May 29, 2012

Fischler Report: Nash trade frenzy has finally begun

By Stan Fischler

With 28 teams already scanning the trade market and potential free agent lists, Rick Nash’s name inevitably surfaces. 

Writing in the Columbus Dispatch, Aaron Portzline sizes up the potential Nash frenzy.

Many general managers will be making pitches for the services of Columbus captain Rick Nash. (Getty Images)

When the NHL trade deadline passed on Feb. 22 with captain Rick Nash still wearing a Blue Jackets uniform, it was agreed by the central parties — Nash, general manager Scott Howson and Nash’s agent, Joe Resnick — that they’d go about their business in peace until the window for blockbuster deals arrived in the off-season.

That window gets cracked open this week, the start of what should be a hectic month of trade talks leading up to a monumental decision likely to come in late June or early July.

On Wednesday, Howson will be in New Jersey for meetings with the NHL’s other general managers, some of whom will want to start laying the groundwork to acquire the Blue Jackets’ franchise player.

Not much has changed during the past three months. The situation still has the feel of an amicable split between two sides that would rather avoid a public spat.

Nash, still in town and golfing regularly at Scioto Country Club in Upper Arlington, worked out in Nationwide Arena as recently as Friday. He has declined all interview requests.

Howson will say only that he’s “looking to improve our club by any means possible” and that he won’t speak specifically about one certain player. Resnick did not return calls seeking comment.

In January, Nash and Resnick provided the Blue Jackets with a short list of clubs — no more than five, apparently — to which Nash was willing to be traded.

That list has likely expanded since then, although neither Howson nor Resnick will reveal who’s on it. The Blue Jackets, however, are proceeding as if the list doesn’t exist.

A limited trade market creates a buyer’s market for Nash, and Howson is intent on maintaining the upper hand and getting a proper return. He’s working in lockstep with Blue Jackets senior adviser Craig Patrick, who has made several big trades in nearly four decades in the NHL.

If a deal is reached, the Blue Jackets will approach Nash and Resnick — they have to, because Nash has a no-trade clause in his contract — and hope they agree to the new destination even if it’s not on the “preferred” list.

It’s highly unlikely that Nash will be moved before the Stanley Cup Finals are finished, but two dates stand out.

Howson will likely get his best offers on the night of the NHL Draft’s first round, set for June 22 in Pittsburgh. It could happen the day before, as did the Jackets’ trade for Jeff Carter last year.

But if the NHL draft passes with Nash still a Blue Jacket, the next target date arrives in the days after free agency opens on July 1.

New Jersey’s Zach Parise and Nashville’s Ryan Suter are the big-ticket unrestricted free agents, with Detroit the likely destination for one (or both). Some of the clubs that miss out on those two could turn their eyes toward Nash, a perennial 30-goal scorer in the prime of his career.

The Blue Jackets insist they’ll trade Nash only for the right return, that his trade is not the foregone conclusion that many have suggested. But there are signs that the club is ready to move on.

This month, when Todd Richards was introduced as the Blue Jackets’ full-time coach, he rattled off the reasons he was excited to keep the job.

The acquisition of Jack Johnson, the late-season scoring flurry from R.J. Umberger, the leadership of Vinny Prospal and the hope of a bright future for Cam Atkinson and Ryan Johansen were cited by Richards, who made no mention of Nash.

Umberger noted how Richards was staying in touch with the leaders in the Blue Jackets’ dressing room. He, too, mentioned Johnson and Prospal, along with right winger Derek Dorsett and defenseman James Wisniewski. He did not mention Nash.

One Blue Jackets player, who didn’t want to be identified, was asked recently if he had stayed in touch with Nash during the offseason.

“Nope,” he said.

Asked whether that was unusual, he picked another one-syllable word.

“Yep,” he said, with a half-hearted smile.

SOMEONE SINGS ABOUT UNSUNG DEBOER

After upsetting John Tortorella’s (Melrose, Mass.) Rangers, Devils coach Peter DeBoer is reaping the fruits of victory – and getting due media coverage.

The Newark Star-Ledger’s Dave D’Alessandro waxes admirably about the New Jersey coach.

On behalf of anyone who still thinks it means something to win with class, we hereby submit the following: Pete DeBoer is the kind of person you want running your team.

Sure, we’ve touted DeBoer here before, but much of it was merely a hunch until these Eastern Conference Finals, when the coaching contrast was as stark as something sent in from Central Casting.

John Tortorella is of a breed that really no longer exists. He is not PC, he is not afraid to show hubris and bluster.

If you don’t know what DeBoer represents by now, you only had to watch him react to Tortorella’s meltdowns and panic attacks, but it helped determine who won this series.

Some of it was a matter of just knowing when not to escalate. When Tortorella practiced his fake outrage in defense of his own player’s cheap shot, DeBoer called it for what it was: “Comical,” he said.

When Mike Rupp took a shot at Marty Brodeur, DeBoer sensed the tide turning and saw no need to engage in childish threats: “There’s enough fuel,” he said. “We’re trying to win a series and get to the Stanley Cup.”

He honored the rivalry but never let his team become obsessed with it.

Our favorite line was this one, because we can relate: “I don’t even think about ’94,” he said. “In ’94, I still had hair.”

When there was a sense of panic outside the locker room, DeBoer never let it reach inside the locker room.

The best example was Game Three: Getting shut out in your own building and handing over the home-ice edge is an alarm bell, but DeBoer issued what amounted to a strategic shrug.

“We’ve had nights like this before,” he said. “So you have to battle through it. It’s frustrating, (but) we created chances. We carried the play. We did a lot of good things. Gotta stick with it.”

Who acts this way? Only a coach with an extraordinary grasp of his team’s character, along with a strong sense of his opponent’s breaking point.

As GM, Lou Lamoriello (Providence, R.I.) told The Ledger’s Rich Chere, “I can’t say enough about this coaching staff keeping the intangibles under control.”

DeBoer doesn’t need any iron-fist-in-velvet-glove routine. He doesn’t need to be anything he’s not. He’s a lifetime hockey man, with all the toughness that it implies, tempered with a dozen years of nurturing kids in Juniors. He just gets it.

Zach Parise, the captain, put it best: “We all can’t say enough about what he’s done for us, and how well he’s made us prepared for every game and every series. We believe in what Pete wants us to do. And that goes a long way.”

He has also upheld a long-standing Jersey tradition by insisting that the disparate ages and backgrounds are an asset, while fostering a sense of mutuality.

“The group ahead teaches the group coming in what the expectations are,” DeBoer said the other day. “And that gets carried through. Our guys do a great job of that.”

Maybe you don’t consider this team to have a long shelf life — a reasonable assessment, given the current debt load, the age of the greatest cornerstone the franchise has ever known, and the prospect of its captain and best player chasing the payday, which is his right.

Maybe this is a franchise fated to pursue low-budget success for a while.

But either way, they have the kind of coach who can handle any eventuality and any kind of roster.

In his first 100 games, he has navigated the roughest waters and eddies of a season filled with roster flips, injuries and trades.

He’s shown that he can maximize potential.

He has demonstrated he can guide a sixth seed all the way to the Cup final.

Someday, perhaps sooner than we think, the Devils’ great challenge will be holding onto a guy like this.

But they have him now. And from what we can tell, he does his job as well as anybody.

GOSSIP

Will the Maple Leafs land a veteran goalie? The Globe and Mail’s Dave Feschuk thinks so.

Leafs GM Brian Burke (Providence, R.I.) will likely look to reel in a proven NHL netminder this offseason. (Getty Images)

“While Leafs GM Brian Burke (Providence, R.I.) has espoused his belief in the talent of James Reimer – and while the club has been delighted with the performance of Ben Scrivens, who has backstopped the AHL Marlies to the Calder Cup Final – it’s expected that both will face bigger-named competition for NHL starts come training camp,” writes Feschuk.

“Adding Roberto Luongo could be extrapolated as a typical Toronto blunder. He has ten years and some $47 million left on a contract that runs past his 43rd birthday. Still, there are those who consider Luongo one of the top ten goaltenders in the league – an attractive asset when you don’t currently have a top-30 type on your roster.” …

Meanwhile, Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun offers this view: “Tomas Vokoun is among the goaltenders the Leafs have targeted,” writes Simmons. “And while it may not seem like the most ambitious of pursuits by the Leafs, it represents a nice, and relatively inexpensive Plan B, should the Leafs determine they can’t or won’t go after the very available Roberto Luongo.” …

Luongo is a hot topic in Tampa Bay as well. The Lightning need goaltending, but GM Steve Yzerman doesn’t appear interested in acquiring Luongo’s services. “My preference is to go with a little bit younger guy that maybe has a little less experience that can step up and play well for us now,” Yzerman told the St. Petersburg Times. “And if we can’t do anything in that way, we look forward to July 1.” …

Ex-Devil and current Canadiens captain Brian Gionta has been a proud big brother throughout the playoffs, watching little bro Stephen Gionta score and set up big goals routinely for New Jersey. “He’s finally getting some recognition,” Brian told the Buffalo News. “It’s probably been difficult on him going to BC and being in New Jersey. It was tough being in that shadow. It’s nice seeing him stepping out of that and getting some recognition for himself.” …

What does the tiny nation of Slovenia think of native son Anze Kopitar in the Final? “There is actually a pretty big buzz back there,” says the Kings 24-year-old center. “I’ve been going online and reading some of the news from back there. The Kings are pretty big and there’s a little more focus on me. It’s nice for hockey to get a little attention back home.” 

MORE GOSSIP

Kings forward Mike Richards on his junior coach, Pete DeBoer: “He’s such a smart hockey coach, not only X’s and O’s, but he knows how to get the most out of his players. In games, he’s very smart at matchups and stuff like that. I’m not really surprised he’s in the Final.” …

Jonathan Quick (Hamden, Conn.) on the Devils captain: “Zach Parise sticks out even if you’re not a hockey fan,” says the Los Angeles goalie. “You watch the speed and competitiveness he plays with. Usually, as he goes the team goes. Obviously he has a great supporting cast there that we have to do a lot of homework on to make sure we’re prepared.”

FLORIDA EVERBLADES WIN ECHL CHAMPIONSHIP:

For the first time in their 14-year history, the Florida Everblades claimed the Kelly Cup as ECHL champions.

Brandon MacLean scored at the 4:54 mark of overtime to defeat the Las Vegas Wranglers 3-2 in front of sold-out home crowd of 7,290 at Germain Arena.

The Everblades, playing out of Fort Myers, remain one of the most successful minor league operations and won the best-of-seven series four-games-to-one.