Rick Nash & Roberto Luongo: NHL stars still waiting for the right trade to come along

PITTSBURGH – The NHL draft has come and gone, and Rick Nash is still a Columbus Blue Jacket, Roberto Luongo is still a Vancouver Canuck.

Though there were some trades – none bigger than the Pittsburgh Penguins shipping Jordan Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes – there is still work to be done, and it might not happen until after the first wave of free agency.

"I think a lot of things are being held up maybe by July 1, with a few notable free agents out there," said Penguins general manager Ray Shero, echoing several of his colleagues. "I think you'll see that pick up as we get to July 1 and beyond. Once things start to fall, it might be a domino."

Scott Howson had better hope so. The Jackets GM has been unable to deal Nash, and his options seem to be getting worse, not better.

Nash asked for a trade during the season. He has spent nine seasons in Columbus and has scored at least 27 goals in each of the past eight. Yet he has appeared in four playoff games, and the Jackets were the worst team in the league this season. At age 28, he wants to go somewhere he can win. Understandably so.

Howson has held out for a high price. Understandably so. This isn't about what Nash wants; this is about what's best for the Jackets.

[Related: Ottawa Senators emerge as potential trade suitor for Rick Nash]

And when Howson didn't deal Nash at the trade deadline, what seemed to be best for the Jackets was waiting until the draft, when more teams would have more flexibility to give up assets and absorb Nash's contract – six more seasons at a salary-cap hit of $7.8 million.

Problem is, it hasn't worked out that way, and what might have been best for the Jackets was getting it done quickly in the first place. Asked if he hoped there would be a larger market for Nash at the draft, Howson said: "I thought there might be, but there wasn't."


Nash has a no-trade clause and a list of teams to which he would accept a trade. Howson hasn't allowed himself to be handcuffed, looking beyond the list to see if he can find the best deal. But asked if he had found a good deal that Nash wouldn't accept, he said: "No. Not even close." He said there was "very little" activity at the draft.

The New York Rangers think Howson is asking for too much. Other teams think the same. Howson disagrees. Asked directly if he is asking too much, if the idea has crossed his mind that his standard is a little bit high, he said simply: "No."

The danger is that the suitors will move on and leave Howson stuck with a disgruntled captain. Rangers GM Glen Sather said he expected to be "fairly aggressive" in the free-agent market, adding, "What we really don't want to do is dismantle the core of the organization." Now that the Hurricanes have acquired Staal, they're likely out. Now that the Philadelphia Flyers have traded James van Riemsdyk – a player the Jackets reportedly wanted in return – they might be out.

Complicating matters is the news that the Anaheim Ducks might be willing to trade Bobby Ryan and that Ryan is unhappy about being shopped. Ryan is a younger, cheaper version of Nash – 25 instead of 28, with three years left at a $5.1 million cap hit.

Howson might have to wait to see who doesn't sign top free-agent winger Zach Parise (and possibly who doesn't acquire Ryan). Whoever is left out will have to make his best bid for Nash.

"I think we'll have some more certainty then, yeah," Howson said.

[Related: Bobby Ryan goes public with discontent, makes de facto trade request]

Calgary Flames GM Jay Feaster thinks so, too. "I think you have to see where some of those guys are going to land," he said. "Once that happens, you're going to have teams that maybe thought they were in on some of those guys and they're not going to get them. Only one team can do it. And so then there may be a little more willingness to move and get something done."

Canucks GM Mike Gillis is in a similar situation with Luongo, though he might have even fewer options than Howson has for Nash.

Luongo has won an Olympic gold medal. He was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's best goaltender last season, and he took the Canucks within a game of the Stanley Cup. But he lost his job to Cory Schneider in the playoffs this season, and he is willing to waive his no-trade clause for the right team.

Gillis has to get a good return for a rare commodity. "When I do the calculation, [there are] probably 15 legitimate No. 1 goalies in the world, and he's one of them," he said. "Contrary to what people may think or describe, there's a tremendous amount of interest in players that are high-end players in this league, and finding a fit is occasionally more challenging, but there's definitely fits to be found."

The problem is, only so many teams interest Luongo, need a No. 1 goalie, are willing to part with assets Gillis wants and are willing to take on the rest of Luongo's contract – 10 more years at a cap hit of $5.3 million. There might be only one team, Toronto. Gillis said he hasn't felt close to a deal.

"I'm the problem," he said. "This is a significant consideration for our organization. It's not going to be done lightly. It's not going to be done in a hurry."

[Also: Penguins can take run at top two UFAs on market, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter]

Gillis said that even though Schneider is scheduled to become a restricted free agent July 1, meaning the Canucks would be vulnerable to an offer sheet.

"There's no timeline, no timeframe," he said. "And we'll get through the next week, see what transpires there, and then get through the remainder of the summer."

It will all come down to what Howson and Gillis pull off in the end. If they make good deals, they were patient. If not, they were stubborn.

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