Rick Nash is still a member of the Blue Jackets. At least for the moment.
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Columbus held onto its captain during the NHL draft this weekend despite speculation the club could trade the nine-year veteran to stock up on young talent as part of a rebuilding process.
”I sensed through the middle of the week there was not a big push from the teams I’m talking to now,” Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson said after the draft ended Saturday afternoon. ”I think the landscape will become a lot more certain on July 1.”
That’s when the free agent market opens. When the smoke from the signings clear, Howson believes he’ll have a better handle on what the market is for one of the top forwards in the league.
Nash has spent his entire career in Columbus and finished with 30 goals and 29 assists during the 2011-12 season. There was considerable buzz at the trade deadline in February, but Nash stayed put while the Blue Jackets completed a miserable season in which they finished with the worst record in the league.
The road back to respectability is long. Trading the franchise cornerstone for a combination of prospects and proven veterans could give Columbus a jump start.
It didn’t happen over the weekend, though Howson flatly denied the asking price for the five-time All-Star is too high or that he’s boxed in by being forced to negotiate with a short list of teams approved by Nash.
”I don’t believe I’m handcuffed at all,” Howson said.
Howson remained open to the possibility of not moving Nash at all, saying the team is prepared to start next season with him on the bench.
Either way, it’s unlikely Nash will be around when the players taken by the Blue Jackets over the weekend reach the NHL.
The club drafted defenseman Ryan Murray with the second overall pick Friday then added a pair of goaltenders early Saturday. Columbus selected Oscar Dansk with the first pick of the second round and added Joonas Korpisalo in the third round.
The pair of 18-year-olds – Dansk is from Sweden while Korpisalo is from Finland – could play in Canada this year.
Columbus also picked wingers Josh Anderson and Daniel Zaar and defenseman Gianluca Curcuruto on Saturday.
Though it will be a while before any of the draftees are ready to make the jump to the NHL, Howson knows the franchise needs depth all over, particularly in goal.
”We need to add more goalies,” Howson said. ”We need two more pros and we certainly need another goalie that can play in the NHL but not necessarily an NHL goalie yet.”
The Blue Jackets did trade for Philadelphia goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky on Friday, and the 23-year-old could compete for the No. 1 spot if unrestricted free agent Steve Mason bolts.
”It’s certainly the strongest part of our team, and I think it’s crucial to win in the NHL from the back end out,” Howson said. ”Hopefully we’re getting a little sturdier in the defensive zone and in defending. Now we’re going to have to address how we score.”