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February 20, 2012 | 8:32pm ET


Moving Nash makes sense
 Columbus GM Scott Howson is weighing several trade options, all of which could save his job & rebuild his team in a hurry.

LOS ANGELES -- Although he created a recipe for disaster with his off season moves, Columbus Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson has been presented with a huge opportunity to undo a multitude of sins courtesy of the NHL deadline.

With a few savvy moves, Howson can revamp a roster with unhappy players and big contracts, into a young, deeper, and far better team poised to compete in the increasingly difficult Central Division and the parity-laden Western Conference.

First on the list is the face of the franchise, Rick Nash, who has capitulated and agreed to submit a short list of destinations he'd be willing to accept a deal to.

Though he's been loyal to the franchise and wants to win in Ohio, the realization that it won't happen at Nationwide Arena has sunken in, and the trade speculation has reached a crescendo.

While there's not even agreement on which teams are on his favored list, the New York Rangers are one of the chosen few. Though the Blueshirts sit atop the Eastern Conference and have created distance between them and their closest pursuer, the Boston Bruins, the thought on Broadway is that Nash's presence writes a ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals.

The reported offer from Rangers GM Glen Sather has Brandon Dubinsky and prospect Chris Krieder at the top, although a source close to the situation told TFP Howson is holding out for forward Derek Stepan, an asset that likely starts a chain of events for the Blue Jackets.

An acquisition of Stepan would give Columbus a young tandem down the middle in partnership with Derick Brassard, who would look good playing alongside (the team's next face of the franchise) Nail Yakupov next season. The former sixth-overall pick by the Jackets in 2006 was thought to be at the top of the list of players leaving, but the installation of Todd Richards as interim head coach has but the Quebec native back on track and is not being dealt, according to multiple sources.

Howson could then pull the trigger on the long rumored Jeff Carter to the Los Angeles Kings trade, in which goaltender Jonathan Bernier would return and be installed immediately at the starter between the pipes.

Once thought as the Kings goalie of the future, Bernier has been outplayed by teammate Jonathan Quick and with the Kings needed to re-up the All Star netminder and starving for goals, Bernier is the player Howson covets to cure his netminding issues.

Bernier addressed the rampant rumors about his departure from Staples Center on Monday.

"I haven't asked for a trade and I'm happy here, but I want to be a starter in the NHL," he told me.

Though Carter has been in the pivot on the first line for Columbus, an immediate partnership with Mike Richards as his left wing would be created in the hope of having the same production level they created in Philadelphia. Adding to the mix is the personal friendship between the two players, as Richards conveyed they continue to speak numerous times weekly.

With the Kings' dead last in goals-for, this deal appears to be a no-brainer for them, though there are substantial reservations about Carter's attitude tied into his long term contract.

"There's 10 years left on an 11-year deal," a West coast source told TFP last night. "He may come in and produce for a couple of years, but then what? I bet Washington is regretting they have nine-years left on a deal with a cap hit of $9.5 million for Ovechkin right now."

The holdup on a potential Bernier-for-Carter deal could be the fact that the Kings are still not out of the race on Nash. Bernier could be packaged, along with defenseman Jack Johnson, center Andrei Loktionov and a draft pick for the Brampton, Ontario native.

Nash's star presence may guarantee job security for GM Dean Lombardi even if his cap team misses the playoffs. The Kings enter tomorrow night's match in Phoenix in ninth place.

"It's been assumed ownership would clean house if there's a playoff miss or first round elimination in Los Angeles, but (team governor) Tim Leiweke loves stars and Nash would also signal to other players, including Jonathan Quick (a UFA after the 2012-13 season), that they're serious about winning," said a Pacific Division source requesting anonymity.

"Missing on Ilya Kovalchuk and Brad Richards didn't help the perception around the league that the Kings aren't all in for a championship. Nash is a game changer for the franchise on and off the ice, and that's why the Kings need make a statement to overpay for once."

However, assuming the Rangers step up and the Kings can't get their hands on Nash, thus obtaining Carter, the Blue Jackets' upgrades at the center and goaltending positions gives them the opportunity to wheel an excess center -- Antoine Vermette, a productive second line pivot -- for a top four defenseman.

The Chicago Blackhawks, still searching for a second line center behind Jonathan Toews, have rebuffed going forward for a deal on Buffalo's Derek Roy. Vermette comes a bit cheaper from a cap hit perspective ($3.75 million per), but has three-years remaining on his deal, while Roy becomes an unrestricted free agent after the end of the 2012-13 season.

The Nashville Predators could kick the tires on Vermette, as well, and could offer defensive prospect Jonathan Blum in exchange, with cap space not being an issue with the Predators.

A third option could be the Florida Panthers, looking for help on the second line and an excess of high priced defenseman. One NHL source says Jason Garrison, in line for a big raise off a breakthrough season, could be available on a rental basis with big money deals in place for Brian Campbell, Ed Jovanovski and Eric Gudbranson, and with the need to re-up Dmitri Kulikov, who can become a restricted free agent on July 1.

With less than one week to go before the trade deadline, talks league-wide have significantly started to ramp up. If the cards fall into place for Howson, the Blue Jackets could be much better off -- without Nash.

Dennis Bernstein is the Senior Writer for The Fourth Period Magazine. Be sure to follow him on Twitter.


 

 

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