Every avid hockey fanatic has one moment locked away in the vaults of their memory. That one special moment in which time somehow stood still and the world outside of that 200 foot slab of ice momentarily ceased to exist. For many seasoned Columbus Blue Jackets fans, that moment featured Rick Nash and came on January 17, 2008, in Phoenix.
With 30 seconds left in a tied third period, Nash took an incisive outlet pass from Michael Peca near center ice. With two Phoenix Coyotes bearing down on him and no support to which he could lay off, Nash did the only thing he could: He took them both on.
In a situation that would see many forwards turn the puck over or take an errant shot, Nash deftly utilized a combination of dekes and toe-drags that left the two defenseman stumbling over their own legs like Bambi on painkillers. Then, with one last flourish, he turned goaltender Mikael Tellqvist inside out and doomed him to a career of anonymity by flicking it into the open net. The commentary team went wild and the fans at home screamed with joy.
Nash was a bright spot in a black hole of mediocrity and disappointment throughout his tenure in Columbus. In an organization that saw players and management come and go, he was the constant face of the franchise, and indeed of Ohio hockey as a whole.
After the Blue Jackets drafted him 1st overall in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, he spent nine years in Columbus, where he put up over 50 points in every season except his first. He devoted his peak years to the franchise and to the city of Columbus, and his reward was the captaincy and the undying loyalty of thousands of Fifth Liners. His number 61 became iconic, and a mere glance around Nationwide Arena would have revealed as much to any passing bystander.
And yet, many current Jackets supporters greet any positive mention of Nash as an act of heresy. They meet his returns to Nationwide as a member of the New York Rangers with unabashed, audible vitriol that rivals the most loathed of opposing players. They treat this man, who genuinely gave his all for a team and a city that once loved him, as they treat Jeff Carter and Sidney Crosby, two perennial targets for the disdain of the blue-clad masses. Quite frankly, it’s not only embarrassing, but also completely unfounded.
It’s Time to Stop Booing Rick Nash
When the Jackets traded Nash to the Rangers in 2012, it created a sense of loss unlike any other in the history of the franchise. Not only was Nash the franchise’s all time leading scorer, he was the captain, the fan favorite, the idol.
Somehow, in the tidal wave of emotion that followed, those who had been his biggest supporters managed to forget all he had done for the city, the franchise, and the fans. His detractors began emerging from the woodwork and did their utter best to rewrite the history surrounding his relationship with the club and community, until the whispers of “deserter” eventually snowballed into the inescapable boos reverberating through the arena on game days against the Rangers.
Certainly, the disdain for Nash grew exponentially after he pushed the beloved Sergei Bobrovsky in March 2014 following a breakaway attempt and a brief verbal exchange between the two. The rest of the team stepped in to protect Bobrovsky, as they should have, and the rest is history. This incident, colored by adrenaline and testosterone, helped cement Nash’s status as a villain was in the eyes of newer Blue Jackets fans.
That being said, booing Rick Nash every time he touches the puck is not only pointless, it’s flat out moronic. Yes, the Bobrovsky incident is lamentable. Yes, the organization traded him away to a Metropolitan Division rival. At the same time, Nash had never played on the same team as Bobrovsky, and he also dedicated the peak of his playing career to a middling organization desperate for a star. He gave the team nearly an entire decade before being traded to the Rangers, a trade that landed Artem Anisimov, Tim Erixon, and Brandon Dubinsky, one of the CBJ faithful’s most adored players.
Dumping the Narrative
What’s more, he’s given back to the city of Columbus and the state of Ohio at an astonishing level. He established The #61 Club, which rewarded students’ healthy decisions with tickets, and donated $100,000 to Ohio State University to help provide scholarships to athletes.
On top of that, he donated $25,000 to the John H. McConnell Scholarship Fund, $5,000 to a Columbus pee wee hockey team to cover travel expenses for families, and $15,000 per year to Santa’s Silent Helpers, an organization that provides assistance to needy families, single moms, and senior citizens throughout Ohio. His efforts made him a finalist for the 2009 NHL Foundation Award, given to a player who makes a great contribution to their community.
On the ice, Nash was the best player to ever don a Columbus sweater, and it isn’t particularly close. In his 674 games for the club, he tallied 547 points, 230 more than second-place David Vyborny. All told, Nash earned the Rocket Richard Trophy in 2004, five All-Star team selections, and helped lead the club to its first ever playoff series. In terms of sheer point production alone, that’s borderline Hall of Fame material.
If the Union Blue faithful need someone to boo, the choices are innumerable. Players like Carter, Crosby, and Milan Lucic have done more to deserve the ire of the fans than Nash ever has. At the end of the day, Nash is still the greatest Jacket in the club’s short history, and the fan base should treat him as such. No one is calling for a grand parade every time he enters the city, but he has certainly earned more respect than he receives. And when he decides to call it a day and hang up his skates, the Columbus Blue Jackets should follow suit and hang his jersey among the rafters of Nationwide Arena.