NEW YORK – The New York Rangers finally got their guy.
After failing to consummate the deal at the trade deadline in February, the Rangers acquired star winger Rick Nash from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for forwards Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, defensive prospect Tim Erixon and a first-round draft pick in 2013. The Rangers also received a conditional third-round pick in the deal and minor league defenseman Steve Delisle.
The trade ended a lengthy impasse between Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson and Rangers GM Glen Sather and granted the 28-year-old Nash an exit from Columbus. The five-time All-Star and former Blue Jackets captain requested for a trade prior to the trade deadline this past season.
“In finding a team, I just thought the Rangers were perfect,” Nash said on a conference call with reporters. “I think they have an amazing team already. Last season they were obviously one of the best teams and I think it was just a great fit for my style and for me to play there.”
Nash, who carries a cap hit of $7.8 million for the next six years, was added to bolster the Rangers’ scoring needs, an issue that was on glaring display this postseason when the team averaged only 2.15 goals per game in the playoffs before being bounced in the Eastern Conference finals by the New Jersey Devils. The Rangers will also be without leading goal scorer Marian Gaborik to begin this season because the 30-year-old sniper underwent shoulder surgery in June that could sideline him up to six months.
Nash, who has spent his entire 10-year career in Columbus since being selected first overall in the 2002 draft, has recorded 30 or more goals in seven of his nine seasons with the Blue Jackets. He finished 2011-12 with 30 goals and 29 assists in 82 games.
Sather called it a deal the Rangers “couldn’t turn down,” and seemed pleased he did not have to part with any main components of the team’s nucleus, such as defenseman Ryan McDonagh, center Derek Stepan or rookie sensation Chris Kreider. All three players were considered non-starters in trade discussions.
“By adding Nash, it doesn’t break up the core of our hockey club,” Sather said. “This quality of hockey player doesn’t come around very often. You don’t have the chance to make this kind of a deal ... this is a very important deal for our hockey club.”
The 6-foot-4, 218-pound Nash comes with a hefty price tag, but Sather said he is not worried about the financial commitment handcuffing them in the future.
“If you look at the total amount of money traded on this deal, we come on the upside of this one,” Sather said. “The money is a wash. It doesn’t really affect us as far as the cap is concerned.”
The average annual value of the six years remaining on an eight-year, $62.4 million deal inked back in 2010 makes him the highest-paid player on the Rangers, ahead of Gaborik ($7.5 million) All-Star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist ($6.875 million), and Richards ($6.66 million).
The blockbuster trade comes five months after the deal was originally derailed. One of the few teams on Nash’s pre-approved list -- Nash had a no-trade clause that allowed him veto power over any team for which he does not wish to play -- the Rangers chose to bow out of the sweepstakes on the eve of the trade deadline because Howson’s demands were too high.
Although the package Howson ultimately approved is not believed to be significantly different from the Rangers’ best offer in February, Howson said he wanted to exercise patience in gauging the market value for his franchise player.
And though he admitted that failing to find a deal for Nash could’ve caused a “distraction” or “awkwardness” during training camp for Columbus, Howson said he didn’t feel he was compelled to make the swap.
“This was not a deal we had to do no matter what,” he said on a conference call with reporters. “I think it’s better that we’ve done it now. We can all move forward.”
With a thin free-agent class remaining -- Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter both signed in Minnesota, while restricted free agent blue-liner Shea Weber signed an offer sheet with Philadelphia last week -- the Rangers’ efforts to land Nash appeared to intensify Friday. Both sides discussed the parameters of the deal, Howson said, and took the weekend to “digest” the proposal. Monday the two executives ironed out what the Rangers would receive back in the swap in addition to Nash.
Despite the acquisition of Nash, the Rangers may not be done re-tooling their lineup. The Rangers are one of many teams courting veteran free agent Shane Doan. According to someone with knowledge of the team’s thinking, the Rangers are still interested in adding the 35-year-old forward.
Doan, who has spent the past 15 seasons with the Coyotes, is still waiting to see how the ownership situations unfolds in Phoenix before deciding whether to stay with the organization or sign elsewhere. As reported last week, Doan visited the Rangers practice facility on Friday.
“There are still some people available that we’re going to be talking to,” Sather said.
When asked specifically about his interest in Doan following the team’s most recent move, Sather said: “It doesn’t eliminate the opportunity to try and pursue someone else at this stage. And I think that’s about all I can tell you about that.”