I have been contemplating the Rick Nash situation in Columbus since the NHL trade deadline on February 27th. Contemplating may not be the correct word for my feelings. Fuming may better fit my current state of mind. I thought my feelings might soften with the passing time, but I see that the exact opposite has occurred.
A month prior to the trade deadline, the lead story on every hockey website was “Rick Nash on the Trading Block.” A player of Nash’s status deserves such attention. He is a viewed as a hockey god in Canada. He grew up in Ontario, Canada’s hockey epicenter, playing his junior career for the nearby London Knights. Nash starred on World Junior teams and Canadian Olympic teams, winning gold at the 2010 Vancouver games. As I have said before, Nash’s hockey talent and career resume are above reproach.
Rick Nash is a superstar. What Rick Nash is not… a leader.
Former CBJ GM Doug MacLean made waves at the 2002 NHL entry draft, moving up from #3 to #1 in order to draft Nash. For all he did to cripple this franchise during his tenure, one thing MacLean was a master of was hype. Think of Don King with a hockey stick in his hand. Right or wrong, the weight of the Blue Jackets franchise was placed firmly on the shoulders of young Rick Nash.
In his early career, Nash showed the hometown fans glimpses of the hockey prowess that made him a coveted draft pick. In his rookie season, Nash netted 17 goals and 22 assists. His second season in the NHL Nash brought hardware to Columbus, scoring 41 goals and sharing the Rocket Richard Trophy for the league lead in that category. Nash has scored at least 30 goals in six of his eight full seasons with the Blue Jackets. As stated above, Nash can light the lamp.
There is no secret the Blue Jackets have a revolving door on their coach’s office. In the franchise’s brief 11 year history, there have been eight coaches behind the bench. Rick Nash has been in the dressing room for all eight of their tenures, and he has been the captain of the team for the four most recent coaches. It is hard to deny the fact that people become accustomed to patterns. When a player sees coaches come and go on a regular basis, there is no reason to be concerned… unless you are the leader of that team.
In 2008 Rick Nash was named the 5th captain in Columbus Blue Jackets history. He had played five seasons in the league prior to being awarded with the “C.” The coach at the time Nash took over as team leader was Ken Hitchcock. The future Hall of Fame coach and former Stanley Cup winner (Dallas 1999) is the only coach in franchise history to lead the Blue Jackets to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. For his efforts, Hitchcock was rewarded the following season with a team that completely tuned him out and staged a figurative mutiny by coasting through late season games. All this happened on Rick Nash’s watch.
Current CBJ GM Scott Howson held a press conference following the NHL trade deadline to address the media regarding the non-movement of Rick Nash. During that presser, Howson stated “Rick Nash approached us and asked to be traded.” In all of the stories related to Nash being available to the right suitor that piece of information had never been made public. The captain and leader of his team had asked to leave. I was shocked.
CBJ beat reporter, Aaron Portzline, was granted an interview with Nash following the Howson announcement. During the interview, Porty asked Nash why he had requested a trade. To this Nash responded, “Management said they were going to make a rebuild and a reshape, I thought the best thing for the team and for the organization would be to get assets for me, and I thought it would be best for my career.” Wow. How unselfish of Nash to sacrifice himself for the betterment of the team; Exactly the kind of leadership characteristics you want to see from your captain. (Note: I again looked for the “sarcasm font” for that last sentence but was unable to locate it.)
Portzline went on to ask Nash how he felt about remaining captain and wearing the “C.” Nash answered, “I would love to keep it. I believe I’m the leader of this group right now, and these guys. I think, no matter what, nothing has changed in my mind. I will still lead by example and go out there and do everything I can to win games for this city and for these fans.” You can read the complete interview here.
Lead by example? If I’m in that room, the example being set by Nash is one of taking the path of least resistance. When the going gets tough, the weak get out of town. If Nash thinks his recent actions are those of a leader, then that sheds some light on his actions of the past. Obviously, in his mind, a leader is someone who does what is in his own best interest and attempts to deflect the bad image under the guise of “doing what is best for the team.”
I’m not buying that load of garbage. Members of the team stated they feel Nash is still their leader, and they will follow him even in the wake of the recent revelations of his request to be traded. Of course they want him to stay! Of course they want him as their leader! This is the same guy that was able to get Ken Hitchcock removed as head coach. He is the shield that protects them from any form of hard work, responsibility or discipline. If their #1 confidant is no longer in the dressing room, the team may actually be held accountable for their lack of performance. The Captain has been able to pin these failures on bad management and poor coaching. That mentality has to change.
I believe the camaraderie inside a hockey “room” is second to none in professional sports, so for players to be obedient and not express opposition to their captain is not surprising to me. There may be differing opinions among the players as to how the team should be functioning, but until there is a change at the top of the food chain, we as fans will never see it.
There comes a time when a player’s talent is overshadowed by his ability to prohibit team success. I believe the Columbus Blue Jackets bus is sitting at that intersection.