consultant Craig Patrick , Howson said "I just think it was the right thing to do, the truthful thing to do. We wanted to make sure that everybody understood where everybody was on this issue because it's a very important issue for our franchise". The operative phrase is the truthful thing to do. Context is everything here.
Since being drafted in 2002, Rick Nash has been the "face of the franchise" and the quintessential "company man", doing what was right for the club, city and fans that he loved. He left money on the table when he signed his current contract extension in 2009. He's said and done all the things a good soldier should. He's seen quite a few coaches come and go. And, he's been through countless "tweaks" and "rebuilds" while here. He's never publically complained about any of it.
Yes, he did ask for a trade. But as I said, context is everything. What was not mentioned yesterday was the fact that Rick Nash has seen the dysfunction within the Front Office of the Blue Jackets with his own eyes. This organization has shown a repeated pattern of hiring inexperienced people for key positions. It has absolutely no track record of developing young players. For having 11 picks in the top 8 in the Entry Draft, they have one star to show for it - Rick Nash. The missteps that Howson and the Front Office have made are numerous.
It was confirmed by a source within the organization that Rick Nash went to majority owner John P. McConnell and had a discussion about the dysfunction culminating in a request that management changes be made. Nash had earned the trust and respect of the late John H. McConnell and thought he had that same level of trust and respect with his son, John P. McConnell. He didn't want to leave and told John P. as much.
As everyone saw yesterday, that was not the case. If nothing else, Nash had earned the right to have this whole situation be made as smooth as possible. He was saying all the right things as recently as Sunday. The loyalty that Nash has shown the club, city and fans was rewarded by Scott Howson torching the bridge of mutual respect.
Fans have already started to vilify Nash after that bombshell was dropped yesterday. The important thing to remember is context. Howson made the club out to be the aggrieved party. That is patently false. There is no winner or loser in all of this. The best course of action would have been to show mutual respect and move on. By Howson's actions, that is nigh impossible now.
The fallout from Howson making that statement remains to be seen. The world of hockey is not a large one. Players talk to one another. Player Agents all know and talk to each other. General Managers all know each other. Howson made the Blue Jackets job of enticing Free Agents to Columbus significantly harder. What player would want to come to Columbus knowing that they may be thrown under the bus whenever the mood strikes the Front Office? Other General Managers would now seem to have the upper hand in any negotiations involving the Blue Jackets.
The blame will get tossed back and forth, but it didn't have to be this way. Everyone thought that being in 30th place in the league (by a country mile) was bad. This is infinitely worse.