A lot of digital ink has been spilled over the last six months regarding the Rick Nash trade. It seemed every time a new piece of information became public, many in the media decided to take shots at Scott Howson. When it came out he asked for Logan Couture and Jeff Skinner, he was ridiculed. Nevermind the fact that you never start a negotiation by asking for the expected return, but with the best case scenario. Howson was further mocked when it came out that he was looking for two young NHL roster players and two prospects. This continued again last week when it was leaked that two NHL forwards were the pieces Howson wanted in return. After it was announced that Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Tim Erixon and New York’s 2013 1st round pick would be headed to Columbus, the same people who mocked Howson earlier mocked him again. What the hell? Howson ended up with what he was looking for. He got a good young top six forward (Dubinsky), another solid NHL player with upside (Anisimov) and two prospects (well Erixon and a 1st). I honestly don’t understand how any respectable member of the media can mock Howson for asking for “too much”, then when he makes a deal for the EXACT price he was asking for, they mock him for making a bad deal?
The second part to the mockery involved the time spent on this trade. It was six months ago the Rick Nash trade derby began, and many seem to think this deal could have been had at the trade deadline. This is definitely untrue. For one, Aaron Portzline revealed yesterday that Tim Erixon was not included by the Rangers until last week. Erixon is a fantastic prospect, whose “character issues” are both overblown and possibly nonexistent. What Erixon did at contract signing time was almost exactly what RJ Umberger did to the Canucks after he was drafted, and no one would say he has “character issues.” As for the Anisimov/Dubinsky portion of the trade, I highly doubt the Rangers would have dealt two NHL forwards, who played very tough defensive minutes, in the middle of the season. It makes more sense now that Chris Kreider is in the NHL, but he was still playing college hockey at the trade deadline.
In the end, this is very solid return. Both Dubinsky and Anisimov have top six potential and are fantastic defensively. Tim Erixon possesses the kind of top pair upside that the Blue Jackets have never had, only matched now by Ryan Murray. With Howson getting the pieces he wanted for Nash, how do those pieces fit within the Blue Jackets current roster?
For one, all three of them are players that can play tough minutes and be successful. Know who also fits that description? Nick Foligno. Along with holdovers RJ Umberger, Derek Dorsett, James Wisniewski and Jack Johnson, the pieces are there to create a definite identity for the first time since Ken Hitchcock was a fresh face in Columbus. This is a team that will work hard, play defense, and be tough to play against. I love it. This is the kind of hockey I grew up playing. It’s the style of hockey I prefer as a coach. It’s my favorite style of hockey to watch. I’m looking forward to opposing teams looking at their schedule and dreading their upcoming match-up with Columbus.
With the forwards, I honestly don’t know what kind of line-up to expect. There is a legitimate group of eight forwards who could easily play in the top six (Dubinsky, Anisimov, Foligno, Brassard, Umberger, Prospal, Atkinson, and Johansen), . This will create a competitive atmosphere, as no one player is far enough above the others to take a game off and avoid being relegated to the bottom six. Another part that has been overlooked is the combination of former Rangers who all have experience playing together. I would definitely expect to see a Dubinsky-Anisimov-Prospal line at some point this season. However, I would rather see a good defensive line put together featuring three of Dubinsky, Anisimov, Foligno, Umberger and Atkinson. All five of those players have shown that they are capable of playing tough minutes against the opponent’s best players and coming out ahead. No more Sami Pahlsson and Derek Dorsett playing significant minutes as the only capable defensive unit. This group probably won’t see a 30 goal scorer this year, but any (or all) of those eight forwards could end up over 20 goals. While I don’t expect them to be consistent, my proposed lines for the season are as follows:
Foligno – Brassard – Prospal
Dubinsky – Anisimov – Umberger
Letestu – Johansen – Atkinson
Gillies – Mackenzie – Dorsett
The powerplay will also be very interesting to watch. With the talent on the backend now, I would expect to see the powerplay changed to a more umbrella style, with a focus on getting shots from the point and having two players crashing the net. Johnson, Wisniewski and Nikitin are proven powerplay point shots, and Murray/Erixon could also emerge there. Dubinsky, Umberger, Foligno, and Anisimov have the size and skill to crash the net and bury some rebounds. Brassard, Atkinson and Johansen are the wild cards. Brassard is a proven powerplay playmaker, and I really think Johansen could start to emerge as another puckhandler with the man advantage. To this point in his career, his numbers/size/skill are eerily similar to Eric Staal. A 40 point year from Johansen would further his development along this track. I’m also looking forward to an improved penalty kill, as Dubinsky, Anisimov, Foligno, Dorsett, Umberger, Mackenzie and Ryan Russell are all proven shorthanded.
On defense, the addition of Erixon adds an interesting wrinkle. The Blue Jackets are now loaded with talent on the back-end. Wisniewski and Johnson have more offensive ability than any defensemen in Blue Jackets history. Murray and Erixon possess the kind of upside that Nationwide Arena has only ever seen in opposing jerseys. The team is going for a Nashville/Phoenix approach built around a balanced forward group and strong defense. While not there yet, Murray/Erixon will hopefully end up being the Columbus version of Suter/Weber or Yandle/Ekman-Larsson. As for this season, there are five veteran NHL defensemen under contract, along with Erixon, Murray, Moore and Savard, all of whom are NHL ready or damn close. I could easily see any one or two of those four starting the year in Columbus, or I could see a defenseman or two moved for another forward. But for now this team finally has depth. It has it at forward and it has it on defense. No one’s jobs are going to be given to them, not with the balance of skill present.
This trade reminds me of one from a couple years ago. A forward in his late 20’s making over $7m was dealt (along with two spare parts) for a four piece package, which included a former 1st round pick defenseman. This forward was coming off a 58 point season, and put up 188 points over his last three season (compare to Nash’s 59 and 192). Three years later, no one in their right mind would ever consider trading for Scott Gomez, let alone trading Ryan McDonagh for him. Do I think Rick Nash will fall off as quickly as Gomez did? Of course not. But I do think Tim Erixon can develop into a Ryan McDonagh-type in three years, and I would MUCH rather have Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov and a 1st round pick in a loaded draft than Chris Higgins, Doug Janik and Pavel Valentenko. Whether you think the Blue Jackets could have gotten more for Nash is besides the point. They got the pieces they did. I for one, am looking forward to seeing how they fit.