On Thursday night, the Columbus Blue Jackets skated against, and defeated, the New York Rangers in Madison Square Garden. The 4-2 victory against the original six franchise felt that much sweeter because, among other former Blue Jackets, Rick Nash was in the line up for New York. After being the face of the franchise for Columbus for so many seasons, Nash asked for a trade mid season a couple of years ago, finally got his wish later that summer.
But the whole situation felt peculiar. It didn’t have the same feel as when Lebron James signed with the Miami Heat over the Cleveland Cavaliers, and James didn’t even ask for a trade, it was in free agency. Nash, however, was our captain, our entire franchise, our entire city. For a player of that caliber to ask out, it made the entire city look ashamed of itself.
But even then, it was different. Even then, there wasn’t that same feeling of hate towards Nash. It was almost empathy from the fans. It was as if we were saying “Go now, Nash, while you have the chance.” We wanted him gone because we felt at the time that it was best for him. That’s rare.
Not too often do fans have sympathy for a player wanting to rid his ties to your team. But such was the case with Rick Nash. It was as if we lived vicariously through him, knowing that if he could leave and find success with another team, maybe we could. Granted, we would never leave the Columbus Blue Jackets, but it was a comforting thought, nonetheless. The fans had been put through so much, and at the end of the day, if Nash was holding up the Stanley Cup, even with another team, it would feel like we were the champions.
Months and months have passed, however, and suffice to say we’ve had time to move on. The feelings for Nash have lingered, of course, but that’s normal. Yes, the victory against Nash and the Rangers felt extra special because we beat Nash, but you’ll see that in any circumstance in which a player plays his former team.
I think it’s safe to say the trade has worked out for both sides. As I’ve said before, Nash needed to go. I wouldn’t go back. Brandon Dubinsky is the man now. And we’re better off. But it made me think, facing Nash, beating Nash, how would you feel about a player coming into the Columbus organization and taking the number 61?
I think we are all over the Nash saga now. We’re not hurt by it anymore. Like I just said, Dubinsky’s presence alone has helped the “healing process” Nash left behind. But even then, the idea of somebody getting the number 61 makes me squirm in my seat a bit. Hey, it’s uncomfortable. But why?
Rick Nash was the face, and now he’s not. We’ve had time to move on, and we have. So why is it so uncomfortable thinking about another Jacket skating with “61″ on his back? The question isn’t easy to answer. It’s…complicated.
First, there’s the notion that “nobody can replace Rick Nash.” But I think Brandon Dubinsky has. I’ve yet to meet a Jackets fan who still pines over Nash. They may still miss him, like I do time to time, but I don’t think they regret how things went down. I don’t believe any Blue Jackets fan would, at this very moment, trade away Brandon Dubinsky for Rick Nash.
So what is it? Should they retire the number 61? I mean statistically speaking, Nash is the greatest player to skate for Columbus. But again, I don’t think that’s the case, either. Retiring Nash’s number would only say that we’re still hurt by his departure, which, like I’ve now said several times, is not the case. Retiring his number would suggest that “hey, we aren’t gonna get anybody greater.” Which, once again, is drastic.
That leaves only one reason. For other organizations, a new players taking the (not retired) number of a former great may be looked on as way to move on from that former player. I think the exact opposite is needed in Columbus. If a new player took the number 61, we would start talking about it. We would talk about how we are all for or against the notion. But we don’t need that.
Columbus has moved on. They don’t need a new player donning “61″ to prove that they have. No longer will they let former, or current, stars outshine the organization as a whole. We aren’t Rick Nash. We never were. We aren’t even Brandon Dubinsky. We are, and always will be, the Columbus Blue Jackets.