Rick Nash will not be the only prize being dealt by the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Jackets will trade the No. 1 overall pick in the NHL draft should the lottery goes their way, a bevy of sources say.
“They can’t pick a Russian so they can’t use the pick,” an NHL executive insists and he’s not alone in his belief. “They’ll have to trade it.”
Never mind having the worst record in hockey, the Jackets are in all kinds of mess. They have to find a deal for Nash, their best player, who doesn’t want to be there anymore. And now the pressure is on for them to make two moves, the first one likely being a deal for the first pick, which is expected to be Sarnia’s Nail Yakupov. The two best centres on the board are expected to be Alex Galchenyuk and Mikhail Grigorenko, the hockey equivalent of goodbye Columbus.
Twice in recent history, the Jackets used an early pick on a Russian forward. Twice they failed. It didn’t work out with Nikolai Zherdev or with Nikita Filatov. They can’t afford to fail a third time with the franchise so tender.
The options, along with dealing Nash, are this for Columbus: 1) They could keep the pick and not choose Yakupov, which would be counter-productive; 2) They could flip picks with another team, trading the first choice for another early choice, and getting an asset as well; 3) They could trade the pick to the highest bidder and begin rebuilding their team.
Either way, the pressure to do two deals will be intense for general manager Scott Howson, assuming he is still on the job by that time. The New York Rangers and the Maple Leafs had intense interest in Nash at the trade deadline. Whether that interest now shifts to the No. 1 pick will be intriguing come June.
THIS AND THAT
Should Jake Gardiner’s college defence partner, Justin Schultz, wind up as a free agent this summer, after Anaheim kind of made a mess of this, you can bet the Leafs will take a serious run at the player the Ducks wouldn’t trade away when the Leafs came calling with Francois Beauchemin ... Prior to Saturday night, the Leafs had won five of their past 20 games. The written-off-for-dead Raptors have won seven ... It’s never easy to pick a Masterton Award winner among 30 strong candidates, but really, how do you choose between Joffrey Lupul and Max Pacorietty? ... This is how great the Sidney Crosby comeback is: He gets awarded assists on days he isn’t playing. Oh, and by the way, Crosby has 17 points in the 10 games he’s played this year, or 1.7 a game, best in the NHL ... What value do NHL general managers see in that foolish trapezoid? Why won’t they get rid of this nonsense? All it does is penalize goaltenders who can play the puck and make the defencemen they’re trying to protect more vulnerable ... If the NHL season ended Saturday at noon, four of six division leaders — Ottawa, Florida, Dallas and St. Louis — were teams not in the playoffs a year ago. And if the season ended then, Ottawa would play Boston, with the Senators having home-ice advantage. Weird ... So what should the Leafs be angriest about? Missing the playoffs? Missing the playoffs with Ottawa in? Missing the playoffs and finishing behind Winnipeg, the team Rick Dudley built? Or, missing the playoffs and not getting a great draft pick?
HEAR AND THERE
The significance of the Mario Williams’ free-agent signing in Buffalo: This is akin to Albert Pujols signing in Kansas City or Pittsburgh. It would be like Zach Parise signing with the Minnesota Wild. The best defensive free agent in the least likely city. And now the real question for the Bills: Can they find free-agent happiness in an NFL where few teams have succeeded with big money free agents ... Ralph Wilson and Mike Ilitch have more than one thing in common, but both overpaid with off-season money for Williams and Prince Fielder because, in Wilson’s words, “I’m 92. I’m not going to be around forever.” Ilitch, for the record, is only 82 ... Speaking of Ilitch, if the Red Wings don’t come up with nine points in their final 11 games, they’ll miss out on a 100-point season for the first time since 1999. The Red Wings last missed the playoffs in 1990 ... What a tremendous first impression Milos Raonic left on Roger Federer the other night. He didn’t win the match. The Canadian comer did win all kinds of respect from the best there ever was ... The Chicago Blackhawks are leading the NHL in front office soap operas this year. The word around is that Scotty Bowman isn’t happy that coach Joel Quenneville isn’t showing the appropriate respect to GM Stan Bowman, who just happens to be Scotty’s son.
SCENE AND HEARD
Still don’t know what to do with Erik Karlsson on my Norris Trophy ballot. He’s now on it. The question is, is he first, is he second behind Shea Weber, second behind Zdeno Chara, third behind both, or first? Keep changing my mind, but every time I watch this kid drafted after the Leafs traded up for Luke Schenn, he moves up a notch ... The Raptors traded the entertaining Leandro Barbosa for a second-round pick, which is basically giving him away for cap space. In the long and unfortunate history of the Raptors, they have yet to produce a real NBA player with a second-round choice. And if you don’t believe me, look up Ramon Van de Hare ... Wouldn’t you love to see a 2016 Canadian Olympic basketball team with Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph, Joel Anthony, Andrew Nicholson, Kevin Pangos, Andrew Wiggins, Kris Joseph, Brady Heslip, Nik Cochran, Melvin Ejim, Robert Sacre, Myck Kabongo — and I’m probably missing a few — with Jay Triano coaching and Steve Nash as general manager? And then keep this group together for 2020 ... Happened to be looking up Mike Bossy’s statistics yesterday. And much as you remember how often he scored, it’s easy to forget that in his first six NHL seasons, he scored 53, 69, 51, 68, 64 and 60 goals. Yes, times were different, but those are crazy numbers.
AND ANOTHER THING
The Leafs had no interest in Ben Bishop at the trade deadline because they didn’t want to bring in “another AHL goalie.” And all Bishop has done since going to Ottawa is bring home eight of 10 possible points with the Senators. GM Bryan Murray gave up a second-round draft choice for Bishop and then signed him for next season for less than $1 million. That was good work on Murray’s part in emergency circumstances with Craig Anderson out indefinitely ... One more Sens-Leafs comparison: Ottawa has six defencemen who play more minutes than Mike Komisarek or Schenn, but only one of them, Sergei Gonchar, is paid more than Komisarek or Schenn ... For those who are getting downright giddy over the Blue Jays spring training dominance, consider this: The Jays’ spring record in their two World Series seasons was 13-18 and 11-19. As Pat Gillick used to say: “Believe nothing you see in September (when your team is out of it) or in spring training.” ... Scouts don’t want to say this for the record, but a number watching the OHL Cup told me that underage minor midget Connor McDavid is better than John Tavares was at the same stage of development. McDavid, like Tavares, will be given exceptional status to enter the OHL one year early for next season ... Happy birthday to Matthew Lombardi (30), Zdeno Chara (35), Brad Selwood (64), Guy Carbonneau (51), Ingemar Stenmark (56), Bonnie Blair (48) and Andre Rison (45) ... And hey, whatever became of Jody Hull?
HOMEGROWN HOCKEY PLAYERS
Don Cherry take note. According to my stats maven, Jim Parcels, there are 203 Ontario kids currently playing in the NHL. That’s 28% of all NHL players. But only 45 of those — or just over 6% — are graduates of the GTHL. That means that while the GTA represents 41% of the population of the province, it is producing only 22% of the 203 homegrown hockey players in in the NHL. The Maple Leafs, as Cherry has pointed out loudly on Hockey Night In Canada, have none of those players. But, according to Parcels’ research, the Leafs have more Ontario players in the AHL, CHL (junior hockey) and NCAA than any other organization in hockey. The Leafs have 12 players from Ontario on his list: That’s twice as many as the Vancouver Canucks, three times as many as the Ottawa Senators, four times as many as the Edmonton Oilers.
RADULOV RETURN SMELLS
Sometimes a situation comes up where there is just no appropriate rule in place to deal with it. And because of that, there is can be a tainted odour abound. Such is the case in the matter of the talented Alexander Radulov, the Nashville Predators and the NHL. To recap: Radulov walked out on his NHL contract and signed with the KHL in Russia. Now, apparently, he’s ready to return. So after league rosters have been frozen and the trade deadline has passed, Radulov is free to rejoin the Preds, who did nothing wrong but lose a player under contract to them. What smells here is there is no punishment at all for the deserter Radulov. He left when he wanted to. Now he returns when he wants to. The Preds need him, so they will hold their noses and welcome him back uncomfortably. But it shouldn’t be this easy to quit on your team and come back. And once rosters are frozen, no player should ever be allowed to back in that given year.
NINERS PEYTON'S BEST BET
The Peyton Manning theatre of the past two weeks has made for wonderful conversation and terrific intrigue. As this is written, we still don’t know where he’s headed, how much he has left, or why he’s made his certain determinations to date. But it has been fun to listen, watch and speculate. The latest noise has Manning signing with the San Francisco 49ers. Now, this is intriguing. The Niners have just about the best defence in football and a young emerging superstar coach in Jim Harbaugh. They also have a stud tight end in Vernon Davis and a guy who used to be that at wide receiver named Randy Moss. Maybe Manning wants to go back to his roots and sign in Tennessee or push Tim Tebow aside in Denver, but if he really wants to get back to the Super Bowl and quick, the Niners look from here to be the best option of all.