It’s a conversation Whitty and I have had numerous times throughout the previous few seasons. Would Rick Nash be welcomed back to Columbus with open arms? After nine mostly unsuccessful seasons, only making the playoffs once with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Rick Nash initiated an ugly breakup with the team that drafted him #1 overall in the 2002 NHL Draft. When I say ugly, I mean U-G-L-Y you ain’t got no alibi. The man who once marched into the owner’s house (allegedly) and campaigned to be named the fifth captain in Blue Jacket history after Adam Foote royally screwed the Jackets, no longer wanted to be in Columbus. As a long suffering Blue Jackets fan, it was a tough pill to swallow. For the shitty seasons Whitty and I sat through as season ticket holders (not to brag, but I’m bragging), Rick was often the lone bright spot aside from our scrappy Blue Jackets dropping the gloves when they got frustrated in another 4-1 loss.
Fast forward to 2018 and we’ve got ourselves quite an interesting scenario brewing. The Blue Jackets have been plagued by injuries and under-performing veterans despite having arguably the best Stanley Cup ready roster they’ve ever had. There has been no room for error in the tightly contested Metropolitan Division. Every missed opportunity for two points stings, and even worse if you toss an easy two to a division rival. The Rangers are aligning themselves for a modified rebuild and relieving themselves of Rick Nash’s contract for the rest of the season while adding valuable prospects or draft picks (both things Columbus has a plethora of) is on their agenda. With Nash’s contract set to expire at the end of this season, the Rangers can’t afford to let him walk and it doesn’t appear he’s part of their long term future so getting what they can for him at the deadline is an ideal situation.
I have to admit. When Rick Nash demanded a trade, I was furious. Aside from Jared Boll and my yearly underdog favorite Blue Jacket (guys like Calvert, Derek Dorsett, Derek MacKenzie, etc.), Rick Nash was my favorite player in hockey. He didn’t always seem to fit the diva mold that a player with his caliber should. Sure he had fancy cars and loved living it up at the Ohio State campus bars, but you never got the sense that he thought he was bigger than the game and he was a perfect fit for a Midwestern town like Columbus. Everything that we say about Joey Votto in Cincinnati could have been said for Rick Nash during his time with the Jackets.
When news of the trade demand came out it was heartbreaking. I always figured his late season injuries were more of a “our playoff chances are over, so I might as well cash it in as well” situation but it was hard to blame him when he had been the lone bright spot for the young organization. He played his ass off when he was healthy and scored more goals than anyone should have expected with the sub-par surrounding cast year in and year out. Not to mention the Scott Arniel debacle. I could probably write a book about how much I despised his 1.5 seasons behind the bench in Columbus, but that’s for another day. Not only did we learn that our hockey hero wanted to leave Columbus, but rumors started swirling about him being a shitty captain and not always the greatest teammate. It’s hard to verify these types of things, especially when other players came to his defense but where there’s smoke, there’s often fire. The country club atmosphere of the Blue Jackets dressing room had infected our captain, and he was too nice and laid back to hold guys accountable and demand change that was needed.
When the Jackets finally worked out a trade for Rick Nash, I was instantly excited. As soon as I heard it was with the Rangers, I started praying to the hockey gods that Brandon Dubinsky would be part of the deal. I had become very familiar with Dubinsky from HBO’s 24/7, a documentary leading up to the NHL’s Winter Classic. Watching how he played and carried himself off the ice, I always hoped that he’d be a Blue Jacket someday when his time with New York ended. Whatta you know.. Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov (famous for sparking a brawl by using his stick as a prop gun in a goal celebration) would be on the next flight to Columbus. The sting of Rick Nash requesting a trade and it happening wore off once I found out my favorite non-Blue Jacket was coming to Columbus and bringing his Russian friend. I still hadn’t forgiven Rick, but time heals all wounds.
When Rick Nash returned to Columbus for the first time as a New York Ranger, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I knew how I planned on acting. I wasn’t going to boo Rick, other than maybe the gratuitous “BOOOOOOOOO” the first time he touched the puck. I was looking forward to standing up and applauding Rick when his tribute video aired during a stoppage.
Then this happened:
Yowza… that’s a bad look. Sure Sergei was partially to blame for flinging Rick’s stick across the ice with a classic “sike.. I didn’t just pick your stick up for you.. suckaaaaa”, or whatever Russians say when they burn someone. I wasn’t even really that mad that Rick went after Bobrovsky, because it’s exactly how I’d want a Blue Jacket to react if someone did that to them. The thing that pissed me off was it was more emotion and anger than Rick showed in his entire nine seasons in Columbus. We’re talking about a guy who stood there and watched young Derick Brassard get pummeled by the Miami (OH) Midget Dan Boyle without stepping up like a real captain should. Sure, Nick Foligno isn’t scoring goals right now, but you’d never see him stand there as a spectator while Alexander Wennberg got his face caved in by an opposing player.
At that moment, my opinion on Rick Nash completely changed and my game plan for his return was tossed out the window. I made myself hoarse by booing so loud while he was ushered to the penalty box. At that point I didn’t care how much Rick Nash meant to the Blue Jackets franchise for nine seasons. Fuck Rick Nash. Don’t come back into our house, shove our goalie, and act like a dick; a dick that would’ve been nice to have as a captain just a few seasons ago.
Lucky for us, we had Matt Calvert on the ice to help make things right.
I’ve been to NFL playoff games, NCAA tournaments and conference championships, The Crosstown Shootout and more big games than I can count but this was quite possibly the most electric moment I’ve ever experienced in person. It’s right up there with the deafening “FLEURY” chant as he tried to hand the Jackets a playoff victory. I was ready to slap the “C” on Calvert’s chest as soon as he stepped out of the penalty box. Not only did Calvert show more leadership in that moment than Rick had in his final years in a Blue Jackets sweater, he did it against a former fan favorite that out measured him in every physical attribute (besides heart, obvi). Calvert might not have won the fight, but he won the respect and admiration of every single Blue Jacket fan that night.
For about two years after this happened, I wanted nothing but the worst for Rick. Even though he still likes Columbus enough to make it his home in the offseason, I still hated his guts. My skin would crawl every time I saw his stupid face in a Rangers jersey and I’d watch the Calvert-Nash fight at least five times the day the Rangers and Jackets were set to square off. I’m a bigger man than Rick (actually he’s about an inch taller, but I outweigh him), so it’s time to bury the hatchet.
The Blue Jackets need to do what’s right and bring him home.
Columbus needs scoring help, and Nash is a big bodied winger that can crash the net and wreak havoc on defenses when he’s got the puck on his stick. It sounds like exactly what the Jackets need, right? He could be a great addition to help younger players like Josh Anderson and Pierre-Luc Dubois. Not to mention, he wouldn’t have the added burden of being a captain that is responsible for more than just scoring. If Rick can get past the way things went after his tenure in Columbus, then so can I.
I wouldn’t do this without protecting the Jackets for the long term though. If Rick is willing to sign a deal to finish his career with the Blue Jackets after the trade (he’s set to become a free agent at the end of this season) then it’s a no brainer. Bringing him back to Columbus and letting him walk at the end of the season is a waist if it doesn’t result in a parade.
It’s time to do what’s right. Bring Rick home and let him finish his career where it started. Hopefully that includes hoisting the Stanley Cup in Nationwide Arena.