Leafs on Nash's trade list

Blue Jackets forward Rick Nash skates during the warmup prior to facing the Flames at the...

Blue Jackets forward Rick Nash skates during the warmup prior to facing the Flames at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alta., Dec. 13, 2010. (AL CHAREST/QMI Agency)

STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:10 PM ET

TORONTO - Would Brian Burke be willing to trade Phil Kessel for Rick Nash?

Would you?

Would you trade the fourth-leading scorer in the National Hockey League for the 70th leading scorer? And the odds are, that still wouldn’t be enough to get the deal done.

The Maple Leafs, like most teams in hockey, have real interest in acquiring the suddenly available Nash. But unlike most teams, the Leafs are on the list of five clubs for which the Brampton-born winger would waive his no-trade arrangement. But the trouble many are having around the league: Columbus general manager Scott Howson has yet to establish a clear, firm price of what he is expecting in return for his one franchise player.

And because of that, teams aren’t sure of the timeline involved in this type of deal — whether there’s a trade available right now, at the upcoming trade deadline on the 27th, or at the end of the season — or whether Howson has the authority to make this large a move while his own future with the club as GM remains in doubt.

Normally if you’d mention the availability of a player such as Nash to Brian Burke it would be the hockey equivalent of a throwing a steak bone to a hungry dog: Burke wouldn’t let up. That’s how he’s gnawed his way to acquiring Chris Pronger and the Sedin twins in the past: He just outworked and outchewed everybody in the game.

But this time he’s looking at it differently. While you or I might consider trading Kessel and something for Nash, he’s reluctant to do so. If there’s a prize such as Nash available, the Leafs’ thinking is what’s the point of replacing one scorer for another one? Yes, Nash has more size, is a more physical player, can probably be more dangerous as a playoff performer, although that’s unproven: But at the end of the season, if you add it up, and the Leafs have done the math, adding in Nash and subtracting Kessel and somebody, doesn’t necessarily improve the team significantly.

The second problem for Burke, and this is his thing, is that Columbus is almost certainly looking for a package deal in exchange for Nash. Or as another general manager in the league put it: They want volume.

This is where the Leafs have to do some selling. Volume they have. Quality of volume is open to interpretation. If you look organizationally at the Leafs, they have about 14 players 25 years old or under who when grouped together would represent the kind of volume a building team would be looking for. It depends, though, how you view each of the players.

On the Leafs major league roster, not including goaltenders, there is Kessel, Tyler Bozak, Nik Kulemin, Cody Franson, Luke Schenn, Keith Aulie and Jake Gardiner. And if you remove Kessel, as an all-star, for a moment, the only real high-end prospect of the group is Gardiner. The rest are roster filler on most NHL teams.

At the AHL level, the Leafs have Nazem Kadri, Joe Colborne, Matt Frattin and Korbinian Holzer, all of whom project as NHL players, none of whom project as stars. And it’s really no different for the draft picks — Stuart Percy, Brad Ross or Tyler Biggs — players who often have more value prior to their time in the league than they do once they play.

Burke takes a certain pride in having accumulated so much youth in so short a time. And he’s somewhat reluctant now to strip his depth to go after Nash. But go after Nash, he must. And he will.

The question is: With what approach?

The Blue Jackets are in a particularly vulnerable position. They have to rebuild their disastrous franchise and they have to start by moving their one prized piece. And once the Nash deal is made they have to be able to sell their future to a doubting and dwindling fan base. When you add in salary cap considerations, new CBA unknowns, and a willingness to accept back salary themselves, they have put themselves in a nearly impossible situation to succeed.

Deals like this have happened before, but mostly in the pre-salary cap days. And still, if you look at the history, the team trading away Patrick Roy or Roberto Luongo or Pavel Bure (a Burke deal from Vancouver) were not equally compensated in deals. The history works against Columbus. That’s why the Leafs have to take a run at Nash, difficult as it may be. Even if it costs them depth or Kessel.

How long will it be before a player like this is available again?

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/simmonssteve


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