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04-03-2013, 08:56 PM
Mayor Bee
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Part 7B - Trading the Franchise

Rick Nash, Steven Delisle, and a conditional 2013 3rd-round pick to NY Rangers for Artem Anisimov, Brandon Dubinsky, Tim Erixon, and a 2013 1st-rounder.

The saga finally came to an end on July 23, 2012. Rick Nash, sent out after nine years in Columbus, for a package of players fitting his status as All-Star forward.

I'll make this very simple, so all can understand and so all can recognize. We all got played by the media. There, I said it. I try to analyze things like a historian, which is to take various accounts of events and try to reconcile them. That also means developing the ability to recognize self-serving arguments, manipulation of facts, and outright fabrication. As Jean-Luc Picard once said, "A courtroom is a crucible; in it we burn away irrelevancies until we are left with a pure product: the truth, for all time." One of my own failings during the saga was to do something I never do, which is to get caught up in the moment and not keep a distance so as to keep an eye on the big picture.

When Columbus staggered out of the gate to start the 2011-12 season, the questions began early as to whether or not Rick Nash would be traded. This was in early November that whispers began, which accelerated pretty rapidly over the span of about a week. Nash himself was asked if his NTC would be an obstruction if a trade were agreed upon, and he said it wouldn't be. (I'll address that further in a minute). From that point on, there was no stopping it. Things went dormant for a period of time, then were revived in late January. Would Nash be dealt before the deadline, where would he go, and what kind of return would Columbus get? "The list" became known...five teams on the list, not one of them ever confirmed at any point until the deal was made. We only know that New York was on that list because that's where he ended up; multiple "inside sources" reported multiple different teams. I think there were a total of 12 different teams who "insiders" determined were on this 5-team list.

Here's where it gets important. Kings GM Dean Lombardi admitted that he had trade talks about Nash with Columbus, but had absolutely no clue if the Kings were on the list. It's likely that this happened with multiple teams. At any given point, there seemed to be 7-10 teams that there were talks with; published reports verified this. Obviously, with a 5-team list, there aren't 7-10 options. It should have been clear what was going on. Did I mention that Howson is a lawyer? Yeah, he knows a thing or two about how the game is played, and how to pit groups against each other. This takes us to "the demand".

After not dealing Nash at the deadline, Howson revealed that Nash had been the one who requested/demanded a trade a month prior. Everyone collectively slapped their foreheads, while I laughed at what I interpreted to be calculated brilliance. Nash's agent Joe Resnick had said two days prior that Nash was not expanding "the list" no matter what the circumstances were. Resnick speaking publicly undoubtedly infuriated Howson. Revealing that Nash had made the demand, to me, was a direct shot at Resnick. It was a way of saying, "I control this process, not you." It was a calculated shot, designed to piss off Resnick (and Nash) to possibly get the list expanded. Maybe it worked, maybe it didn't. I don't believe that it caused a shift in leverage at all; either a team wants Rick Nash or they don't. I don't think it drove down the going rate for Rick Nash one bit.

I said that the media tried to play everyone. I firmly believe that. I firmly believe that the various other teams were using their local media to jab at Howson either directly or indirectly, hoping to provoke him into either tipping his hand or into caving in. For six months, Scott Howson was the loneliest man in hockey, being blasted from all sides and never backing down. Larry Brooks reported that the Rangers offered five pieces of extremely high value, and that it somehow wasn't enough. It's clear to me (and it should be to damn near everyone else) that this offer was never on the table. The big story included a quote from the Rangers' scouting director that was something like "They want us to look like Columbus after the deal is made." Rumors that San Jose offered Logan Couture and/or Joe Pavelski...come on.

It was plainly obvious what was going on. Other teams were using the media to try to make Howson look ridiculous, and he sat there and kept his hands firmly on the wheel. He was the GM who had done the impossible; he had guided Columbus to its four most successful seasons and the only playoff appearance, and in the midst of one bad season (not the worst in team history either) he was being portrayed publicly as the second coming of Milbury's crazy side. He was every GM who had been fleeced by Sam Pollock, every player run over by Scotty Bowman, every player who'd squandered his considerable talents without a care in the world.

To what extent would the media go? Aaron Portzline, CBJ beat writer for the Columbus Dispatch, wrote a couple of weeks ago that Nash had demanded the trade after finding out that he was the subject of at least a trade talk in January 2012. But that doesn't mesh with the already-established timeline. Nash had been specifically asked by members of the media in November 2011 about being traded, he answered the questions, that was that. To make it sound like Nash was blindsided in January 2012 (two months later) by a trade talk...that doesn't mesh with anything. That's simply the most recent example of media revisionism.

So Howson was on an island. Jeff Carter's unprecedented disappearing act was somehow Howson's fault ("He should have talked to Carter first, well-established tampering guidelines be damned!"). Scott Arniel's media relations were Howson's fault ("Keep piling on!"). Edmonton winning the lottery was Howson's fault (don't get me started on this one).

And then a funny thing happened in July 2012. A number of reports came out talking about the various teams offering three pieces to get Nash, only to be unable to get him. Wait a minute...from an offer of five pieces in February to three pieces in July? And these were somewhat more substantiated reports? Interesting. Why would teams offer five pieces in February but only three in July? There are three possible explanations:
1) The five pieces said to be offered in February weren't actually anything of substance, but simply a lot of garbage. This is entirely possible, as every trade deadline involves a lot of garbage being moved but very little of substance.
2) The market shifted so dramatically from February to July that everyone scaled back their offers. This doesn't make any sense; there's nothing that would have caused that much of a shift across the board. This would be getting into a collusive hivemind mentality here. The idea that all these other teams, in direct competition with each other, ALL scaled back their offers for Rick Nash is illogical. Even if every team but one did it, that one team not complying with the others would have the best offer. The idea that everyone was scaling back to three pieces from four or five? Nonsensical.
3) There was never a five-(valuable)-piece-for-Nash trade on the table at any point. This is the most likely. Teams play the media, period. We see it this year; it comes out a couple days ago that Carolina was listening to offers for Jamie McBain, and suddenly at least a dozen teams start getting involved in trade talks. This wasn't Jamie McBain, guy who may become a top-pairing defenseman and might not. This was Rick Nash, five-time All-Star and Olympian. Don't tell me that the media wasn't being pushed by teams.

Out of nowhere in late July, New York threw in a fourth piece and the deal came together very quickly. No one offered five pieces; no one ever offered five pieces. All that crap about "a combination of players including Chris Kreider; Derek Stepan or Carl Hagelin; Ryan McDonagh or Michael Del Zotto; plus Brandon Dubinsky and a first-rounder" was revealed for what it was: a bunch of garbage from the NY Post, being spoon-fed garbage directly by the Rangers. Well, almost everyone recognized it...these guys would disagree.

The other simple reality being overlooked is that star players generally don't get traded, and when they do, the return isn't usually for a hell of a lot. I don't need to vindicate Scott Howson; Jay Feaster does that every time he picks up the phone. Since I'm typing this on April 2, 2013, I'll add Joe Nieuwendyk onto that list. But it's not just Calgary or Dallas, it's everyone who tries to trade a star. Look at Pittsburgh trading Jaromir Jagr, or Washington then moving him. Look at Vancouver and Florida both trading Pavel Bure. Look at Winnipeg trading Teemu Selanne. Look at Boston trading Joe Thornton. I can keep going with this...we can look at the last 20 years and see that star players who are shipped out don't return anywhere close to a proportional value. Brendan Shanahan. Jeremy Roenick. Ziggy Palffy. The list goes on and on and on. The guy who traded Jaromir Jagr was Craig Patrick. Patrick was brought in as a senior advisor by Columbus in December 2011 and was spotted with Howson numerous times. Patrick himself was effusive with praise for Howson, saying he was "extremely impressed" with how Howson handled the entire ordeal and especially the return.

Let's not forget the other variable: Nash's contract. Columbus had the misfortune of needing to re-sign him during that short window when the NHL wouldn't allow anything that resembled a cap-circumventing contract to be drafted. Everyone else afterward was in the clear, but not Columbus...six more years at a cap hit of $7.8 million a year, one of the highest figures in the league. With a more difficult contract situation than any of the star players named above, Howson got more in return. (Other teams with similar issues: Chicago with Brian Campbell, Carolina with Eric Staal, Tampa Bay with Vincent Lecavalier. All of them were signed before July 15, 2009, and thus carry a substantially higher cap hit than nearly everyone signed to a long-term deal afterward.)

What Columbus, and more specifically Howson, did with Nash is unique. Directly for Nash, he got four actual pieces, all of them with actual value. Brandon Dubinsky isn't some random plug, Artem Anisimov isn't, Tim Erixon isn't, and the 1st-rounder isn't. Most deals involving star players involve a return that has at least one dump in it, whether a C-level or D-level prospect, a middling NHL player with no real upside, a low draft pick instead of a high one, that type of thing. Instead, it was Columbus who threw in two minor pieces to get the deal done. Steven Delisle, a D-level prospect, was part of it. Contrary to Bob McKenzie's report, Columbus actually wasn't at the 50-contract limit; he seems to have been thrown in simply because he could be. And the other part is a conditional 3rd-rounder. The value of any of the three players Columbus got back would be at least a 1st-rounder, meaning that Rick Nash and a couple of spare parts were traded for the overall equivalent of four first-rounders. How many other trades involving star players, many of whom are/were legitimately BETTER than Rick Nash, involved that type of return?

I'll speculate a bit as to exactly what happened. By talking to a minimum of 7-10 teams about Nash over a span of weeks and months, Howson was tapping into the entire marketplace. He knew exactly what teams were looking to make a move, what teams were looking to upgrade, and most important, who teams were willing to move. No doubt, Howson knew the following as a result of these discussions centered around Nash:
1) That Ottawa would be willing to move Nick Foligno. It's likely that Ottawa was demanding Methot in addition to Nash, and the deal ended up being Methot for Foligno. Both sides are happy with this move, and both sides save face. Ottawa can say that the price for Nash was too high, and Columbus simply makes this deal and gets what may well have been the actual best piece being offered.
2) That Philadelphia would be willing to move Sergei Bobrovsky. It's also likely that Philly was insisting that Bobrovsky be taken as a major part of a deal, and that Howson kept insisting that he wasn't worth it. When Anders Lindback was traded, it was said that Columbus had offered more than Tampa Bay had, but that Nashville wouldn't trade within the division. Did Howson go back to Philly and snag Bobrovsky as a result of the prior discussions, plus a tip-off to the media that they'd been in on Lindback?
3) That Los Angeles was willing to move Jack Johnson before the deadline to get one of Nash or Carter. It's believed that Howson had coveted Jack Johnson for years, and saw this as another win-win scenario (like the Ottawa deal above). Los Angeles gets the scorer they need, Columbus gets a defenseman they need while unloading a huge headache.

In other words, shopping Rick Nash may well not have been just about trading Rick Nash. It may have been about plotting the entire NHL landscape and making not one, but FOUR deals that substantially upgraded the team in the present and well into the future. Is it possible that while everyone else was deriding Howson as some type of bumbling oaf, he was actually orchestrating a series of deals that no one ever saw as being connected? We know that he talked to Los Angeles; Dean Lombardi admitted as much. We're 100% certain that he talked to Philadelphia; Howson and Craig Patrick were spotted deep in conversation with Paul Holmgren, and judging from the presence of Howson's nuclear football (a padfolio that he's said to have had with him nearly at all times), it most likely involved trade. We've all heard reports that a deal with Ottawa was finished, pending Nash's NTC waiver, which was refused. This obviously would mean that there were talks with Ottawa. Is it really that much of a stretch to suggest that ALL FOUR of these deals were actually connected through a common line?

But let's look a bit further, and say that my proposed theory is correct. The entire set of deals revolving around Rick Nash in some way are:
- Rick Nash, Marc Methot, Jeff Carter, a 2nd-round pick, two 4th-round picks for Sergei Bobrovsky, Jack Johnson, Nick Foligno, Tim Erixon, Artem Anisimov, Brandon Dubinsky, and two 2013 1st-round picks. Now for the analysis.

Nash, 5-time All-Star, Olympian, superlative offensive talent and underrated in other areas. Methot, stuck on the third pairing and playing at a level that had stagnated in the previous two years. Carter, a floating uninspired ******* with All-World talent and no desire to use it. A 2nd-round pick (#45 overall), a 4th-rounder (#117 overall), and Phoenix's 2013 4th-rounder.

Bobrovsky, 24-year-old goalie who's played at a Vezina-caliber level almost since he arrived. Jack Johnson, dealt with at great length in the last post. Nick Foligno, 25 years old, and who's brought a little bit of everything at a second-line level. Artem Anisimov, 24, bringing high-end offensive skill and underrated defensive ability. Brandon Dubinsky, 26, similar to Foligno. Erixon, 22, playing like a first-pairing defenseman when he's been able to get into the lineup; the overall blueline is so deep that he's having trouble staying in the lineup. And two additional 1st-round picks in an extremely deep draft that may rival 2003 by the time it's all said and done.

If my theory is correct, and Nash talks dragged out for so long for this very reason and these type of moves, then we're not talking about "some dumb GM making dumb moves". We're talking about a series of carefully calculated moves that have fundamentally reshaped a downtrodden organization in an extremely short period of time, AND set it up for long-term success. Dubinsky is the old man out of all those, and he's 26. Eight total pieces, six of them active players and the others 1st-rounders. Eight total pieces, between the ages of 17-26 (counting the 1st-rounders as 17-18-year-old assets), all as a result of shopping Rick Nash and being willing to handle an incredible amount of criticism from every direction. If this theory is correct, this is cunning to an almost historic extent.

The caveat, of course, is that this is a theory. One would have to know me personally to know that I don't just throw crap out there and see what sticks; I don't buy into or repeat conspiracy theories, I don't watch "Ancient Aliens", or any of that. Although many on our own board may disagree, I think I'm pretty logical (most find any defense of Howson to be inherently illogical). In short, I'm not going to postulate a theory just for the hell of it. I think there's enough evidence to support it as being, at minimum, plausible.

(Next up. Part 8 - contracts and signings)

May everyone in your life treat you the same way John Tortorella treats Larry Brooks if you quote this entire post for the purpose of replying to it.

Last edited by Mayor Bee: 04-03-2013 at 10:54 PM.
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