After weeks, if not months, of a dead trade market, the Columbus Blue Jackets finally breathed some life into it -- and changed everything.
For the right price, GM Scott Howson will move franchise forward Rick Nash and Nash immediately becomes the biggest name on the market, the biggest at any deadline since the Devils acquired Ilya Kovalchuk.
That said, it's going to take a massive return to pry Nash away from Howson and the Blue Jackets.
"You have to blow him out of the water," said one NHL GM. "Will he trade him then? Absolutely."
So who is poised to do that? Elite teams like Boston or Detroit probably wouldn't want to dismantle a winning roster but he becomes attractive to bubble teams looking for a huge boost before the deadline. But with only some of the NHL's teams ready and willing to deal, it does raise the question of timing.
"[Columbus] can't get 29 teams in the game," an NHL source said. "Why not wait until June?"
That could ultimately be the solution for Howson, but there are some teams that can do it now. And they may be willing to pay the steep price in order to get Nash sooner rather than later. Here are five leading candidates:
The way GM Dean Lombardi built the Kings, high-end players on the wing is the last piece to the puzzle. He's done everything else according to plan in Los Angeles. He has an elite goalie in Jonathan Quick. He has a franchise defenseman in Drew Doughty. He has strength down the middle in Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards. Now he just needs his star goal-scoring winger. Nash would be the perfect fit especially since a lack of goal scoring has plagued the Kings this season. "It's in their heads now too," said an NHL source on Monday.
The Kings have the organizational depth to pull it off. Columbus needs a goalie and the Kings have a talented one in Jonathan Bernier who could be one of the pieces a Nash trade is built around. The question becomes, how much is Lombardi willing to part with from his NHL roster to land Nash? Howson may not do it without defenseman Jack Johnson included in the deal, which would thin out the Kings' defense.
Like the Kings, the Rangers are a team that could use some help scoring goals and they've been mentioned as a possible destination for Nash, with a package that could include players like Brandon Dubinsky and Chris Kreider. Besides the salary-cap issues that New York would deal with if Glen Sather landed Nash, there is chemistry. The Rangers play well as a team and are primarily a homegrown group. Nash is a star player, but assembling stars in New York has never been the issue. "They have good chemistry going," said an NHL scout. "They're having a really, really good year. They have to be careful they don't do anything to mess that up."
The Flyers get this spot because of Paul Holmgren's willingness to make the big move. This weekend, he said his focus was on adding defense but the Flyers are always in the mix when high-end talent becomes available. Plus, he has the kind of assets it would take to land a player like Nash, except maybe the goalie Columbus needs. Pierre LeBrun pointed out that a trio of young forwards like Brayden Schenn, James van Riemsdyk and Sean Couturier certainly gets Philadelphia into the conversation.
This is a mix of need and reputation. When a big name hits the trade market, GM Doug Wilson is usually involved. He landed Joe Thornton. He landed Dan Boyle. He landed Dany Heatley. He's not afraid to make the big move and thanks to the keen eye of director of scouting Tim Burke, usually has the young ammunition to make it happen. The Sharks may fall under the same category of some of the other elite teams who might not want to change things too dramatically at this point in the season. But San Jose could use additional scoring up front and depending on Martin Havlat to get and remain healthy is a big risk for a team expected to challenge for a Stanley Cup. San Jose has young goalie depth in Thomas Greiss and Alex Stalock that may intrigue Howson as part of a bigger package.
Brian Burke's focus is adding size to his top six. The 6-foot-4 Nash would certainly fit the bill and then some. Burke is another general manager not afraid to make the big move, although this one would cost him considerably more than the spare parts Calgary acquired for Dion Phaneuf. Nash might be an unnecessary long-term luxury for a team that already has high-end talent on the wing, especially when it would likely cost players like Mikhail Grabovski, Nazem Kadri and Luke Schenn. With a no-trade clause, Nash controls this entire process and the Brampton native might welcome a return close to home.