Columbus used to have a superstar player surrounded by a team with flaws. Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson hopes that by trading Rick Nash to the New York Rangers, his team will have fewer flaws despite not having a superstar player.
Howson ended the Nash trade speculation Monday by shipping the best player in franchise history to the Rangers in exchange for forwards Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov, defenseman Tim Erixon and a first-round pick.
"I think all three players have a chance to be the cornerstone in this trade," Howson said. "Who knows, the first-round pick might also be. We are really happy in getting the players and pick we got. We think they're going to bring a lot to our hockey team."
NASH TRADED TO RANGERS
Rangers acquire Nash from ColumbusBy NHL.com Staff
Rick Nash, who has been on the trading block since February, has been sent to the Rangers in a multi-player deal that has the Blue Jackets receiving Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Tim Erixon and a first-round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft. READ MORE ›
The Nash trade, though, is only part of the process Howson and his staff have been undertaking since the trade deadline last season.
In addition to adding Dubinsky, Anisimov, Erixon and the Rangers first-round pick on Monday, Columbus has also acquired defenseman Jack Johnson, forward Nick Foligno, goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, and the Kings' first-round pick in trades since Feb. 23. The Blue Jackets drafted Ryan Murray with the No. 2 pick last month and signed veteran defenseman Adrian Aucoin earlier this month.
The goal, Howson said, was to make the Blue Jackets into a tougher, more competitive team that is much harder to play against than it was last season, when they finished with a League-low 65 points with Nash as their captain and centerpiece player.
Here's how Columbus looks after this remodeling:
Howson said the organization lacked depth at center when it traded Carter to the Kings for Johnson and L.A.'s first-round pick. It's a large reason why he told Rangers GM Glen Sather he wanted Dubinsky and Anisimov in the return package for Nash.
Dubinsky and Anisimov can play any forward position, but they are centers by trade. Howson would not specify if they are definitely going to play center for the Blue Jackets, but having the option is important.
"We were worried about our center-ice position," Howson said. "We feel better about the center-ice position now."
Granted, Dubinsky and Anisimov are coming to the Blue Jackets after down seasons, but Howson said he thinks each can score 15-20 goals.
Dubinsky is a two-time 20-goal scorer, but the 2011-12 season was by far his worst since he was a rookie in 2007-08. He had 10 goals and 34 points after putting up 20 goals and 54 points in 2010-11. Dubinsky earned a four-year, $16.8 million contract last summer and has three years left with a $4.2 million cap hit.
"I know he played an important role on a team that finished with the second best record in the League and went to the conference finals," Howson said. "I have no issues about Brandon Dubinsky bouncing back. I think he will. He had a bit of an off year offensively but he impacted games and I expect him to do that here."
Anisimov scored 16 goals and had 36 points last season after scoring 18 goals and putting up 44 points in 2010-11. However, he's only 24 years old.
"We think he has more upside to give," Howson said.
Foligno, a left wing, had a career-high 47 points for Ottawa last season. He signed a new contract earlier this month calling for him to make $9.25 million over the next three years. Foligno told the Columbus Dispatch three years was the right amount of time to build up the team and make it a contender.
The Blue Jackets also retain R.J. Umberger, Derrick Brassard, Vinny Prospal and Mark Letestu. Ryan Johansen and Cam Atkinson are up-and-coming prospects who will likely have roles on the team as well.
"We think up front we'll be fast and competitive," Howson said. "We think we have a more balanced and versatile group up front. We think we have six or seven people that can get 15-20 goals."
Howson identifies the blue line as the Blue Jackets' area of strength. He said adding Erixon, a 21-year-old former first-round pick, only makes it deeper.
James Wisniewski, Fedor Tyutin, Adrian Aucoin and Nikita Nikitin as the top-five, but he's excited about having Erixon, Murray, John Moore, David Savard and Dalton Prout all compete for spots on the NHL roster in training camp.
"We'll see how it plays out in camp," Howson said, adding he'd be willing to listen to trade offers on any of the defensemen because he thinks it is a position of strength. "Between Ryan Murray, Tim Erixon, David Savard, John Moore and Dalton Prout we have a lot of options there and we'll see how it plays out in camp. I like our NHL defense and I like what is coming."
Howson said he specifically targeted another defensive prospect in the return package for Nash, and said Erixon fits the mold.
The Calgary Flames made him the No. 23 pick in the 2009 NHL Draft (two spots after Columbus picked Moore), but Erixon was dealt to the Rangers last summer. He made the NHL club out of training camp but played 18 regular-season games with the Rangers. He instead played 52 games in the American Hockey League and had three goals and 30 assists.
"I think any team that has success in the League has to be strong on the blue line, and I think we have a very good blue line," Howson said.
The Blue Jackets identified this need at the draft and acquired Bobrovsky in exchange for three draft picks, including a second-round pick. Bobrovsky joins Steve Mason in the Columbus nets, but the Blue Jackets have also been rumored to be in the market for Kings backup Jonathan Bernier.
The Blue Jackets feel they upgraded the position with Bobrovsky, who is 23 years old and went 42-23-10 with the Flyers over the past two seasons. He has a career 2.73 goals-against average and .909 save percentage.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl