By Bruce Mason, AllPuck.com
It took seven days to wipe the drool from the keyboard when Columbus traded Rick Nash to the N.Y. Rangers. We’re salivating in excitement, a sensation of blissful ecstasy. We feel like Will Ferrell running to the gymnasium in Old School.
It’s not because Nash makes the Blueshirts instant Cup favorites. And it’s not because NBC Sports Network will carry more Rangers games, and thus, more John Tortorella exposure.
No, our slap-happy silliness derives from one specific fact: Hockey in Columbus is heading toward extinction.
Oh yes, we promise, the Blue Jackets will dip into a financial red abyss, sell to a new owner and leave the worst hockey town in the world. They’re like a group of medieval crooks heading to the gallows, and general manager Scott Howson is the executioner behind the death sentence.
Too harsh? Sorry, but the guy who puts the “HOW?!?” in Howson gets what he deserves. He’s like the Cleveland Browns and Chicago Cubs rolled into one guy, each headline more comical than the next.
Did you see Howson’s head-scratching negotiations during the Nash sweepstakes? He asked for the moon from Boston (fitting, since he’s in outer space), completely ignored Detroit’s fair-trade request like a fourth-grade girl, then contradicted his trade philosophy by acquiring two mid-level players (Brandon Dubinksy, Artem Anisimov), a marginal prospect (Tim Erixon) and a first-round pick.
That rivals the Eric Lindros deal in stupidity.
That makes the Phil Kessel trade look mild.
One marquee player in return for Nash would’ve been nice. But no, Howson dipped into his Mike Milbury1 playbook and pulled off a trade that provides zero value for the NHL’s worst team.
And that does not bode well for the financially inept ‘Jackets, whom Forbes ranked 28th out of 30 franchises in 2011. It’s already bad enough they play in Ohio, where spittoons out-sell autographed pucks in concession stands – but now Nationwide Arena’s attendance will diminish without Nash, a five-time All-Star who averaged 32.1 goals per season.
Nothing is saving the Blue Jackets now. Their hole is dug in the NHL’s graveyard of defunct franchises alongside the 1978 Cleveland Barons. Even if Artem Anisimov’s gun-shooting celebration becomes a popular theme among their redneck fan base, they’re still doomed under the helm of Howson, the NHL’s version of Matt Millen, who makes one bad move after the other.
“If it doesn’t make sense, it makes sense.” That’s the modus operandi under Scotty Boy, who overvalued Jeff Carter2, overpaid James Wisniewski3 and overestimated Nikita Filatov, the sixth overall selection in 2008 who mustered six career goals and no longer exists in the NHL.
And don’t forget this draft-day, dum-dum last month: Two second-round picks and a fourth-round pick to Philadelphia for Sergei Bobrovsky4. Three draft picks for an unproven backup goalie?
That’s scary. Heck, it’s so scary, even the ping-pong balls in the draft lottery avoid Howson. We’re talking about a guy who fired Ken Hitchcock – yes, the same Ken Hitchcock who gave the franchise its first-ever playoff appearance in 2009. But what does Hitchcock know? His sparkling-new 2011-12 coach of the year award with St. Louis is overrated, right?
All of this makes Nash5 look like Clint Eastwood in Escape from Alcatraz. And you gotta feel bad for Anisimov, Dubinsky, Erixon and that fill-in-the-blank first rounder. They’re headed to Columbus, the penitentiary of the NHL.
Cue Taps and let’s honor the wrongfully imprisoned6.
He’s the next R.J. Umberger.
Remember him? Umberger was a once-budding playoff performer in Philadelphia – 15 points in 17 playoff games in 2008.
Then he was traded to Columbus.
And we haven’t seen him since.
We’re convinced that Umberger irritated the mob in Philadelphia and thus was shipped to Columbus, the witness protection program affiliate of the NHL.
He was on his honeymoon in Fiji when he received the “trade-that-killed-his-career voice mail.”
“A number of people left messages for him but we haven’t heard from him yet,” Howson told the Associated Press.
Gee, I wonder why?
Note to Anisimov: Call Fiji native Vijay Singh, find a good place to hide, fake a death and never come back.
The son of former NHL player Jan Erixon deserved a better fate. He grew up watching daddy skate, dreaming he would one day play hockey for a good team, not the worst team in the NHL. As a kid he sang, “Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” but now he says,“Columbus? I failed, my career turns blue.”
2013 FIRST-ROUND DRAFT PICK
After Columbus challenges for the worst record in NHL history and secures a vast amount of ping-pong balls for the 2013 draft, it’s highly likely this fill-in-the-blank poor bastard will be the No. 1 selection.
But … that means the fill-in-the-blank player will have leverage.
That means, he should pull an Eli Manning: Rip the organization and demand a trade immediately upon the draft-day selection.
If that doesn’t work, then he needs to lose his interest in Columbus, quickly.
Our suggestions: A) Call Filatov, whose career in Columbus was the equivalent of Ryan Leaf in San Diego; B) Attend an Ohio State football game to become appalled by Columbus residents, who compose a town that’s the armpit of the U.S.
That point brings us to …
No, the New York Rangers speedy forward wasn’t part of this trade – but he was mentioned when the rumors were flying.
Heck, Hagelin should be partying in Manhattan for the next month upon hearing he wasn’t traded to Columbus. Here’s why: He attended school at the University of Michigan, whose arch-rival is the Ohio State Buckeyes.
If Buckeyes fans are known to vandalize cars with Michigan license plates, can you imagine how they would’ve treated Hagelin? He wouldn’t stand a chance.
A trade to Columbus would’ve killed the kid’s psyche permanently. He would’ve been like Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in Shutter Island – lost marbles forever.
1. Did you know Milbury, who was GM of the N.Y. Islanders, drafted Rick DiPietro when he already had Roberto Luongo? He also dealt Todd Bertuzzi, who became a 50-goal scorer Vancouver; Darius Kasparaitis, who became one of the best agitators in the league; and defensemen Bryan McCabe, Eric Brewer, Wade Redden and Bryan Berard. But our favorite Milbury numbskull moment is this: Dealing Zdeno Chara and the second overall pick in the 2001 draft to Ottawa for Alexei Yashin, whom Milbury signed to a 10-year, $87.5-million contract.
That second overall pick? It was used to select Jason Spezza.
2. The Blue Jackets traded Jakub Voracek, their 2011 1st round pick and a 3rd round pick to Philadelphia for Carter. That first-round pick turned out to be Sean Courtier, a budding star.
Howson then traded Carter to the L.A. Kings for defenseman Jack Johnson and a first-round pick. If you balance it all out, the Blue Jackets still lose: Couturier and Voracek together outweigh Johnson.
3. Six years and $33 million for James Wisniewski? According to the Howson Calculator, the average hockey fan is worth at least 4 years, $7 million.
4. Howson has a goalie on his roster named Steve Mason, who is an elderly 24-years old and just three years removed from a Calder Memorial Trophy.
5. The Blue Jackets drafted nine first-round picks between 2000-08. Just one remains in the organization: Derick Brassard.
6. Every soul upon Nash’s “list” of six teams can now exhale. I’m talking about every player on Detroit, Boston, Philadelphia, San Jose, Pittsburgh and those who were salvaged in New York. They were horrified for the past month, wondering if that terrifying phone call would come saying the dreaded career-ending sentence, “You’ve been traded to Columbus.”