Already convinced Columbus was the right spot for him, Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash
says he was under no pressure this summer to sign the eight-year contract extension that will keep him in a Blue Jacket sweater for the better part of a decade.
"It didn't make a difference to me," Nash, who still has one year left on his current contract, told NHL.com. "I had no problem waiting until the following year to get it done."
GM Scott Howson didn't want to let Nash even sniff the scent of unrestricted free agency next summer. The fear of the unknown was haunting.
What if the Jackets struggled and limped toward the trading deadline? Would Howson be forced to deal Nash for the sake of the team's future? Would Nash demand to be traded to a Cup contender? Would it turn into a media circus?
Howson didn't want any part of that, so locking Nash up less than three months after the Jackets played their first playoff series and 12 months before he was scheduled to become a free agent was the most important assignment the GM gave himself this summer.
Soon after Nash signed his extension early last month, a piece of paper that should officially keep him in Columbus until he's at least 33, both the captain and GM called it a seminal moment, one that should have a trickle-down effect.
"By signing this contract, hopefully that will convince other young guys coming up to sign contracts to want to stay," Nash said, "and hopefully it will attract some free agents to come there, too."
Nash specifically hopes his contract security helps the Jackets solve their seemingly unending problem of finding a No. 1 center to play with him. He's been with the club since 2002 and they haven't found one yet.
"It's no secret," Nash said. "I've played with a new guy every year, and there have been some good seasons, but I just don't think they want to make a quick fix. I think they want to find the right guy."
It's possible the right guy already could be in-house -- and if Derick Brassard
excels in the role this coming season, the trickle-down effect of Nash signing his extension this summer as opposed to next summer could come into play.
Brassard can become a restricted free agent next summer, but he likely would be inclined to avoid arbitration and sign a long-term deal with the Jackets knowing Nash is going to be on his right wing for the foreseeable future.
If the Jackets have a scoring tandem up front, goalie Steve Mason
, who is due for a new contract in 2012, probably would want to stick around, too. Ditto for Jakub Voracek
and Nikita Filatov
"It makes it that much more appetizing to stay," Nash said.
If Brassard doesn't work out, centers who could be on the market next summer include Marc Savard
, Patrick Marleau
, Olli Jokinen
and Saku Koivu
. You'd have to assume any one of them would at least explore the idea of teaming with Nash, a 40-goal scorer.
"Most teams have that one player that will always be there and believes in the team and is a main part of the team," Nash said. "It was important that I did this with Columbus."
Howson made it a priority to make it happen and was able to successfully pitch the message of the franchise to Nash and his agent, Joe Resnick, when the three met at a Toronto airport hotel in late June.
The GM laid out the organizational plan, but it didn't take much convincing.
Nash made it known before signing the extension that he wanted to stay in Columbus, and his signature basically assures the Jackets will be respected NHL citizens for years to come.
"He made a statement," Howson told NHL.com. "It shows that he's serious about winning and we're serious about winning. We're going to have a chance to win."