It isn't often Columbus Blue Jackets
captain Rick Nash
will admit to some level of frustration.
Still, there comes a time when any elite athlete would gladly exchange individual accolades for some team success. Especially a team just a season removed from qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
Nash has been singing that "team-first" tune his entire career though. And despite reaching the 30-goal mark for the fifth time in seven NHL seasons, you get the feeling that's just not cutting it anymore.
"I don't think anyone anticipated us having the season we've had," Nash told NHL.com. "It's really frustrating because everyone has the same goal in this League and it's to win. When you can't do it and you've been somewhere for a long time, it gets frustrating."
But Nash also believes good things come to those who wait.
"I believe in this team, I believe in this franchise and I believe in the ownership and management," he said. "I think we have good young players who will only get better in the upcoming seasons."
That's certainly the plan but, for now, it appears the Blue Jackets will again be on the outside looking in when the postseason commences next month.
"It's tough to get to the playoffs," Nash said. "Everything has to align. Everything has to go the right way. You need great goaltending, you have to play solid defensive hockey and you need to score goals. We were able to put all those together last year, but this year we've put it together at different times, rather than all at once and that's the biggest difference."
After suffering a 6-3 defeat to the New Jersey Devils
on Tuesday -- their third loss in five games -- the Blue Jackets fell to 14th in the Western Conference, 15 points behind Detroit for the eighth and final playoff spot. Last season, the Jackets won more games (41) and finished with more points (92) than any other season. They capped it off by securing their first Stanley Cup Playoff berth in their nine-year history.
That seems like an eternity ago for Nash. Still, the season hasn't been a total loss either since he did earn a gold medal playing for Team Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympics; a feat he'll never forget.
"I'll always have the memories of that tournament because it was so special," Nash said. "I'll never forget that at all. Any time I strap on skates around a hockey rink, that will be one of my fondest memories for sure."
He began the tournament riding shotgun for Sidney Crosby
, but would ultimately wind up on a line with Mike Richards
and Jonathan Toews
, contributing 2 goals and 5 points to the gold-medal winning effort.
His inspiring performance didn't go unnoticed.
"I never thought he was that type of player; it was as good as I've ever seen him play," praised Devils coach Jacques Lemaire
, an assistant for Team Canada. "I knew he was a powerful winger, but I didn't know that he had that much energy. He wasn't only physical, but such a team player. He paid attention to all details. I know (Mike) Babcock was asking for certain things and he was right on top of it; in every single aspect of the game he was there. He was used at a time to balance a line, which is a great, great quality. I was very impressed."
There are some who feel Nash's exposure at the Vancouver Games enabled fans outside Columbus to witness his ultra-competitive drive. Nash is one of only four active players to score 30 or more goals at least five times before their 26th birthday, joining Ilya Kovalchuk
, Owen Nolan
and Alex Ovechkin
"My buddies back home in Canada were saying, 'Geez, I've never seen you play that way.' And I told them I've been playing that way for the last seven years, it's just that you never watch the Blue Jackets," the Brampton, Ont., native said with a smile. "I think my play was an eye opener more for my friends back home more than anyone else."
Devils goalie Martin Brodeur
knows how dangerous a player Nash can be. He produced just one shot in a little over 18 minutes on the ice against Brodeur in Tuesday's loss. Nash leads Columbus in goals (30), points (59) and shots (219).
"I played with him on World Cups and the Olympics and he's quite a hockey player," Brodeur said. "He's a big man who loves to score goals and get in those dirty areas to do those things. He was part of a line that shut down those tough Russian players and played well. When he scored that first one, you saw a different Rick Nash
out there. He wants to be good and wants to be the best player and you have to respect that."
"I believe in this team, I believe in this franchise and I believe in the ownership and management. I think we have good young players who will only get better in the upcoming seasons." -- Rick Nash
Blue Jackets interim coach Claude Noel
, who replaced Ken Hitchcock in February, doesn't sense any level of frustration emanating from his captain. Then again, it wouldn't surprise him if, deep down, there was.
"I think if it is frustration, it would be natural just because that's a natural part of being a leader and caring about your team," Noel told NHL.com. "From that standpoint, maybe he feels some responsibility, but his effort every night is fantastic and his level of caring about his teammates and the organization is unsurpassed. There's no question about his character and his values. I know his heart is in the right place."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale