When it comes to moving parts, the Rick Nash deal looks like a dream Meccano toy.
Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson, with some input from adviser Craig Patrick, is expected to trade his star winger by the start of the NHL entry draft Friday, although there is a chance the deal might drag into the free-agency season.
This is not only because of the complexity of trading a star player with a $7.8-million (all currency U.S.) salary-cap hit for the next six seasons, but also because of such outside factors as the status of St. Louis Blues president John Davidson and the financial health of the New Jersey Devils. (NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly denied a report Monday that the league is preparing to take the team away from co-owner Jeff Vanderbeek.)
Both Howson and Nash’s agent, Joe Resnik, declined to comment Monday.
The Devils connection is through their ability to sign forward Zach Parise, who will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1. Parise is thought to prefer staying with the Devils but general manager Lou Lamoriello is going to have a hard time finding the money to keep him because of Vanderbeek’s money troubles.
If Parise hits the open market, which seems certain, then Howson may not mind waiting until after July 1 for a Nash trade. Once Parise signs with someone, the losing teams will start bidding for Nash.
It appears Howson is talking to several teams without regard for the list of approved teams Nash submitted last winter. He may be hoping to strike a great deal and then get Nash to waive his no-move rights just to end the saga.
However, the Parise auction has no bearing on the front-runner in the Nash sweepstakes, at least if Parise is to be believed. He said shortly after the Devils lost the Stanley Cup final to the Los Angeles Kings that he had no interest in playing for the New York Rangers.
The Rangers lust after Nash the most, although talks at the trade deadline last February with New York general manager Glen Sather broke down when he thought Howson was asking for too much. However, if Sather thinks he can sign pending college free-agent defenceman Justin Schultz, who has many teams eyeing him, maybe he would be more inclined to part with some of his developing young players such as defenceman Michael Del Zotto (a restricted free agent on July 1) or forward Carl Hagelin.
Also in the mix in February were the Kings, although with a Stanley Cup in tow their interest is questionable. But Kings GM Dean Lombardi has cap room and a young goaltender in Jonathan Bernier that would be of great interest to Howson if he is also willing to toss in some more assets.
Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke likes to keep his eye on all situations regarding star players such as Nash but this is not a good fit for the Leafs. Their greatest need is a goaltender, followed closely by a No. 1 centre, not a winger.
There is a slim chance Nash would stay in Columbus but that is only if Davidson winds up as president of the Blue Jackets. That possibility is remote even though Davidson recently had an interview with the team. But if he is hired, Davidson is expected to talk to Nash, although that doesn’t mean the trade would be off.
New Blues owner Tom Stillman is looking to “streamline” his front office, which means trim some of the big salaries represented by Davidson, GM Doug Armstrong and head coach Ken Hitchcock. Davidson appears to be the choice to move on but he has three years and almost $6-million left on his contract.
If Stillman wants him out, he has to negotiate a settlement with Davidson. It looks like negotiations have stalled. Davidson said, “I am an employee of the Blues,” and declined to say any more.