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Are the Toronto Maple Leafs close to a deal for Rick Nash of the Columbus Blue Jackets? Globe hockey columnist David Shoalts says Jeff Carter would be a better fit for Toronto. FILE - REUTERS/TODD KOROL (TODD KOROL/Reuters)
Are the Toronto Maple Leafs close to a deal for Rick Nash of the Columbus Blue Jackets? Globe hockey columnist David Shoalts says Jeff Carter would be a better fit for Toronto. FILE - REUTERS/TODD KOROL (TODD KOROL/Reuters)

The Look Ahead

Which Jacket fits best? Add to ...

Word that Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke met with his Columbus Blue Jackets counterpart on Sunday morning sent the predictable frenzy through the social media, with Burke staying mum.

”No comment on any … potential deals,” Burke said in a terse e-mail message.

The excitement was all about Blue Jackets winger Rick Nash, the top prize as the NHL trade deadline nears, but chances are Burke and Jackets GM Scott Howson spent just as much time talking about centre Jeff Carter. Burke’s chances of making a deal for Carter, a player he has coveted in the past, are far better than his chances of landing Nash.

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First, Burke has some decent assets, such as defenceman Luke Schenn and forwards Nazem Kadri or Joe Colborne, to offer Howson for Nash but other teams can top that. Second, if Burke were to decide to throw almost every decent prospect he has plus some draft picks on the pile in order to get Nash, what good would it do?

The Leafs showed during their western road trip last week that they are miles away from being a contender. Just about every part of their game has weaknesses and now it looks like they have to start all over again in trying to find a goaltender.

However, Burke also said in that e-mail message, “We are not looking for a goaltender at this point.” That could be because none are available at a decent price and Burke wisely thinks it’s better to wait until summer to plug this gaping chasm. Youngsters such as Jhonas Enroth or Anders Lindback plus any young goaltender who wasn’t included in a Nash trade might be available then.

The No. 1 issue with a young team is often confidence. The Leafs’ shoddy goaltending is doing nothing in this regard, which makes it a critical issue to address before next season.

In any event, the Leafs are at a point where trading for Nash doesn’t make much sense. They are still a team on the rise despite their troubles. But they are not one or two players away from winning the Stanley Cup.

In his nine NHL seasons, Nash has shown he is a good player with gusts to great but not someone you build a team around. Nevertheless, Howson and his senior adviser Craig Patrick, who may be making the real decision on this trade, are looking for a superstar’s price. Plus, Nash carries a Steve Yzerman-like contract with a cap hit of $7.8-million (all currency U.S.) for the next six seasons.

The only way a Nash trade makes sense for the Leafs is if the teams with the best assets, such as the Los Angeles Kings, melt away and Howson and Patrick somehow decide to deal him for something less because the marriage is on the rocks anyway. Better that Burke take a look at Carter, since the Leafs’ need is greater at centre.

However, this, too, needs to be done with caution. Carter also carries a hefty salary cap hit at $5.3-million for 10 seasons beyond this one and his attitude since being traded to Columbus by the Philadelphia Flyers is not encouraging. Burke also needs to decide if Carter, who is more shooter than playmaker, would be a good fit with Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul or with whomever winds up being the second-line wingers next season.

On the plus side, if you decide Carter, 27, can be one of your top two centres for more than five years, his cap hit is manageable. And the Blue Jackets are so eager to be rid of him, the price compared to Nash will be cheap. But care is needed in making the decision.



CAPS ARE BLOWING THEIR BIG CHANCE

No team is stumbling as badly as the Washington Capitals when it comes to falling flat in the face of a great opportunity. As bad as the Toronto Maple Leafs’ inability to get a grip on the eighth and last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference is, the Caps’ failure to seize the chance to move ahead of them is even worse.

Alex Ovechkin is the whipping boy for the Capitals’ woes, given that his production funk is now in its second season, and rightly so. But the loss of centre Nicklas Backstrom on Jan. 5 to a concussion is equally devastating. He was their best player this season and might have helped bring Ovechkin around.

No one knows when Backstrom will return. “Could be two weeks, could be two months, could be two years,” Caps general manager George McPhee’s said last week.

With their top line ineffective, the Caps are getting little scoring support from their other three lines. However, there was one bright spot on the weekend when defenceman Mike Green, always a big part of the team’s scoring, returned from a six-week injury absence.

The Capitals have two games left on their four-game trip, playing the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday and the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday. They have not won two games in succession in their past 15 and need to start now.

KINGS HAVE THE GREATEST NEED OF NASH

The Los Angeles Kings extended their scoreless streak to 120 minutes 3 seconds thanks to a shutout loss last Saturday to the Calgary Flames. They are now the NHL’s worst scoring team with an average of 2.07 goals a game.

All of which means the pressure on general manager Dean Lombardi to win the Rick Nash sweepstakes is crushing. The way their fans see it, the Kings have to make a good playoff run or else.

Lombardi has the assets Columbus Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson is looking for: a young, highly-regarded goaltender in Jonathan Bernier and young defencemen such as Jack Johnson.

The Kings are fighting with the Flames for eighth place in the Western Conference. The Flames’ win Saturday put them in eighth and the tiebreakers are in their favour. That might be the tipping point for Lombardi on this deal.

FLYERS BULK UP BUT TROUBLE STILL AHEAD

Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren has met with Howson but it does not look like Nash is headed to Philly. The Flyers’ decision to beef up their defence with two trades indicates otherwise.

Besides, the Flyers’ biggest problem right now is goaltending and they do not have the cap room to make Nash an easy fit. The trouble for Holmgren is his goaltending problem is practically impossible to fix.

With Ilya Bryzgalov holding a huge long-term contract, Holmgren cannot move the slumping goaltender nor can he add another one.

Thus Holmgren took the only option he had, bringing in the best defencemen he could in hopes of protecting Bryzgalov and youngster Sergei Bobrovsky. The Flyers have relatively easy games this week against the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers to break in newcomers Nicklas Grossman and Pavel Kubina.

THE PRICE FOR NASH

A young goaltender is considered to be at the top of the price list for Columbus Blue Jackets winger Rick Nash. However, word out of Columbus is that is not necessarily so.

The Columbus Dispatch reported Sunday that a source said Jackets general manager Scott Howson and senior adviser Craig Patrick are mainly interested in the maximum possible price. “We want value,” the source said. “Doesn’t have to be that position.”

It is still believed Nash’s preferred destinations (he has a modified no-movement contract) are the Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, San Jose Sharks, Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks.

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