Rick Nash no LeBron

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:17 AM ET

Don't worry, Ohio, this superstar isn't going anywhere.

LeBron James left the state high and dry when the former Cleveland Cavaliers stud bolted for Miami in the off-season.

Rick Nash could have done the same as an unrestricted free agent this summer, but the Columbus Blue Jackets sniper chose to stick around —the eight-year, $62.4 extension he signed in the summer of 2009 kicking in this season.

If only the Blue Jackets could get fans in Columbus to care as much about their hockey god as those in Cleveland did about the face of their NBA franchise.

Their captain is just 26 years old, but took over last weekend as the Blue Jackets' all-time leader in games played when he suited up for his 544th regular-season contest.

He knows it's a rarity in pro sports for someone to stick with one team in spite of a lack of its success — he only needed to look at LeBron a couple of hours south along the I-71 for a recent example of the other road taken — but Nash loyally signed his extension with the intention of turning things around.

"It was important to me that I started in Columbus and I didn't finish my job here yet," Nash said Monday after the morning skate at the Saddledome. "We've only been to the playoffs once. We want to be a team that makes it there every year.

"I've put a lot of investment into this franchise, and they've put a lot of investment into me, obviously, for the next couple of years. It's kind of rewarding to play the most games in the franchise."

Down the hall in the hosts' locker-room is a figure who knows that feeling very well.

Jarome Iginla owns nearly every record imaginable for the Flames. But Iginla also has experienced the side-effects of that long-term leadership. Shouldering blame. Dealing with trade rumours. The ugly side of the business quickly finds the game's best players.

"I think when you sign long-term and you've been there a while, it's easy to point fingers at guys like that," said Nash, who hasn't yet suffered any serious negativity in a city where hockey takes a backseat to Ohio State Buckeyes football. "I'm sure in my career I'll have a point where people start asking me about waiving my no-trade clause and stuff."

It will probably mean a change in the city's culture for that to take place. And Nash is their best hope of helping that happen. After 15 games at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, average attendance is around 12,800 — fourth lowest in the NHL.

"Jarome's kind of job here (in Calgary) is probably equivalent to the Ohio State quarterback in Columbus," said Jackets defenceman Mike Commodore.

"But Rick's not far behind."

steve.macfarlane@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/MacfarlaneSteve


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